Sidney Olcott

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Sidney Olcott
Sidney Olcott001.jpg
Olcott in 1922
John Sidney Allcott

(1872-09-20)September 20, 1872
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
DiedDecember 16, 1949(1949-12-16) (aged 76)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Occupation(s)Film director, producer, screenwriter, actor
Years active1904–1942
(m. 1914;died 1949)

Sidney Olcott (born John Sidney Allcott, [1] September 20, 1872 [2] December 16, 1949) [3] was a Canadian-born film producer, director, actor and screenwriter.



Born John Sidney Allcott in Toronto, he became one of the first great directors of the motion picture business. With a desire to be an actor, a young Sidney Olcott went to New York City where he worked in the theatre until 1904 when he performed as a film actor with the Biograph Studios.

In 1907, Frank J. Marion and Samuel Long, with financial backing from George Kleine, formed a new motion picture company called the Kalem Company and were able to lure the increasingly successful Olcott away from Biograph. Olcott was offered the sum of ten dollars per picture and under the terms of his contract, Olcott was required to direct a minimum of one, one-reel picture of about a thousand feet every week. After making a number of very successful films for the Kalem studio, including Ben Hur (1907) with its dramatic chariot race scene, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1908), [4] Olcott became the company's president and was rewarded with one share of its stock. In 1910, Olcott demonstrated his creative thinking when he made Kalem Studios the first ever to travel outside the United States to film on location.[ citation needed ]

Of Irish ancestry, and knowing that in America there was a huge built-in Irish audience, Olcott went to Ireland where he made a film called A Lad from Old Ireland . [3] He would go on to make more than a dozen films there and later on only the outbreak of World War I prevented him from following through with his plans to build a permanent studio in Beaufort, County Kerry, Ireland. The Irish films led to him taking a crew to Palestine in 1912 to make the first five-reel film ever, titled From the Manger to the Cross , the life story of Jesus. [3]

The film concept was at first the subject of much scepticism but when it appeared on screen, it was lauded by the public and the critics. Costing $35,000 to produce, From the Manger to the Cross earned the Kalem Company profits of almost $1 million, a staggering amount in 1912. The motion picture industry acclaimed him as its greatest director and the film influenced the direction many great filmmakers would take such as D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. From the Manger to the Cross is still shown today to film societies and students studying early film making techniques. In 1998, the film was selected for the National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress.

Despite making the studio owners very rich men, they refused to increase his salary beyond the $150 a week he was then earning. From the enormous profits made for his employers, Olcott's dividend on the one share they had given him amounted to $350. As a result, Sidney Olcott resigned and took some time off, making only an occasional film until 1915 when he was encouraged by his Canadian friend Mary Pickford to join her at Famous Players–Lasky, later Paramount Pictures. The Kalem Company never recovered from the mistake of losing Olcott and a few years after his departure, the operation was acquired by Vitagraph Studios in 1916.

Olcott's grave in Toronto, Ontario Olcott Grave Toronto.jpg
Olcott's grave in Toronto, Ontario

Olcott was a founding member of the East Coast chapter of the Motion Picture Directors Association, a forerunner to today's Directors Guild of America and would later serve as its president. Olcott married actress Valentine Grant, the star of his 1916 film, The Innocent Lie .

During World War II, Olcott opened his home to visiting British Commonwealth soldiers in Los Angeles. In his book titled Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood, writer Charles Foster tells of this period in Olcott's life, and of how he was introduced to many members of Hollywood's Canadian community through Olcott. Olcott died in Hollywood, California, [3] in the house of his friend Robert Vignola where he lived after the death of Valentine Grant. Wanting to be buried in Canada, he is buried in Park Lawn cemetery in Toronto, Ontario. [1] [3]

Partial filmography [3]





















See also

Related Research Articles

<i>From the Manger to the Cross</i> 1912 film by Sidney Olcott

From the Manger to the Cross or Jesus of Nazareth is a 1912 American drama film directed by Sidney Olcott, written by Gene Gauntier, and starring Robert Henderson-Bland as Jesus of Nazareth. Filmed on location in Egypt and in Palestine, it tells the story of Jesus's life, interspersed with verses from The Bible.

