Flying High With Flying A in the Windy City: The American Film Manufacturing Company
Formed by Samuel Hutchinson and Charles Hite, the American Film Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1910 and held the distinction of being the only independent film company in Chicago. Hite had years of film experience already behind him, as the owner of the C.J. Hite Moving Picture Company, the C.J. Hite Film Rental Company and co-owner (with Hutchinson) of the H&H Film Service Company, so he brought a knowledge of the film industry with him that would prove invaluable.
When the American name was announced in the fall of 1910, the company already had several recognizable names as part of its stock. Allan Dwan, Charles Ziebarth, J. Warren Kerrigan, G.P. Hamilton and Aubrey M. Kennedy were all raided from Essanay’s Chicago-based cast and crew, while Adrienne Kroell came from the Chicago branch of Selig Polyscope. So extensive was the raid on the Essanay lot, that Essanay co-founder George K. Spoor filed an injunction against the company to prevent further raids.
Initially, productions were staged and filmed at the leased studio of the defunct Phoenix Company at 1425 Orleans St., but by 1911 American’s own studios had been erected at the 312 Ashland block. It was at this time that Hite turned his attention to Thanhouser studios in New York. Though he retained interest in American, American was no longer a major concern for Hite, and it mostly fell to Hutchinson to oversee.
American Film Manufacturing
The studio consisted of three acting companies; two were based locally and shot in the American studios and in local locations, while the third was sent out west to film Westerns. Eventually, that company set up shop in California, first in La Mesa and then in Santa Barbara, forming the western Flying A branch. By 1913, filming had ceased in Chicago itself. While the acting company was out on the west coast, the day-to-day business operations, promotions and film printing continued to take place in Chicago. Hutchinson himself continued to live and spend the majority of his time in the Windy City. By 1916, the American offices had once again relocated, moving to 6227-35 Broadway in Chicago.
American Studios location number two
The company saw success as it added the likes of Mary Miles Minter and Marshall Neilan to its stock, and its serials, like “The Diamond from the Sky,” and three- and four-reel productions consistently drew crowds and favorable reviews from critics. When it began to feel pressure from its distributor (Mutual Film Corporation) to make more features, though, it began to fall apart. Personnel who were once gainfully employed working on several smaller, shorter projects were suddenly underworked. Desperate, they began to move to Los Angeles where most of the other studios were located. The exodus of underworked crews, the first World War, the Flu Epidemic of 1918, and the dissolution of Mutual all contributed to American’s downfall and by the early ‘20s Flying A was no more.
All American ad. See what I did there?
Although, like competitors Essanay and Selig Polyscope, American is often forgotten when discussing early days of film, it remains a major part of film and silent film history. The influential writers, directors and players who walked through American’s doors have forever left a mark on the world of film, even without a major mogul like Louis B. Mayer at the helm.
Janelle Vreeland for Classic Movie Hub
Thank you to Janelle for this wonderful Silent Film Series. You can read more of Janelle’s articles about Silent Film and Chicago history-related topics at Chicago Nitrate or Curtains, or you can follow Janelle on Twitter at @SpookyJanelle .