“In the Winter of 1908-09, silent film began to be produced outside of the New York and New Jersey stages where they had been created till that time. Kalem was the first film production company to send a company to Florida. Arriving in November 1908 they rented the Roseland Hotel on the St. Johns River. Their arrival triggered almost 10 years of American film history with dozens of film companies and perhaps thousands of actors, writers, directors, cameramen and set builders. The community of Jacksonville embraced this new industry and worked earnestly to support and build the film industry.
Gene Gauntier, an actress joined the Kalem band of silent filmmakers heading from New York and became arguably the first female leading lady, screenwriter and director of the time. Her adventures in Florida were serialized in the Woman’s Home Companion in late 1928 and 1929. The series “Blazing the Trail” put in perspective the importance of this early woman producer. Her words below:
“[Mr. Marion] offered me the position of leading woman at a salary of thirty dollars a week and expenses, adding the commission to write scenarios at twenty dollars each. This would bring my income up to fifty or seventy dollars a week. But somehow I could not bring myself to accept this glittering offer. My love of legitimate drama died hard.”
“On the day before Mr. Marion’s return from the South, I had an offer to join Paul Gilmore’s company in Boston, leaving New York the same evening. I was asked to give my answer in two hours. Refusal meant committing myself to the screen for at least another year. I wandered down Fifth Avenue debating the question. Suddenly I found myself standing before a shop window filled with Billikins, the plaster figurines which were the quaint and popular mascots of the hour. I marched into the shop, bought my Billikin, took him home, placed him on my desk and talked the grave question over with him.”
“The god of things as they ought to be!”
“At four o’clock I went to the New York Theater and refused the stage engagement. The next day I accepted Mr. Marion’s offer.”
“This same little Billikin looks down at me as I write. His throne has long since disappeared, and so have his toes, but he grins the same old grin and is the same efficient little mascot. He has crossed the Atlantic with me twenty-one times. He helped me in those dreadful hours of 1914, when I was caught in war-crazed Europe without negotiable checks, for he brought me safely to New York on fifteen dollars. He has reposed in my trunk during innumerable transcontinental trips, into Mexico and Canada and far down the coast of Chile. But he holds a warm place in my heart mainly because, under his influence, I threw my lot in with the motion pictures for all time.”
“Within a few days after Mr. Marion’s return Mr. Olcott had selected his stock company and we were Florida-bound, the first company to be sent out of New York for such a lengthy stay. Our departure created a sensation in the industry. Partly because of the significant influence exerted by this venture on the making of motion picture and partly because the story of our life in Florida presents such a contrast to life as it is now led in Hollywood, I am describing our southern adventures in detail.” Gene Gauntier