William N. Selig - Writer

Producer. Nationality: American. Born: William Nicholas Selig in Chicago, Illinois, 14 March 1864. Career: Magician, then ran a minstrel show; 1896—after duplicating the Lumière Cinematographe in workshop, developed the Selig Standard Camera and the Selig Polyscope (a projector): opened loft in Chicago, and began producing films as Selig Polyscope Company; 1909—produced Hunting Big Game in Africa (based on Theodore Roosevelt's lion-hunting trip to Africa), and made other "jungle" films; set up studio in Hollywood (the first producer to do so); also had studio in New Orleans; produced the news series Hearst-Selig News Pictorial , then the Selig Tribune ; produced the first serial in the United States; introduced Tom Mix; 1918—the Polyscope Company closed; 1922—retired. Award: Special Academy Award, 1947. Died: Hollywood, 16 July 1948.

Films as Producer (selected list):


The Tramp and the Dog


Trapped By Bloodhounds, or The Lynching at Cripple Creek ; The Tomboys


The Tramp and the Dog ; The Female Highwayman ; Who's Who ; Lights of a Great City


Western Justice (Anderson); Dolly's Papa


The Count of Monte Cristo (Boggs); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


Hunting Big Game in Africa (Boggs); In the Sultan's Power (Boggs); On the Little Big Horn, or Custer's Last Stand (Boggs); Up San Juan Hill (Boggs); On the Border (Boggs)


The Merry Wives of Windsor (Boggs?); Davy Crockett (Boggs); Wizard of Oz (Turner)


Zulu-Land ; The Two Orphans (Turner); Cinderella (Campbell); Lost in the Jungle (Boggs)


The Coming of Columbus (Campbell); Kings of the Forest (Campbell); Sergeant Byrne of the N.W.M.P. (Campbell)


The Three Wise Men ; Roses of Yesterday (Kirkland); Alone in the Jungle (Campbell); Seligettes (series of animated designs); Seeds of Silver (Huntley)


The Adventures of Kathlyn (Grandon—serial); The Spoilers (Campbell); The Royal Box (Eagle); Rosemary, That's for Remembrance (Grandon); Abyss (Santschi); Dawn (Le Saint); The Fifth Man (Grandon)


Pals in Blue (Mix); The House of a Thousand Candles (Heffron)


The Ne'er-Do-Well (Campbell); The Black Orchid (Heffron); The Garden of Allah (Campbell)


A Brother's Sacrifice (Grandon); Brass Monkey (Richmond)


A Hoosier Romance (Campbell)


The Hunger of the Blood (Watt); The Last Chance (Cullison); The Mask (Bracken); Kazan (Bracken); The Fighting Stranger (Cullison)


The Rosary (Storm) (co)


By SELIG: article—

"Cutting Back," in Photoplay (New York), February 1920.

* * *

William N. Selig was an important film producer in the early days of the motion picture industry. A Chicago-born magician, he began his film career in 1895 after he saw a Dallas vaudeville hall demonstration of Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope while he was running a travelling minstrel show. Returning to Chicago, he had a projector devised by dissembling and duplicating the Lumière Cinematographe. Working with a machinist, he patented the Selig Standard Camera and the Selig Polyscope, and incorporated his equipment business, a motion-picture studio and a film processing plant as the Selig Polyscope Company in 1896.

Within a few years, Selig's Chicago-based company became the largest filmmaking plant in the United States. At his studio on the city's outskirts, he produced westerns, adventure films, and melodramas utilizing both indoor and outdoor filmmaking. Among the people he trained was G. M. ("Broncho Billy") Anderson, who worked as an actor and director for Selig from 1905 to 1907 and then formed a rival company (Essanay) with Chicago businessman George Spoor.

Selig was among the first movie producers who considered Los Angeles as a versatile moviemaking location. After sending crews there for two years, he opened a permanent Los Angeles studio in 1909. The studio became particularly important for his business when, in 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt would not allow a Selig cameraman to accompany his big game expedition to Africa. So Selig bought an aging lion from a Los Angeles zoo and staged his own tropical jungle hunt with a lead character named "Teddy." When the newspaper wire services announced that Roosevelt had "bagged" a lion, Selig released his fictional film entitled Hunting Big Game in Africa and scored a smash hit. The film was so successful that Selig bought an entire zoo for his Los Angeles studio and began making jungle adventure films.

Selig's company often capitalized on topical newspaper headlines, deliberately blurring the distinction between documentary and fiction. Like the Edison Company, Selig sent camera crews all over the country to shoot newsworthy events and to film background locations for fiction films. He maintained full travelling companies in both Florida and Colorado, where he shot the first movie serials. The Adventures of Kathlyn (1914) featured the now familiar clichés of perilous, "cliffhanger" adventures befalling a spunky but sweet heroine. Colorado's treacherous rivers and sheer mountainous drops provided both a breathtaking and realistic background for the series. The series itself, however, ended when the leading actress—executing her own stunts—drowned during the shooting of a river rapids scene.

Selig also played an important role in the industry-wide consolidation that occurred with the Motion Picture Patents Company in 1909. The 1907 outcome of an Edison Company patents infringement case against American Biograph and Mutoscope validated Edison's claim for patents ownership but did not apply the claim to Biograph's film or equipment. Stymied in its efforts to control the film industry, Edison Company instead filed suit against Selig Polyscope as an alternate means to begin an industry-wide takeover. Even before Edison vs. Selig was resolved in a Chicago Circuit Court in 1908, Selig and many Chicago film exchanges (or distributors) joined with Edison in a licensing and distribution agreement that gave Edison a lion's share of the profits while the Chicago companies retained regulatory control. The power of this association and Selig's allegiance were important weapons when Edison subsequently fought George Kleine and Biograph for control of the entire industry, a battle which resulted in the monopolistic Motion Picture Patents Company (1909).

Following the outcome of a 1915 antitrust suit, the Motion Picture Patents Company dissolved, and the fortunes of Selig's company declined. By 1918, he had been forced to close both the Chicago and Los Angeles studios, and in 1922 he retired.

—Lauren Rabinovitz

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