Antiques Roadshow Segment on Norman Silent Film Studio

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Lisa Bradberry
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Antiques Roadshow Segment on Norman Silent Film Studio

Postby Lisa Bradberry » Sun Jul 28, 2013 4:01 pm

'Antiques Roadshow' will highlight Jacksonville's heyday as a center of silent film production
by Charlie Patton
June 8, 2013 ... z2aN7Pv6WG

One of the great attractions of PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow,” which will spend Saturday doing appraisals on thousands of items at Jacksonville’s Prime Osborn Convention Center, is finding hidden gems.

Which was why a “Roadshow” film crew, joined by host Mark L. Walberg and collectibles appraiser Leila Dunbar, spent several hours Friday at the Norman Studios Silent Film Museum in the Arlington neighborhood.

The complex of wooden buildings on Arlington Road is the last surviving reminder that Jacksonville was a major movie production center during the silent era. As Dunbar noted, in its heyday of the mid-1910s, Jacksonville was home to more than 30 studios.

“I thought it was really interesting that Jacksonville was such a hub of movie production in the silent era,” said segment producer Sarah Elliott.

Built in 1916 by the Eagle Film Co., the studios were purchased in 1920 by Richard E. Norman, a Middleburg native. Although Norman was white, most of his movies were made for black audiences with all-black casts.

He made nine movies in the silent era and eight of them were “race” movies, the term used at the time to denote movies aimed at black audiences. Only one is known to survive today, 1926’s “The Flying Ace,” a print of which is preserved in the Library of Congress. It was shown during the 2003 Jacksonville Film Festival and has been screened in recent years in New York, San Francisco and Miami.

The Friday taping was for a “Roadshow Most Wanted” segment that “focuses around items that were stolen or went missing or were lost,” Elliott said. “We thought we’d help the museum put out a call for materials.”

“Hope springs eternal with me,” said Devan Stuart, chairman of the board of the Norman Studios Silent Film Museum, who said the organization recently lost in bidding for a script of Norman’s 1921 Western “The Bull-Dogger,” which featured black rodeo star Bill Pickett. “I have to imagine that somewhere there is one more Norman film in somebody’s possession.”

Like Dunbar, Stuart was interviewed by Walberg for the segment, which will probably end up as three or four minutes in one of the three episodes that will be drawn from Saturday’s daylong appraisal sessions.

“It gets us out of the convention center and gives you a sense of place,” Eilliott said.

Segments to be included in the other two Jacksonville shows were shot in St. Augustine at Flagler College and at the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. No air dates have been set.

Norman’s career as producer and director of movies ended with the coming of sound. But he continued to serve as a distributor and exhibitor of movies. His wife, Gloria, opened a dance school in the old studio in the 1930s. She sold the property in 1976.

The city agreed to purchase four of the five buildings that housed the Norman Studios in 2002 and the state gave some money for exterior restorations.

The nonprofit Norman Studios Silent Film Museum gives occasional tours and does presentations around town. The group has also been trying to get the studios designated as a national park. The ultimate goal is to create a fully operational museum dedicated both to Norman and to Jacksonville’s silent film era.

Stuart said the segment on “Antiques Roadshow” is going to bring “some amazing national attention for us.”

Fellow board member Rita Reagan said national attention would be nice but what would be even better would be “getting people locally to realize we are here.”


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