LMU Special Collections Goes to the Movies

Unidentified actress_Boyle 001John W. Boyle and silent screen star Anna Q. Nilsson with camera Boyle invented for panorama shots

An important source for film history came more fully into focus when the collection guide for the John W. Boyle Film Stills and Photograph Collection (Collection 061, found in the Department of Archives and Special Collections) was re-worked. A prominent cinematographer, Boyle (1891-1959) was active in the silent film era and worked for Fox Film Corporation (the forerunner of Twentieth-Century Fox). As a result the Boyle collection contains a large piece of silent film era history in the collection’s stills and photographs, which come from such  movies Boyle shot as Lone Star Ranger (1919), The Last of the Duanes (1919), The Fall of a Nation (1916), Her Second Chance (1926), and five Theda Bara films:  Heart and Soul (1917), Salome (1918), She-Devil  (1918), The Light (1919), and A Woman There Was (1919).

Especially noteworthy here are the stills of the films of Theda Bara (1885-1955) found in the collection, perhaps American cinema’s first sex symbol; her cinematic image of the vamp seduced, titillated, and enthralled American movie-goers in the 1910s. Salome haremRegrettably only four films of the forty-two films of her cinematic oeuvre have survived, making the stills and photographs from the Boyle collection’s five Bara films historically valuable witnesses to Bara and silent film history.

In Salome (1918), one of her big-budget, historical-extravaganza films, Bara is at her vampish best, starring, appropriately, as Salome, whose seductive dance before King Herod led to the beheading of John the Baptist. To the right is a harem scene from Salome, with Theda Bara (dark hair), in the center.

Salome Set001One of the photographs from Salome  records Director J. Gordon Edwards (grandfather of another director, Blake Edwards) and John W. Boyle on a shooting scaffold preparing a take on a scene. To the left is director Edwards (in hat and jacket) and John W. Boyle (in bowtie). Such a shot is typical in the Boyle collection: there are numerous photographs of sets, the shooting of scenes, and cast and crew from the silent era of film.

The stills and photographs were identified, in part, by soliciting the help of Jeff Thompson, the archivist for the photograph collection at Twentieth-Century Fox; by posting them on Flickr, where viewers provided some helpful tips in identifying the films; and by soliciting the help of the on-line community of Nitrateville, a site dedicated to silent film and its history.

All in all, it’s a valuable—and fun—collection, one well worth consulting … so, we’ll see you at the movies in the Department of Archives and Special Collections.