Thursday, November 2, 2017

Born Today November 2: Fred J. Balshofer


Influential silent film cinematographer and director Fred Balshofer was born on this date in New York City.  Balshofer became interested in photography at an early age; this intense interest eventually led him to a job as a stereo-scopic slide photographer.  In 1905, he landed a job at the Lubin Studios, which was located in Philadelphia.  He worked there until 1908.  In 1909, he was hired for a job at the New York Motion Picture Co.; it was at this company that he directed and shot his first film: Disinherited Son's Loyalty that same year.  Balshofer was one of the first in-house studio directors to be sent west by a studio, shifting his varied genres in film to a specialty in westerns (though to be sure, he directed, as many Fort Lee directors of the mid teens did, his fair share of westerns in New Jersey--his 1909 Davy Crockett-In Hearts United is believed to be the first Davy Crockett film ever made).  The western branch of the New York Motion Picture Co was Bison--a company that soon attracted Thomas Ince.  It's not clear if this had anything to do with Balshofer jumping ship or shop, so to speak, but in 1914, he left the company to head up the Sterling Motion Picture Co, a recent west coast subsidiary of Universal.  This meant that he did not direct any films at all in that year (the last film that he wholly shot himself was In The Heart Of The Sierras in 1911).  He managed to return to directing with just one picture in 1915 after Sterling closed it's doors and he ended up at Quality Pictures--which was owned by Metro; the film was Rosemary. From that point one, he got back into the director's chair and stayed there until 1920, when his filmmaking career began to seriously take a back seat (again) to his studio management position--having been promoted at Quality in 1916 to general manager and president.  He directed one film in 1922, The Three Buckaroos, after founding his own company Fred Balshofer Productions.  The company made two more films with him directing in 1927.  The only sound picture that he made, came in 1930 with the Spanish language film La jaula de los leones.  The rest of his career was spent solely as a studio executive.  In addition to photographing his films and directing, Balshofer, early on in his career, served as his own scenario writer.  In his late 60's, he co-authored an important book with cinematographer Arthur C. Miller principally about the shift of the motion picture industry from the east coast to the west entitled One Reel A Week.  Balshofer died on the 21th of June in Calabasas, New York at the old age of 91.  Details on his burial are unknown.

Screen cap from his 1909 Dove Eye's Gratitude

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