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Sidney Olcott

Sidney Olcott
Born John Sidney Olcott
(1872-09-20)20 September 1872[1]
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died 16 December 1949(1949-12-16) (aged 76)
Hollywood, California, United States
Occupation Film director, producer and Screenwriter
Years active 1904 – 1942

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


  • Biography 1
  • Partial filmography 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Born John Sidney Allcott[2] 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 theater until 1904 when he performed as a film actor with the Biograph Studios. Within a short time he was directing films and became a general manager at Biograph.

In 1907, Kalem Company and were able to lure the increasingly successful Sidney 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, Olcott became the company's president and was rewarded with one share of its stock.

In 1910 Sidney Olcott demonstrated his creative thinking when he made Kalem Studios the first ever to travel outside the United States to film on location.

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. 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.

The film concept was at first the subject of much skepticism 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 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. Like the rest of the film industry, Sidney Olcott moved to Hollywood, California, where he directed many more successful and acclaimed motion pictures with the leading stars of the day.

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. Sidney Olcott died in Hollywood, California.

Partial filmography

Year Title
1907 The Sleigh Belle
1907 A Hobo Hero
1907 The Pony Express
1907 The New Hired Girl
1907 The Tenderfoot
1907 Off for the Day
1907 The Sea Wolf
1907 Ben Hur
1908 A Florida Feud
1910 A Lad from Old Ireland
1911 For the Love of an Enemy
1911 The Secret of the Still
1911 The Little Sister
1911 Grandmother's War Story
1911 The Open Road
1911 Sailor Jack's Reformation
1911 The Irish Honeymoon
1911 The Diver
1911 A War Time Escape
1911 A Sawmill Hero
1911 The Lass Who Couldn't Forget
1911 By a Woman's Wit
1911 In Old Florida
1911 The Fiddle's Requiem
1911 When the Dead Return
1911 The Carnival
1911 In Blossom Time
1911 Tangled Lives
1911 The Railroad Raiders of '62
1911 The Love of Summer Morn
1911 The Little Soldier of '64
1911 To the Aid of Stonewall Jackson
1911 The Colonel's Son
1911 The Romance of a Dixie Belle
1911 Special Messenger
1911 Rory O'More
1911 Losing to Win
1911 The Colleen Bawn
1911 The Fishermaid of Ballydavid
1911 Among the Irish Fisher Folk
1911 The Franciscan Friars of Killarney
1911 Arrah-na-Pogue
1912 Driving Home the Cows
1912 The O'Neill
1912 His Mother
1912 The O'Kalems Visit Killarney
1912 The Vagabonds
1912 Far From Erin's Isle
1912 You Remember Ellen
1912 A Visit to Madeira
1912 The Kalemites Visit Gibraltar
1912 Along the Mediterranean
1912 The Potters of the Nile
1912 American Tourists Abroad
1912 Egypt the Mysterious
1912 Egypt as it Was in the Time of Moses
1912 The Fighting Dervishes of the Desert
1912 Luxor Egypt
1912 Missionaries in Darkest Africa
1912 Making Photoplays in Egypt
1912 A Pet of the Cairo Zoo
1912 An Arabian Tragedy
1912 Captured by Bedouins
1912 Tragedy of the Desert
1912 Winning a Widow
1912 Egyptian Sports
1912 A Prisoner of the Harem
1912 Easter Celebration at Jerusalem
1912 Palestine
1912 From Jerusalem to the Dead Sea
1912 Down Through the Ages of the Desert
1912 The Ancient Port of Jaffa
1912 Along the River Nile
1912 Ancient Temples of Egypt
1912 The Poacher's Pardon
1912 From the Manger To the Cross
1912 The Kerry Gow
1912 The Mayor From Ireland
1912 Conway, the Kerry Dancer
1912 Ireland, the Oppressed
1912 The Shaughraun
1913 The Wives of Jamestown
1913 The Lady Peggy's Escape
1913 A Daughter of Confederacy
1913 The Mystery of Pine Creek Camp
1913 When Men Hate
1913 In the Power of the Hypnotist
1913 In the Clutches of the Ku Klux Klan
1913 The Octoroon
1914 For Ireland's Sake
1914 Come Back To Erin
1914 When Men Would Kill
1914 In the Hands of a Brute
1914 The Eye of the Government
1914 A Mother of Men
1914 The Idle Rich
1914 Tricking the Government
1914 The Little Rebel
1915 The Moth and the Flame
1915 All For Old Ireland
1915 Bold Emmett, Ireland's Martyr
1915 Seven Sisters
1915 The Irish in America
1915 Nan O' the Backwoods
1915 Madame Butterfly
1915 The Ghost of Twisted Oaks
1915 The Taint
1916 Poor Little Peppina
1916 My Lady Incog
1916 Diplomacy
1916 The Innocent Lie
1916 The Smugglers
1916 The Daughter of MacGregor
1918 The Belgian
1919 Marriage for Convenience
1920 Scratch My Back
1921 The Right Way
1921 God's Country and the Law
1921 Pardon My French
1922 Timothy's Quest
1923 The Green Goddess
1923 Little Old New York
1924 The Humming Bird
1924 Monsieur Beaucaire
1924 The Only Woman
1925 Salome of the Tenements
1925 The Charmer
1925 Not So Long Ago
1925 The Best People
1926 The White Black Sheep
1926 Ranson's Folly
1926 The Amateur Gentleman
1927 The Claw

See also


  1. ^ a b "Sidney Olcott - Blog". 
  2. ^ "John Sidney "Olcott" Allcott (1872 - 1949) - Find A Grave Memorial". 
  • Michel Derrien, Aux origines du cinéma irlandais: Sidney Olcott, le premier oeil, TIR 2013. ISBN 978-2-917681-20-6 (French)

External links

  • Olcott filming in Ireland (PDF)
  • Sidney Olcott at the Internet Movie Database
  • (French) Sidney Olcott, le premier œil
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