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"Colonel" William N. Selig (1864-1948) was born in Chicago. Selig was an early American film pioneer who founded the Selig Polyscope Company (originally called the Mutoscope & Film Company), on April 9, 1896, in Chicago. Initially, the company specialized in slapstick comedies and travel films, though Selig also produced industrial films, most notably for Armour and Company. Brought to court by Thomas Edison for patent infringement in 1905, Selig was provided free legal representation by Philip Armour in return for the prints made in 1901. As a result of the litigation, Selig joined with Edison and other companies to form the Motion Picture Patents Company in 1908. With "The Count of Monte Cristo" (1908), Selig Polyscope claimed to be the first to shoot a narrative film in Los Angeles, and in 1909 established a permanent studio in the Los Angeles area. Selig may have been the first U.S. company to shoot a two-reel film, "Damon and Pythias" (1908), and later made the first true serial, "The Adventures of Kathlyn" (1913-1914). The company was also well known for animal pictures, having at hand the resources of the Selig Jungle Zoo; the Selig Westerns gave G. M. "Bronco Billy" Anderson and Tom Mix their starts. The Selig Polyscope Company stopped making films in 1918, but Colonel Selig continued producing into the 1930s; "The Drag-Net" (1936) and "Convicts at Large" (1938) were the last films credited to him. Selig received a 1947 Special Academy Award along with Albert E. Smith, Thomas Armat, and George K. Spoor for being a pioneer in the developing art of motion pictures.
The William Selig papers span the years 1857-1979 (bulk 1900-1923) and encompass 15 linear feet. The papers consist of production files, story material, correspondence files, subject files, books and pamphlets, oversize material, and scrapbooks. The production files consist primarily of continuities and credit sheets for many of the Selig one- and two-reel shorts from 1908 to 1917. There is considerable script material and clippings on "The Adventures of Kathlyn" (1913-1914), as well as clippings and the occasional script for other major Selig features, such as "Auction of Souls" (1919), "The Crisis" (1915), "The Garden of Allah" (1916), "Little Orphant Annie" (1918), "Monte Cristo" (1912), and "The Spoilers" (1914). The bulk of the story material is short stories and articles bought from bankrupt magazines, although there is some interesting script material, such as the manuscript for "Ben, King of Beasts" by Edgar Rice Burroughs and a scenario and storyboards for an unproduced version of "The Lost World." The correspondence files are divided into U.S. and foreign. A considerable portion of the collection seems to have originated in Selig's London office, as there is voluminous correspondence with British exhibitors and exhibitors from around the world. The U.S. correspondence is with some actors (such as Hobart Bosworth, Tom Mix, and Colleen Moore) and authors (including Rex Beach, Jack London, and Mack Sennett), but primarily with exhibitors and exchanges. Included in the latter group are nine letters, dated 1907-1908, from the Duquesne Amusement Supply Company, signed by Albert and Harry M. Warner. There is also a small amount of information regarding censorship, inventors, Gaston Méliès, and an attempt in 1914 to make "talking pictures" with actor Harry Lauder. The subject files cover miscellaneous subjects; the most extensive coverage is on patents, and there are copies of most of the major patents relating to early film history, including those owned by Selig and patents relating to early film technology. A large amount of material concerns the releases of the Selig Polyscope Company, both in the United States and in England, as well as story and title records that relate to the films released by the company. Books and pamphlets, a large number of them in German, cover a variety of subjects. The scrapbooks have clippings concerning individual films, the Selig Polyscope Company, Selig, and individual actors who worked at the studio. Materials relating to the Motion Picture Patents Company and the General Film Company have been removed to the Motion Picture Patents Company/General Film Company collection, which has its own inventory. Researchers are also referred to the Charles G. Clarke collection, which includes two scrapbooks that contain many letters to Selig from important early film personalities.
Gift of Charles G. Clarke, 1946-1977; William Selig, 1947; and Brice Mack, 1983.