A fan website dedicated to American film actress Alice Calhoun, who appeared in 52 motion pictures from 1918 to 1934.
The birth of the movies occurred in the late 19th and early 20th century. Today, we recognize that those early recorded films are precious in that it was the first time we were able to record history as a collective series of moving images. Unfortunately, very few of those early movies still exist. The Library of Congress, one of the few entities dedicated to film preservation (albeit on a limited budget) has estimated that fewer than 20% of early American recorded images remain.
There are a number of reasons for this. The motion picture business was then, and still is, a money-making industry. Movies were thought of as “product”, and once their profitability period ended, they were almost always tossed away like yesterday’s newspaper. But the ultimate culprit in the lack of remaining reels is that for years, the transparent flexible film that was widely used for recording moving images was nitrate-based. Unfortunately, nitrate has a tendency to be highly flammable, and even when it hasn’t self-ignited, it decomposes into a gooey dust over time. By the time this terrible truth was recognized, countless miles of newsreel footage, original Hollywood film stock, and home movies were gone forever.
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Some remaining nitrate films have been transferred to safety stock; however, this process is time-consuming, requires special training and licensing, and is quite expensive. The National Film Preservation Board at the Library of Congress was established in 1988. The Board is allowed to select up to 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films” each year for the National Film Registry, and these must be “orphan” films – films without owners. Their budget is limited for the preservation of the chosen films, and the department is dependent on congressional approval every four years for the continuity of maintenance of these archives. Other American museums, archives, libraries, universities, and historical societies care for “orphaned” original film materials of cultural value, but the Library of Congress is the key portal to film preservation.
Two of Alice Calhoun’s films were selected for preservation in the Moving Image Collection at the Library of Congress: Hidden Aces (1927)and Two to One (1925). The University of California at Los Angeles Film & Television Archive holds six of her films in their non-circulating nitrate vaults: The Man On the Box (1925); The Other Woman’s Story (1925); Part-Time Wife (1925); Kentucky Handicap (1926); Hidden Aces (1927); and Now I’ll Tell (1934). If there is any more fitting tribute to this remarkable actress, it is that so many of her films were selected to be preserved from the thousands of others that were not chosen.
Not only was Alice Calhoun a dedicated and gifted performer, but she was a pioneer and role model worth remembering to this day. When she debuted in motion pictures, the first World War had just ended, the 19th Amendment had only recently granted women the right to vote, and prohibition was the law of the land. Miss Calhoun pursued a career at a time in American history when women rarely worked in professional occupations. Her dedication to her art is also apparent in that she selected acting at a time when an occupation in the theater was considered scandalous. That she was also renowned for her athleticism, musical abilities, community service, encouragement of other actors, and fondly remembered as warm, effervescent, kind and caring person in a frequently shallow and cutthroat profession are also remarkable.
Explore the other pages on this website for more information about Alice Calhoun, and check back often for updates about showings of her films and publication of her biography “Alice in Hollywoodland: The Life and Times of Silent Screen Star Alice Calhoun” by Susann Gilbert.
All Photos and Written Material on this website © Susann Disbro Gilbert