Motion pictures have been a part of the culture of Canada since the industry began.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert G. Vignola</span> American artist (1882–1953)

Robert G. Vignola was an Italian-American actor, screenwriter, and film director. A former stage actor, he appeared in many motion pictures produced by Kalem Company and later moved to directing, becoming one of the silent screen's most prolific directors. He directed a handful of films in the early years of sound films, but his career essentially ended in the silent era.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gene Gauntier</span> American novelist

Gene Gauntier was an American screenwriter and actress who was one of the pioneers of the motion picture industry. A writer, director, and actress in films from mid 1906 to 1920, she wrote screenplays for 42 films. She performed in 87 films and is credited as the director of The Grandmother (1909).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kalem Company</span>

The Kalem Company was an early American film studio founded in New York City in 1907. It was one of the first companies to make films abroad and to set up winter production facilities, first in Florida and then in California. Kalem was sold to Vitagraph Studios in 1917.

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John Paterson McGowan was a pioneering Hollywood actor and director and occasionally a screenwriter and producer. McGowan remains the only Australian to have been made a life member of the Screen Directors Guild.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Valentine Grant</span> American actress (1881–1949)

Valentine Grant was an American silent film actress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George K. Hollister</span> American cinematographer and actor (1873-1952)

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<i>The Lad from Old Ireland</i> 1910 film

The Lad from Old Ireland, also called A Lad from Old Ireland, is a one-reel 1910 American motion picture directed by and starring Sidney Olcott and written by and co-starring Gene Gauntier. It was the first film appearance of prolific actor/director J.P. McGowan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alice Hollister</span> American actress (1886–1973)

Alice Hollister was an American silent film actress who appeared in around 90 films between 1910 and 1925. She is known for her roles in movies such as From the Manger to the Cross and The Vampire.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jack J. Clark</span> American film director

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arthur Donaldson (actor)</span> Swedish-American actor

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<i>The Colleen Bawn</i> (1911 American film) 1911 American film

The Colleen Bawn is a silent 1911 American romantic drama film based on the 1860 play of the same name. A secret marriage leads to murder. It and the play are based on the actual 1819 murder of 15-year-old Ellen Scanlan.

<i>The Kerry Gow</i> 1912 American film

The Kerry Gow is a 1912 American silent film produced by Kalem Company and distributed by General Film Company. It was directed by Sidney Olcott with Alice Hollister and Jack J. Clark in the leading roles.

<i>The Shaughraun</i> (film) 1912 American film

The Shaughraun is a 1912 American silent film produced by the Kalem Company and distributed by the General Film Company. It was directed by Sidney Olcott with himself, Gene Gauntier, Alice Hollister and Jack J. Clark in the leading roles.

<i>Bold Emmett Irelands Martyr</i> 1915 American film

Bold Emmett Ireland's Martyr is an American silent film produced by Sid Films and distributed by Lubin Manufacturing Company. It was directed by Sidney Olcott and played by Valentine Grant, Sidney Olcott and PH O'Malley in the leading roles. Shot in 1914 it was released in 1915.


  1. 1 2 Resting Places
  2. "Sidney Olcott - Blog".
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Lucas, Ralph (September 19, 2019). "Sidney Olcott". Northernstars - The Canadian Film Database. Retrieved November 23, 2022.
  4. 1 2 Workman, Christopher; Howarth, Troy (2016). "Tome of Terror: Horror Films of the Silent Era". Midnight Marquee Press. p. 43. ISBN   978-1936168-68-2.
  5. "Enjoying Life Silently: Film History in Shadow and Light". PopMatters. November 3, 2017. Retrieved November 11, 2019.