News flash ! Trotsky was an extra at Vitagraph circa 1910

June 24, 2008 § 2 Comments

Yes, you’ve read it right. Leon Trotsky. The one and only.

That’s what we learn thanks to Vitagraph founder, Hollywood veteran, and Motion Picture Magazine founder J. Stuart Blackton, in an article he wrote on his magazine’s 14th birthday (Feb. 1925). Blackton is reminiscing about the differences between cinema in 1910 and cinema in 1925. Ah, the good old days before the star system when all hands were on deck to help out:

Except for Cos [Maurice Costello], every actor, cameraman and director hammered sets, ran errands, rummaged the neighborhood for props, and generally took the place of the
 machinists, carpenters, architects, designers, interior decorators, animal trainers and efficiency experts we have today. Anybody who wasn’t needed as a lead in a picture cheerfully played as extra. Perhaps, on the whole, this is the greatest difference between then and now ! I have stills in my desk showing Earle Williams, Norma, Constance and Anita [Talmadge] as a part of the mob. There was one silent, foreign chap who often worked in mob scenes for two dollars a day, who is now the ruler over fifty-million people. His name was Leon Trotsky.

Nothing is too good for Hollywood lore.


§ 2 Responses to News flash ! Trotsky was an extra at Vitagraph circa 1910

  • urbanora says:

    Sadly, this isn’t true. Rumours that Trotsky appeared as an extra in American films were in circulation by at least 1918, and later a still turned up for the now lost Vitagraph film, HIS OFFICIAL WIFE (1914), which seemed to show Trotsky standing next to Clara Kimball Young. Unfortunately, Trotsky wasn’t in New York in 1914; he was in the city for a few months in 1917, and there’s not the slightest evidence to suggest he spent any time as a film extra. Kevin Brownlow scotches the myth in Behind the Mask of Innocence. See this account of HIS OFFICIAL WIFE for more info – – click on Picture 1 for the ‘Trotsky’ photo.

    But it’s certainly remarkable to find Blackton spinning the story in 1925. His reference to stills suggests that it was the image that spread the rumour in the first place.


  • flyczba says:

    Fantastic ! Thanks ! Indeed Trotsky had other fish to fry in the 1910s, what with being deported to Siberia, escaping to Vienna, splitting ideological hairs with the Mensheviks, fighting against War and becoming the Bolsheviks’ No. 2…As far as US film producers are concerned though, having a relatively famous revolutionary leader play in a ‘terrorist cell’ in 1914 must have been considered as a publicity asset, in spite of (or because of?) the potential political fall-out. Red Scare anyone ? Spinning that story in 1925 is amazing indeed — as if there’s a desperation in Blackton to prove his low-class creds (in his article he makes the point repeatedly that cinemas used to be smelly because lower class): does he think cinema as become too genteel ? (to be continued)

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