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The Thanhouser Studio and the Birth of American Cinema (2014)

The Thanhouser Company was a trail-blazing studio based in New Rochelle, New York, where from 1910 to 1917 it released over 1,000 films that were seen by audiences around the globe. This 53... See full summary »


Ned Thanhouser


Q. David Bowers (book), Melissa Steineger (co-writer) | 1 more credit »




Credited cast:
Ned Thanhouser Ned Thanhouser ... Himself
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Judith Buchanan ... Herself
Kathryn Fuller-Seeley Kathryn Fuller-Seeley ... Herself (as Kathy Fuller-Seeley)
Randy Johnson Randy Johnson ... Additional voices
Michele Kribs Michele Kribs ... Additional voices
Richard Moore Richard Moore ... Narrator
David Robinson David Robinson ... Himself
Bill Sage Bill Sage ... Additional voices
Paul Spehr Paul Spehr ... Himself
Shelley Stamp Shelley Stamp ... Herself


The Thanhouser Company was a trail-blazing studio based in New Rochelle, New York, where from 1910 to 1917 it released over 1,000 films that were seen by audiences around the globe. This 53-minute documentary reconstructs the relatively unknown story of the studio and its founders, technicians, and stars as they entered the nascent motion picture industry to compete with Thomas Edison and the companies aligned with his Motion Pictures Patents Corporation (MPPC). Ned Thanhouser, grandson of studio founders Edwin and Gertrude Thanhouser, narrates this compelling tale, recounting a saga of bold entrepreneurship, financial successes, cinematic innovations, tragic events, launching of Hollywood careers, and the transition of the movie industry from the East Coast to the West and Hollywood. It will be of interest to scholars, archivists, early film historians, and everyone who loves the intriguing stories about the people who pioneered independent movie-making in America.

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Release Date:

12 April 2015 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

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Did You Know?


Ned Thanhouser raised money to make this documentary from the Indiegogo Web site, but credited them as "Ingiegogo." See more »


References Weary Walker's Woes (1915) See more »


Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway
Music and Lyrics by George M. Cohan
Performed by Larry Blyden
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User Reviews

An unsung player in cinema history
7 January 2016 | by jimjo1216See all my reviews

I love learning about film history and this documentary sheds light on a fascinating chapter from the early days of the motion picture business.

Coming from the legitimate stage, Edwin and Gertrude Thanhouser sought to create films of higher quality than the nickelodeon offerings of the time. The independent Thanhouser Company, based in New Rochelle, New York (in the days before the movie industry moved out West to Hollywood), flourished for eight years in the 1910s, releasing adaptations of Shakespeare and Dickens as well as original dramas and situation comedies, and boasting a stable of popular stars.

THE THANHOUSER STUDIO AND THE BIRTH OF AMERICAN_CINEMA (2014) documents the highs and lows in the studio's short history and is chock full of film clips and vintage poster art from dozens of little-remembered silent shorts.

I caught the documentary on Turner Classic Movies, whose programming over the past few years has exposed me to early films by Georges Méliès, the Lumière brothers, Thomas Edison's company, and Mack Sennett. This film has piqued my interest in the Thanhouser movies and their stars (like the beautiful, but tragic, Florence La Badie). It was a real treat to see clips from early adaptations of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", "Cinderella", and "David Copperfield" that I never knew existed. I look forward to viewing these and other films mentioned in the doc (many of which can be found online).

As Ben Mankiewicz pointed out on TCM, this documentary was a labor of love. Ned Thanhouser has spent three decades trying to keep alive the legacy of a grandfather he never knew. To date he has found over 220 surviving films of the more than one thousand Thanhouser Company productions. (The New Rochelle studio suffered a devastating fire in 1913 and it's said that Edwin Thanhouser destroyed the company's remaining nitrate negatives after the enterprise folded in 1918.)

Ned Thanhouser hosts the documentary himself, surrounded by stacks of old film canisters, while film historians offer further insight and analysis of the Thanhouser Company and its place in the story of American cinema. Funded, at least in part, by an Indiegogo campaign, the film brings years of research to life for a general audience and should spark renewed interest in the century-old productions of Edwin and Gertrude Thanhouser and the studio they built.

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