The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
Orson Welles and others during production of TOUCH OF EVIL, 1958.
made news earlier this month with the announcement that it had acquired 70,000 production stills from Bison Archives
, a private collection of film historian Marc Wanamaker. Among the rare images that will now be housed at the Academy is a group of eight behind-the-scenes color images of the filming of the opening sequence of Orson Welles's 1958 noir Touch of Evil
. These photos will join the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library
's existing collection of more than 10 million photographs.
was wowed by the images and got on the phone with Mr. Wanamaker to talk about the inception of Bison Archive and the raison d'être for such an extensive collection.
Bison Archives began as an accident of recent history, when Wanamaker was working at the American Film Institute, which he helped to form in 1969. "In 1970, the Columbia photo archive was going to be thrown away when they were moving off their lot," he recalls. "They agreed to give it to me and I catalogued it."
At about the same time, Wanamaker was also doing research for a book on the history of the American motion picture studios, and he continued to amass photos and memorabilia as part of his research. He never stopped. "The photos took me 40 years to collect from around the world," he says. "I saved and preserved many of these pictures which were going to be thrown away or lost to obscurity."
The trove of still photographs and memorabilia that comprise the Bison Archives now paint a comprehensive story of the history of film in America, from its earliest days to the present. No surprise perhaps that Bison Archives was named in tribute of one of those forgotten early motion picture studios, the Bison Company, formed in 1909, that produced Westerns featuring Native American casts.
Famous Players-Lasky Hollywood studio, Lighting Fixture Department, ca. 1918.
Based on his extensive archive, Wanamaker has written 15 books about a wide variety of topics pertaining to the history of the film industry. His most recent book (with Karie Bible and Harry Medved) is Location Filming in Los Angeles
, with 250 photos, (available on Amazon
). The archive is an information source for several Bison Productions
film projects and Wanamaker has utilized Bison Archives to consult on 150 documentaries, including From Hollywood: The Pioneers
, a 13-hour history of Hollywood films of the silent era.
Wanamaker has also worked closely with the Academy for over 30 years, as an historical consultant to the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library and on the technical committee of the Academy's proposed museum. Cecilia DeMille Presley helped to broker the transfer of the 70,000 images to this library, on behalf of the Cecil B. DeMille Foundation.
Lillian and Dorothy Gish in|
ORPHANS OF THE STORM, 1921.
The collection of 70,000 images focuses particularly on the early days of the film industry, and documents nearly every facet of film production between 1909 and the present day, with an emphasis on the first half of the 20th Century. "Make-up, sound, electric...all the different departments," says Wanamaker. "The shots show the crudeness of the film industry when it first started, and how they evolved over the years to all the modern departments today." For example, Bison Archives has an extensive photo archive of electrical and lighting equipment from the silent era. "Right now, there is no other archive in the world where you can get photos of 1915 Universal electric trucks," he notes.
Other rare images include those from more than 100 major and independent studios, many of which ceased to exist past the 1920s, including Biograph, E&R Jungle Film Co., Essay and Vitagraph. "The collection includes the Edison Studios in the Bronx, New York in 1907," adds Wanamaker.
The Academy was particularly interested in photos that told the story of the industry's history, from the silents to the sound era. "They wanted directors - and the archive contains thousands of photos of directors," he says. "They wanted behind-the-scenes, watching the directors working. They wanted producers, and music such as scoring sessions and the composers. And they also wanted locations, and there were thousands and thousands of those." Also included are thousands of stills portraying filming on location.
Wanamaker notes that these were just some of the categories that the Academy felt would most benefit scholars, teachers and students. For him, to get the collection to the Academy's Herrick Library, where the collection will be accessible to the public as well as the industry is a major coup. "I don't really have the space to store what's rarely being used," he notes. "I'd rather the Academy have them."
Edwin S. Porter directs A COUNTRY GIRL'S SEMINARY LIFE AND EXPERIENCES, 1908. Interior, Edison Studio, Bronx New York. Henry Cronjager on camera.
Above left, D.W. Griffith and others during production of WAY DOWN EAST, 1920. Right, Lon Chaney Jr. and Jack Pierce during production of THE WOLF MAN, 1941.
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