Inside Norman Studios

April 23, 2013 6 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

During this month's 60th anniversary celebration of the Mathews Bridge, Metro Jacksonville took the opportunity to take a look inside the last intact movie studio from early 20th century Jacksonville's silent film era: Norman Studios

About Norman Studios

Norman’s five-building studio complex began as part of a planned cigar factory and later became Eagle Film City. After the company filed bankruptcy, the property became the home and workplace of filmmaker and inventor Richard E. Norman.

Hidden away in the Arlington community of Jacksonville are five historic buildings that have the distinction of being the epicenter of the silent movie era. Built in 1916, these buildings became the Norman Studios, a complex owned by silent filmmaker Richard Norman. The studios are truly a historic treasure – the last vestige of Jacksonville’s days as the Winter Film Capitol of the World. Before the creation of Hollywood, Jacksonville was the place of actors such as Oliver Hardy, John and Ethyl Barrymore, Lillian Gish and Charlie Chaplin. More than 8 silent films were produced at the Norman Studios, including “The Flying Ace” which was filmed in 1926. Each of Norman’s films starred an all black cast. Richard Norman recognized the need for movies that represented the black community. “My father was disheartened about the state of race relations at the time, both in real life and in the movies,” says retired Air Force Captain, Richard Norman, the filmmaker’s son. “And he saw an untapped market. So, he set out to help give the black community a stronger place on film, behind the cameras and in the theatres.” Today, Captain Richard Norman serves on the board of the Norman Studios Silent Film Museum, a non-profit organization that has a blockbuster vision of the studio’s future.

The Norman Studios Silent Film Museum, Inc. (NSSFM) is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization officially registered in 2007, but with roots that go back to the early 1990s when the efforts of Melanie MacLean Cross and other passionate preservationists joined together to save the five wooden buildings in honor of the bravery of filmmaker Richard Norman and the African-American casts and crews who broke through the film industry’s racial barrier long before the mainstream acceptance of minorities. In 2002, the City of Jacksonville purchased four of the five buildings. By 2007 structural repairs and exterior renovations had been completed on those four buildings, utilizing more than $685,000 in state and federal funds. Today, the four buildings await interior renovations while that fifth building remains to be purchased from a local church. The City of Jacksonville is eager to hand these buildings over to a responsible organization that will in turn provide services that benefit our community. To date, the NSSFM and the National Parks Service are the two most likely candidates as recipients of the buildings. Together, our two organizations could form an alliance that would greatly impact the people of Jacksonville.

Between 1919-1928, Richard E.Norman, of the Norman Film Studios, Jacksonville, FL., produced several silent feature films featuring some of the leading black actors and actresses of that period. What is unique is that Norman, who was white, cast his actors in positive roles such as a banker, businessman, etc. not the demeaning roles that were normally given to blacks. His counterpart, and friend, was black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. Sadly, most of the films made by both men, including "The Bull-Dogger", are now lost. This film trailer was made from the film's surviving marketing materials plus a few seconds of recently found footage. Hopefully, it will give you some idea as to what this exciting action packed film might have been like.
The Bull-Dogger (1922) Norman Film Studios by

Poster for the "The Bull-Dogger" produced by the Norman Film Mfg. Co. in Jacksonville, Florida in 1923. Pickett was discovered by studio head Richard Norman in the all-black Oklahoma town of Boley while working as a rancher. He later performed in other Norman productions. Photograph courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Movie poster from the film "The Flying Ace". Photograph courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Next Page: Norman Studios Photo Tour

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