Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Before There Was Hollywood, There Was Fort Lee

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Before There Was Hollywood, There Was Fort Lee

Article excerpt

Between 1913 and 1919, a clutch of game gals in North Jersey were to be seen dangling from biplanes, tied up on railroad tracks, trussed up in sawmills and - most memorably - hanging from the cliffs of the Palisades.

It was the dawn of the movies - then centered in Fort Lee. Serials were the order of the day. And the villain who, with evil leer and twirling mustache, lured these poor ladies to their doom? Mea culpa - it was the newspaper industry.

"This was an early example of media synergy," says Teaneck film historian Richard Koszarski, who has written at length about Fort Lee's early movie industry. Beginning 10:30 a.m. Sunday, an all-day commemorative program in Fort Lee will pay tribute to this exuberant chapter of movie history.

Movie serials, like comics, were a direct product of newspaper wars. The Chicago Tribune, going toe to toe with six other papers, needed a game-changer. Movies, then a newfangled fad, seemed to offer an answer. Why not synchronize the publication of a newspaper serial with a movie serial - and have patrons breathlessly wait for both, week after week?

"The Adventures of Kathlyn" (1913) boosted the Tribune's circulation by 10 percent; its follow-up, "The Million-Dollar Mystery" (1914), grossed a then-fabulous $1.5 million in theaters and gave stockholders a 700 percent return. The serial gold rush was on.

"Newspapers used to run a lot of fiction in the weekend section," says Koszarski, whose books include "Hollywood on the Hudson" and "Fort Lee, The Film Town." "If you can have a story that was tied together with something with the movies, you have synergy."

Serials like "The Great Secret" (1917), "The Great Gamble" (1919), "The Mysteries of Myra" (1916) and most famously, "The Perils of Pauline" (1914), sponsored by the Hearst newspapers and filmed partly in Fort Lee, each ended their episodes the same way - with the heroine on the brink of death, or worse-than-death. …

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