Black Beauty (1921)

Melodrama | January 1921

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HISTORY

On 28 Aug 1920, Motion Picture News announced that Vitagraph was producing a seven-reel film adaptation of Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel, Black Beauty, to be directed by David Smith, brother of Vitagraph president Albert E. Smith. The same day, Exhibitors Herald reported that four weeks of “animal continuity” from the opening and ending sequences of the picture had already been filmed. A 4 Sep 1920 Moving Picture World article stated that Smith had completed the animal scenes after four months of production, exposing nearly 1,000 feet of film. Principal photography of the human characters was set to begin that week. The source novel’s English countryside was recreated in Santa Barbara, CA, where William Stephen Smith, father of the Smith brothers, and one of the earliest residents of the city, helped to secure locations at “quaint English homes, lodges, manors, and stables.” The studio anticipated another two or three months of production.
       The casting of French actress Jean Paige was announced in the 11 Sep 1920 Moving Picture World. The role of “Jessie Gordon” marked Paige’s departure from serials, and her debut starring performance in a special feature production. Paige had recently travelled to NY to confer with writers Lillian and George Randolph Chester, a married couple who adapted the novel and made “a number of changes and additions to the original story.” However, George Randolph Chester later told the 2 Oct 1920 Moving Picture World that “no new characters have been introduced, and none of the horses in the original story were omitted.” He added that since the ... More Less

On 28 Aug 1920, Motion Picture News announced that Vitagraph was producing a seven-reel film adaptation of Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel, Black Beauty, to be directed by David Smith, brother of Vitagraph president Albert E. Smith. The same day, Exhibitors Herald reported that four weeks of “animal continuity” from the opening and ending sequences of the picture had already been filmed. A 4 Sep 1920 Moving Picture World article stated that Smith had completed the animal scenes after four months of production, exposing nearly 1,000 feet of film. Principal photography of the human characters was set to begin that week. The source novel’s English countryside was recreated in Santa Barbara, CA, where William Stephen Smith, father of the Smith brothers, and one of the earliest residents of the city, helped to secure locations at “quaint English homes, lodges, manors, and stables.” The studio anticipated another two or three months of production.
       The casting of French actress Jean Paige was announced in the 11 Sep 1920 Moving Picture World. The role of “Jessie Gordon” marked Paige’s departure from serials, and her debut starring performance in a special feature production. Paige had recently travelled to NY to confer with writers Lillian and George Randolph Chester, a married couple who adapted the novel and made “a number of changes and additions to the original story.” However, George Randolph Chester later told the 2 Oct 1920 Moving Picture World that “no new characters have been introduced, and none of the horses in the original story were omitted.” He added that since the narrative was told in the horse’s point of view, an “inside story” about the human characters was created for the screen version.
       While an 18 Sep 1920 Motion Picture News article stated that Paige was currently performing solo scenes on sets in Culver City and Sunland, CA, before the company moved to location shoots in Santa Barbara, a 9 Oct 1920 Motion Picture News item claimed that filming started the week of 4 Oct 1920. The Nov 1920 Photoplay, which noted that production was still underway, reported that the film marked the first time an insurance policy had been acquired for a horse acting in a film, and Vitagraph had protected their equine talent for $50,000. The production also featured one of the largest casts and crews at Vitagraph to date, according to a 6 Nov 1920 Moving Picture World brief that reflected upon the “unusual circumstance of actually having more persons [in] back of the camera than in front of it.” A 4 Dec 1920 Motion Picture News column reported that filming was scheduled to conclude that week.
       Black Beauty made its world premiere on 31 Jan 1921 at the Capitol Theatre in Hartford, CT, as stated in a 5 Feb 1921 Motion Picture News article. Lillian and George Randolph Chester attended the event, and Mr. Chester made an introductory statement about the challenges they faced while adapting the horse’s first-person narrative. The Hartford opening broke box-office records at the Capitol, as indicated in a congratulatory letter to Vitagraph from the theater manager, published in the 12 Feb 1921 Motion Picture News. That day, the periodical published another article describing “elaborate plans” for the film’s New York City opening at the Stand Theatre. The picture received positive reviews in the 22 Jan 1921 Motion Picture News and 25 Feb 1921 Var.
       A 16 Oct 1920 Moving Picture World column listed the following production staff: William Stephen Smith as Vitagraph’s West Coast general manager; Wilfred North as production manager; and Chester Bennett as casting manager. “The Blomefield children” were performed by Marie Treboal, Laddie Earle, Burwell Hamrick, and Bunny Davey, according to the 13 Nov 1920 Moving Picture World.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Exhibitors Herald
28 Aug 1920
p. 69.
Motion Picture News
28 Aug 1920
p. 1721.
Motion Picture News
18 Sep 1920
p. 282.
Motion Picture News
9 Oct 1920
p. 2855.
Motion Picture News
4 Dec 1920
p. 4306.
Motion Picture News
22 Jan 1921
p. 913.
Motion Picture News
5 Feb 1921.
---
Motion Picture News
12 Feb 1921
p. 1347.
Moving Picture World
4 Sep 1920
p. 103.
Moving Picture World
11 Sep 1920
p. 240.
Moving Picture World
2 Oct 1920
p. 664.
Moving Picture World
16 Oct 1920
p. 992.
Moving Picture World
6 Nov 1920
p. 75.
Moving Picture World
13 Nov 1920
p. 234.
Photoplay
Nov 1920
p. 52.
Variety
25 Feb 1921
p. 42.
DETAILS
Release Date:
January 1921
Premiere Information:
Word premiere in Hartford, CT: 31 January 1921
Production Date:
August--early-December 1920
Copyright Claimant:
Vitagraph Co. of America
Copyright Date:
15 January 1921
Copyright Number:
LP16039
Physical Properties:
Silent
Black and White
Length(in reels):
7
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

The famous story of Black Beauty tracing his career from colt to thoroughbred and his various exchanges of hands among English aristocracy, a London cabby, and a kind farmer. Beckett, who has framed George Gordon in a robbery, induces Jessie to marry him when she comes of age, but Harry Blomefield, her childhood sweetheart, has discovered the secret through Derby Ghost and uses Black Beauty to get to Jessie ahead of Beckett and to win the race. The horse finds a home with Harry and ... +


The famous story of Black Beauty tracing his career from colt to thoroughbred and his various exchanges of hands among English aristocracy, a London cabby, and a kind farmer. Beckett, who has framed George Gordon in a robbery, induces Jessie to marry him when she comes of age, but Harry Blomefield, her childhood sweetheart, has discovered the secret through Derby Ghost and uses Black Beauty to get to Jessie ahead of Beckett and to win the race. The horse finds a home with Harry and Jessie. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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