Film Frame Collection

Finding aid created by Seaver Center for Western History Research, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County staff using RecordEXPRESS
Seaver Center for Western History Research, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90007-4057
(213) 763-3359

Descriptive Summary

Title: Film Frame Collection
Dates: 1889-1947
Collection Number: P-074
Creator/Collector: Theisen, Earl
Extent: 5.8 linear feet
Repository: Seaver Center for Western History Research, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Los Angeles, California 90007-4057
Abstract: Specimens of motion picture film compiled and catalogued by Earl Theisen (1903-1973). A portion of the collection is derived from other motion picture history donations to the museum, but most of the items were collected by the donor. 1889-1947, undated
Language of Material: English


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Preferred Citation

Film Frame Collection. Seaver Center for Western History Research, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Biography/Administrative History

Theisen (1903-1973) was the Honorary Curator of Motion Picture and Theatrical Arts at the then-called Los Angeles Museum for several years following 1931. He had a primary role at the museum in developing the Motion Picture Gallery. Much of the film collections in the museum’s History Department were acquired as a result of his efforts. He was a technician at the Dunning Process Plant, a member of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, and a member of the Society’s Historical Committee. He wrote articles for the publication “The International Photographer” from about 1932 to 1936 and also served as its Associate Editor. In articles he discussed the history of motion pictures; film production and the film industry, including the art of animation; in a semi- regular column he covered news about the Hollywood industry. One of the articles from the May, 1934 issue noted that he was a “member of the Faculty as Lecturer in the Department of Cinematography, University of Southern California.” While serving as curator at the museum, Theisen became active as the Executive Secretary of the Motion Picture Hall of Fame at the California-Pacific International Exposition (1935-1936) at San Diego, California. He organized a motion picture gallery at the exposition using his contacts in the hectic film industry to acquire props and materials within a matter of five weeks.

Scope and Content of Collection

Specimens of motion picture film compiled and catalogued by Earl Theisen. The collection contains representative film stock by manufacturers, processing firms and early studios from the East and West coasts, and abroad, including Bell and Howell, Biograph, Bison, Walt Disney, Louis Dufay, Dunning, Max B. Dupont, George Eastman, Thomas Edison, Lee de Forest, William Fox, Léon Gaumont, David Horsley, Siegmund Lubin, the Lumière Brothers, MGM, Nestor, Paramount, Pathé-Freres, RKO, William Selig (pre-1900 and later), Mack Sennett, Universal, Vitagraph, and Warner Bros. The collection reflects each technical process available at the time (including color, sound, animation, and television) ranging from an 1889 Eastman film to a pre-1900 collodion experimental film to the latest samples collected by Theisen in 1932-1934, as well as some subsequent samples dated 1936, 1946, and 1947. Film types include early safety stock; varying widths include 8mm amateur film and 58mm Widescope; metal; ultraviolet; silent tracks; split sound tracks; early sound, sound; and picture; synchronization tests; and color film processes that include pre-sound color, stencil, tint, hand color, Keller-Dorian, Kodacolor, Multicolor, and Technicolor. Additional formats include Mutoscope cards and color-filtering “eyeglasses”. Specimens reflecting the work of others prominent in motion picture science (but not possessing eponymous standings as those cited above) include E.H. Amet, Max Handschiegl, Walter Lantz, Eugène Lauste, Jean A. LeRoy, Georges Méliès, T.K. Peters, Earnest Ruhmer, and T.L. Talley. In addition to the 1889 Eastman specimen, also noteworthy in the collection of the same era are Edison Laboratory specimens taken by W.K. L. Dickson; and an 1896 sterioscopic [sic] film by C. Francis Jenkins. Animation specimens include the first animated cartoon by J. Stuart Blackton and the Vitagraph Company in 1906. Disney specimens include an early test frame (1921) for the main title of a “Laugh-O-Gram”, the first in a series. The collection includes the first complete color cartoon from Ted Eshbaugh’s “Goofy Goat” that was previewed in 1931 and commercially released in Los Angeles on March 2, 1932. Some of the earliest film project specimens include Thomas Edison’s “Carmencita, the Dancer” (1890), “In the Chinese Laundry” (1893), “The Burning Stable” (ca. 1898), and “The Great Train Robbery” (1903, re-issued synchronized to sound in 1930). D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” and other works by Biograph and Vitagraph are documented. There is a scene at the Los Angeles Pershing Square in 1902, taken with the Lumière Cinematograph. There is a Mutoscope card of Biograph’s 1906 "Field Day of the Vaquero Club", the first film made in Los Angeles. Examples of actors in the frames include Charlie Chaplin and Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan. Unidentified frames abound in the collection, and many are described in example “man in tattered clothing in jail cell” and “frontier woman tending sick man in bed”. There are numerous frames of titles and intertitles. Included in the collection are contact prints along with glass and other negatives produced internally for museum use. When possible, these reproduced formats are filed with the original specimens. 1889-1947, undated.

Indexing Terms

Camera, early photography & moving pictures
Motion picture actors and actresses
Silent films.
Pioneers in motion pictures
Sound in motion pictures
Color motion pictures
Motion pictures
Motion picture devices

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