David Horsley Poster


Jump to: Overview (2)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (1)  | Trivia (5)

Overview (2)

Born in West Stanley, England, UK
Died in Sunland, California, USA

Mini Bio (1)

David Horsley was born on March 11, 1873, in a small coal mine village called West Stanley, County of Durham, England. This village was owned and operated by the West Stanley Coal Co., which operated three coal mines with an average output of 1,500 tons of coal per day. The miners' houses comprising the village were all owned by the coal company. David's paternal grandfather William Horsley was general manager of the company while his father, Robert, was a master mechanic and chief blacksmith for the mines, which used ponies to bring the coal to the surface. His maternal grandfather, John Chaytor, was the company's saddler and harness maker. On January 18, 1884, while on an errand for his mother, young David was struck down by a coal train locomotive as he crossed the tracks and lost three fingers, severed by the train wheels. Ultimately, his arm was amputated two inches below the elbow so as to forestall the onset of gangrene.

His mother, realizing that there was no future in the town for her disabled son, decided the family should emigrate to America. On October 17, 1884, the Horsley family arrived in New York and moved to New Jersey, eventually settling in Bayonne. The young Horsely helped support the family by selling newspapers, later working as a Western Union messenger boy. When he was approximately 16 years old, J.T.R. Proctor, the owner of the Bayonne Times, became his benefactor, paying for David to attend night school, where he studied bookkeeping and shorthand. His education enabled him to be hired by the Tidewater Oil Works as a timekeeper.

When he was 19 Horsley opened up a bicycle shop, hand-making bicycles despite his handicap. In 1903 he bought a piece of land and built a pool hall in Bayonne. Unfortunately, his business was wiped out by the Panic (or recession) of 1907. He and one of his regular customers, Charles Gorman, decided to try their hand in the movie business. Gorman had been a scenic artist at the Biograph Motion Picture Co. in New York, but had lost his job during the recession. Gorman had the know-how about the movie industry, and Horsely had the land for a primitive studio and possessed the mechanical skills to build a movie camera from the parts of an old projector. The rear yard of the pool hall was covered with a wooden platform and muslin was hung overhead to diffuse the light. They decided to call their enterprise the Centaur Film Co., as it was a name that was half "horse" (from Horsely) and half "man" (from Gorman).

The Centaur Film Co. struggled during the first three years of its existence, subsisting on money borrowed from relatives. It faced a monumental crisis at the end of its first year of operation when the Patents Company was created in 1908 to pool motion picture equipment patents, including the Lanham loop that was necessary for film to be fed correctly into a movie camera. The Patents Co. refused to give Centaur a license to operate; it considered Centaur a fly-by-night operation and turned down Horsley's application for a license three times, figuring that denying the company a license would drive it out of business. The Patents Co., which became known as "The Trust," intended to completely control the manufacture, distribution and exhibition of films.

The Trust created the General Film Co. to deal with film exchanges and to rent films to the exhibitors. General collected a weekly licensing fee of $2 on every projector in the US for the use of the Lanham loop, a situation that was deeply resented by exhibitors. Exhibitors who refused to pay the $2 license fee were denied films, and thus were deprived of their livelihood. General Film opened its own film exchanges to rent films, and it cut off the supply of films to other film exchanges. Eastman Kodak Co. refused to sell Horsely raw film stock to make his one-reel pictures, as its contract with the Patents Co. and General Film had them boycott non-Trust filmmakers. Horsley thus had to import his raw film stock from the Austin Edwards Co. in England.

When film exchange executives converged on New York to challenge the monopoly implemented by the Trust, they were directed to meet David Horsley, whose Centaur Film was holding up under the challenge. In order to improve his ability to compete successfully against the Patents Co. and General Film, Horsely decided to help the film exchange people become producers of movies, as he knew he wouldn't be able to survive for long against The Trust without some help.

Carl Laemmle and R.H. Cochrane formed the Independent Motion Picture Co. and opened a studio in New York producing one-reel movies called IMPS, while Edwin S. Porter started up Rex Pictures and Edwin Thanhouser opened a studio at New Rochelle, New York, while Pat Powers created Powers Pictures. Other companies formed by film exchange personnel to ensure that they received product were Bison, Champion and Reliance. By 1910 there were as many independent film companies making pictures as there were companies that were part of The Trust. It was difficult for indies to obtain cameras and film, as domestically-made cameras and film stock were covered by the Patent Co.'s patents and thus would not be sold to filmmakers outside The Trust. Producers were forced to go abroad to get the English Prestwich or Williamson camera, or to France to get a camera from DeBrie, Gaumont, Pathe or Prevost. They could also follow the example of Horsely in the US or Léo-Ernest Ouimet in Canada and create their own equipment.

