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Fort Lee Film Commission and NYU Costume Studies MA Program partner on restoration of silent film costumes discovered in Fort Lee

On Saturday, October 21, 2017, the New York University Costume Studies MA program held their annual symposium on Film Costume / State of the Art and featured as a topic the film costumes from Fort Lee. Fort Lee, NJ was the first American film town and as many as 17 studios operated in Fort Lee prior to World War I. Studios such as Fox, Universal and Goldwyn were born in the borough. The Fort Lee Film Commission retrieved a trunk from historic Rambo's Hotel on First Street in the Coytesville section of the borough a few years ago after the borough housing authority purchased this historic film location for renovation and restoration as affordable housing units. The trunks contained over a dozen costumes from the silent film period. The second floor of Rambo's Hotel was used by film companies as a dressing room.

Fort Lee Film Commission Executive Director Tom Meyers delivered was the keynote speaker at the NYU event and on display were two silent film costumes from the archive of the Fort Lee Film Commission that were
carefully cleaned and prepared by the graduate students and their professors at NYU. The Fort Lee Film Commission has applied for a Bergen County History Grant to restore all of the costumes through the efforts and skills of the NYU Costume Studies Program. NYU Costume Studies Director Nancy Diehl and NYU and Pratt Institute Professor Drake Stutesman examined all the garments and determined that they do in fact date to the silent film period of the 1910s in Fort Lee and that the garments were made specifically as film costumes. The students and professors are going to determine the actual year the costumes were made in hopes to find the films the costumes were featured in here in Fort Lee.

NYU symposium
Pictured above: two Fort Lee silent film costumes on display at NYU during the NYU Film Costume / State of the Art symposium on 10/21/17 at Einstein Auditorium in NYC

NYU symposium
Pictured above: NYU Film Costume / State of the Art Symposium panel, left to right, Rob Roth (Artist & Director, Costume as Character), filmmaker Bette Gordon, Costume Designer Jane greenwood of Yale University, Fort Lee Film Commission Executive Director Tom Meyers and panel moderator Professor Drake Stutesman

NYU symposium
Pictured above: NYU Costume Studies MA Program Director Nancy Deihl and Professor Drake Stutesman with the Fort Lee film costumes


The Barrymore Film Center - Fort Lee to have a 260-seat cinema and an attached Fort Lee Film Museum

Barrymore Film Center

As part of the new development project underway on Main Street near the George Washington Bridge, the Fort Lee Mayor and Council included in the developer's agreement the developer's building of a structure to house a one-screen, 260-seat multi-purpose theatre and an attached film museum, to be operated for the borough by the Fort Lee Film Commission. This project is expected to be completed by 2017. The cinema / film museum will be located on Main Street at the corner of Park Avenue, a location rich in cinema history as this was where, among others, cinema pioneers D.W. Griffith, Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand, and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle shot many of the scenes for some of the most popular early American films including the groundbreaking The Musketeers of Pig Alley, (1912) the first American gangster film (see One block east of this cinema / film museum, 18-year-old John Barrymore made his stage debut in 1900 at then Buckeheister's Hotel in the play A Man of the World directed by his father, Fort Lee (Coytesville) resident and acclaimed Broadway thespian Maurice Barrymore. This play was a fundraiser for the Coytesville Fire Department and the result was the building of the Fire House on Washington Avenue and the purchase of uniforms for the firefighters. John, his sister Ethel and brother Lionel all went on to make their first films in Fort Lee in the 1910's.

The Barrymore Film Center and Fort Lee Film Museum will be the home to annual film festivals, retrospectives, and the screening of new independent films, as well as live stage programs which will include the students of the Fort Lee High School Drama Department and Film Program and their instructor, Ms. Jodi Etra.

Film & Stills Restoration/Preservation

The Fort Lee Film Commission actively raises funds to preserve films made in Fort Lee and works with filmmakers who support promotion of Fort Lee's role as birthplace of the American film industry.

In 2004, the Fort Lee Film Commission restored the only existing print of the 1912 film Robin Hood, produced at Eclair Studio in Fort Lee (present day site of Constitution Park on the Linwood Avenue side). This film, sent to the Commission by the late film collector Al Dettlaff of Wisconsin, has ben restored and screened at the annual Pordenone Film Festival in Italy, the largest silent film festival in the world, as well as in Hollywood, the National Gallery in Washington D.C., and the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

still from Robin Hood restoration

Most recently, the Commission has worked with Los Angeles based filmmaker Pamela Green on her documentary on cinema pioneer Alice Guy Blache', Be Natural, which is currently in production. The Commission has also worked with and assisted film historian and archivist Paul Gierucki most recently on his restoration of the 1916 Fort Lee produced film The Waiter's Ball, starring and directed by Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, and the 1912 early Mack Sennett Keystone Studio film A Grocery Clerk's Romance, shot on the grounds of Rambo's Saloon. This restored The Waiter's Ball film will have its premiere on September 28, 2014 at 7pm at the landmark Loews Theatre in Jersey City as the closing night program at the 2014 Golden Door International Film Festival. The Red Hook Ramblers will play live to the film.

Another arena of the Commission's work is the restoration of still photos. A cache of photos from the 1910's have come out of the old Rambo's Saloon building on First Street in the Coytesville section of Fort Lee. The building is presently owned by the Fort Lee Housing Authority and formerly owned by the late Gloria Limone. Stills and actual movie costumes and props have been found in the building since the Housing Authority purchased it in 2013 at the urging of the Fort Lee Film Commission. The Fort Lee Film Commission is working with interns from Seton Hall University and Rutgers University to document and archive this material in the Fort Lee Museum in preparation for its display in the future Barrymore Film Centerand Fort Lee Film Museum.


Gail KaneThe Fort Lee Film Commission is also in receipt of scrapbooks of silent film star Gail Kane which were donated to the Commission by Kane's grandson. Gail Kane both made films and operated her own production studio in Fort Lee.

The Commission has worked with the Fort Lee Public Library and its director and film scholar Rita Altamora to digitize the library’s collection of over 1000 stills of Fort Lee-related film/studio history. These stills will eventually be made available to the public through web sites and the Library database.

Fort Lee MuseumThe FLFC, a non-profit organization, raises money for its restoration efforts through direct donations and through the sale of t-shirts and historic reproductions, at such venues as the annual Feast of St. Rocco in August and the Movies & Music Under the Stars summer film series. Funds are also used to obtain historic artifacts that are on display at the Fort Lee Museum, home of the Fort Lee Historical Society, a key supporter of the work of the FLFC. Items on display include an original Pathé silent film crank camera which is fully operational (a similar camera sold at the same time is displayed in the lobby of MGM Studios in Hollywood); original glass slides; movie posters; and photos.

The FLFC Newsletter: Metropolis

The Commission also produces a quarterly newsletter, Metropolis. This newsletter is distributed throughout Fort Lee and to film industry/studio officials throughout the United States. Universal Studios’ archive in Universal City maintains Metropolis on file to commemorate its connection to Fort Lee as the location of its first studio, as well as the location of its first film (Hiawatha, shot on location in Coytesville in 1909, was IMP’s first film production, and IMP founder Carl Laemmle later consolidated IMP with other studios to form Universal in 1912). Universal Studios sponsored the Cliffhanger 2001 Fall Film Festival held in October at the Fort Lee Historic Park auditorium. Fort Lee Film Commission liaison Tom Meyers has been invited to the Universal archive in Los Angeles to view their archive of historic photos and research additional information on Fort Lee’s role in the history of the oldest and largest studio in operation today.

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Memorial Municipal Building • 309 Main Street • Fort Lee, NJ 07024
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