California History: A Topical Approach

By Gordon Morris Bakken | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
Black Faces
for Black Audiences:
The Lincoln Motion Picture
Company of Los Angeles

John Anderson

No discussion of California history would be complete without mention of the development of the motion picture industry, the roots of which reach back to the early twentieth century, the era of silent films. Early movie producers sought refuge from Thomas Edison's East Coast “trust,” his attempt to control the production of motion pictures in the United States by licensing out his patent on film-making equipment. Those “renegade” producers who landed in the Golden State discovered that southern California was a nearly ideal place to make films. Low corporate taxes, cheap land, year-round sunshine, and a strong antilabor union sentiment soon enabled the owners of California's nascent film studios to expand dramatically their operations. Indeed, as early as 1915 the informal process of shooting films in the field with small crews gave way to a studio system with a specialized division of labor and strict production standards. This increased productivity allowed the industry to integrate the crucial elements of the business: production, distribution, and exhibition. By the 1920s, renegades such as Adolph Zukor and the Schenk brothers had become monopolists themselves. The enlarge-

Publicity still from The Realization of a
Negro's Ambition,
the first film produced by
the Lincoln Motion Picture Company. From
the Robert S. Birchard Collection.

-125-

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