To fight The Trust legally, the indies banded together as the Sales Co., headquartered at 14th Street in New York City. The Sales Co. operated as a central exchange, with producers delivering their one-reel films to 14th St., from whence its product was shipped C.O.D. to buyers at the cost of $100 per reel. The Sales Co. remitted $95 per reel to the filmmaker and kept a $5-per-reel fee in order to finance the fight against The Trust. Horsely's Centaur Co. was making one western, one drama and one Mutt & Jeff comedy per week, all one-reelers, for an output of 120 prints per week. This meant it was remitting $600 per week to the Sales Co., which had an income of about $5,000 to $7,500 per week from all the independent production companies. With these funds the Sales Co. retained first-rate patent attorneys to sue the Patents Co. and put an end to its attempt at monopolizing the motion picture business. The indies eventually won, and even the $2-per-week royalty on each projector was terminated by the courts.

The Trust, which had concentrated on technology rather than on the quality of films, had failed to keep up with the development of the crowd-pleasing narrative film, continuing to churn out simple-minded pictorial essays that found little favor with the maturing movie-going audience. Eventually all the production companies that had dominated the industry before the rise of the indies went out of business, including Edison, Biograph and Essanay. The last remaining Trust member, Vitagraph, was acquired by Warner Bros.

Due to bad weather conditions in the summer and early fall of 1911, making motion pictures in the New York City area became difficult. In response, Horsely moved Centaur to California, opening the first motion picture studio in Hollywood at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street on October 27, 1911. The film was developed after dark and shipped to Centaur's Bayonne office to the laboratory for printing. Al Christie--a Canadian who went on to found his own film company, the Nestor Motion Picture Co.--managed the comedy operation of the studio in both Bayonne and Los Angeles. Westerns were produced by Milton J. Fahrney and dramas were produced by Tom Ricketts. All three producers were responsible for one one-reel picture per week.

On May 20, 1912, the Universal Film Manufacturing Co. was formed and absorbed many independent film companies in exchange for stock, including Horsely's Centaur. For the Hollywood studio, New Jersey laboratory and other assets, Horsely received $175,000 in preferred stock and $204,000 in common stock in Universal shares. He was such a respected member of the film community by that point that he was appointed Universal treasurer at the salary of $200 per week. Soon after the formation of the company, a battle for control of Universal started as Carl Laemmle and his faction took on Pat Powers of Powers Pictures for control. Horsely held the balance of power due to his stake, and in the summer of 1913 he sold his stock to Laemmle for a substantial sum, including a first payment of $197,000 and the balance paid off at a monthly rate of $5,000 in notes. Now rich beyond his dreams, Horsely took his family on a trip back to the United Kingdom, then toured Europe, eventually resigning as treasurer of Universal.

Horsely was in Europe when war broke out in August 1914. The Bostock Animal and Jungle Show was evicted from its London exhibition rooms due to military necessity. The manager of the Jungle Show sold it to Horsely for $40,000, approximately a tenth of his fortune from the sale of his Universal stock. Horsely transported the show's assets to the US by ship. From the docks of Brooklyn, Horsely shipped the menagerie, which included 58 lions and two elephants, to Los Angeles. Altogether it cost him a total of $15,000 to freight the animals from England to L.A. He spent a further $47,500 to create a new park for his show, including grandstands, arenas, cages, and a concrete fence on a property at Washington and Main that rented for $600 per month.

After he opened the show in 1915 he was facing a daily overhead of $225, though the most tickets the show ever sold in a day was $165, while on a bad day the show took in as little as $1.25. To make the show pay, Horsely built a film studio at the site that he called the Bostock Jungle Films Co., which included its own film processing lab. Horsely began turning out movies, many of which used the wild animals as background. His new studio made five-reel dramas with Crane Wilbur, "Stanley in Africa" pictures, and approximately 200 comedies with George Ovey. By the fall of 1918 his movie-making venture was through, and when he filed for bankruptcy in 1919, the once-rich Horsely was $38,000 in debt.

The loss of his company, his exotic animal show and his fortune broke David Horsely. He died on February 23, 1933, a forgotten man, barely remembered as one of the men who saved the film industry from The Trust and pioneered Hollywood as a filmmaking center. Horsely was interred in Hollywood Cemetery, now known as Hollywood Forever Cemetery, reduced to a footnote in American cinema history.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Spouse (1)

Mary (? - ?) ( 3 children)

Trivia (5)

His son, David S. Horsley, was a cameraman who became an expert at special photographic effects.
(10/2/1911) He built a film studio, Nestor, at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street, Hollywood.
Owner of David Horsley Productions, a film production company.
Co-founder of Centaur Film Co., a film production company formed in 1908.
Grandfather of Stanley Horsley.

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