Long Island's Hidden Past: Film industry in Suffolk County

<p>Suffolk County played a surprising role in the early stages of the silent film industry.</p>

News 12 Staff

Sep 6, 2018, 12:33 PM

Updated 2,091 days ago


Suffolk County played a surprising role in the early stages of the silent film industry. News 12 Long Island's Danielle Campbell and Brian Endres take a look in this month's Long Island's Hidden Past segment.
In the late 1800s, Long Island became a Mecca for early film makers. 
"Long Island was the original Tinseltown. We were Hollywood East before the industry moved to the West Coast," says Vicki Berger, from the Suffolk County Historical Society Museum. 
According to Berger, many silent films were made in Sayville and the South Shore. There was even a big production studio in Bay Shore. 
Along with the movie making, came the theaters - vaudeville halls transformed into movie houses. 
The Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead was one of the first to show silent films. It was in that Suffolk theater where Thomas Edison conducted experiments with his new invention - the talkie.
Some of the other early theaters across Long Island have survived - restored to their original beauty - but many of the silent films that are part of our Long Island cinema history did not.
"I think my favorite posters are the ones from the silent film era because those films are lost and all that remains are the posters and the still images," says Berger.
By the mid-1920s, Berger explains that film makers headed to the West Coast in an effort to escape Thomas Edison's costly control of the film industry. The golden age of movie making on Long Island came to an end.

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