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First National Pictures, Inc. was founded in April 1917 as First National Exhibitors Circuit, Inc., a company of 27 independent motion picture exhibitors. These exhibitors had grown tired of the many problems they had experienced with established distributors, such as the high cost of rentals, block-booking, and the inferior quality of some prints; they also wanted to bypass distributors such as Adolph Zukor's Paramount, which had begun to try to control all aspects of the film industry. Approaching stars' and directors' production companies as a direct buyer, First National eventually signed Frank Borzage, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Allan Dwan, Buster Keaton, Marshall Neilan, Mary Pickford, Norma and Constance Talmadge, and Maurice Tourneur. By 1920 the company had changed its name to Associated First National Pictures, Inc., and in 1922 it opened a studio in Burbank, California, and began producing its own films. In 1925 the "Associated" was dropped, and the company was thereafter officially known as First National Pictures, Inc. Among the major players the studio had under contract by then were Richard Barthelmess, Barbara La Marr, Harry Langdon, Colleen Moore, and Alla Nazimova. In 1928 Warner Bros. absorbed First National by acquiring the Stanley Company, First National's majority stockholder. Shortly thereafter, Warner Bros. moved its principal production facility to the former First National studio in Burbank. However, under the terms of the acquisition agreement, First National was still considered a separate production entity and remained so at least until the early 1930s. Even after that, primarily in the 1930s and 1940s, certain Warner Bros. films were designated as First National productions and First National releases. The First National banner occasionally appeared on some Warner Bros. films as late as 1956.
The First National Pictures photographs span the years 1920-1931 and encompass 30 linear feet. The collection consists of 18,370 prints, all motion picture production photographs. The material is arranged alphabetically by film title, and 144 films are represented. Titles include "Anna Christie" (1923), "The Barker" (1928), "Black Oxen" (1924), "Camille" (1927), "The Chaser" (1928), "Graustark" (1925), "My Boy" (1921), "The Pilgrim" (1923), "The Playhouse" (1921), "Sally" (1925), and "The Strong Man" (1926). Coverage varies from over 600 photographs for "The Lost World" (1925) to only one photograph for "The Silent Watcher" (1924). Typical files average over 100 photographs per title. The year 1921 is the best covered with 25 titles represented, while 1931 is the least covered with only two titles. The majority of the material consists of scene stills, but there are also many off-camera and publicity portrait photographs. Of special interest are the off-camera stills featuring many production personnel and visitors, including Arthur Conan Doyle, James Montgomery Flagg, F.W. Murnau, and Knute Rockne. Directors, cinematographers, and other technicians depicted in the off-camera photographs include Frank Capra, George Fitzmaurice, Thomas H. Ince, Frank Lloyd, Sidney Franklin, Henry King, Mervyn LeRoy, Frances Marion, Karl Struss, Perc Westmore, and Maurice Tourneur.
A great deal of credit information that has not been published elsewhere may be found on the backs of the stills.
Gift of Sid and Diana Avery, 1989-1991, with additions from Kay E. Kuter and Jean Kuter Harvey, 1991.
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