Ben F. Wilson Poster


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Overview (3)

Born in Corning, Iowa, USA
Died in Glendale, California, USA  (heart disease)
Birth NameBenjamin Franklin Wilson

Mini Bio (1)

Ben F. Wilson, the prolific actor and director of the silent era, was born on July 7, 1876, in Corning, NY. His career as an actor began as most other thespians did in that era--as a member of a theatrical stock company. The stock companies that employed Wilson worked the East Coast circuits.

The original "Hollywood" was Fort Lee, NJ, since the "inventor" of the motion picture (movie cameras and projection equipment), Thomas Edison, was a resident of New Jersey. Edison made the first movies himself and soon consolidated his movie equipment patents with those of others and formed the Motion Picture Trust. The Trust virtually bound movie production to New Jersey and the metropolitan New York City area at the turn of the last century, as Edison wanted to closely supervise--and, of course, make sure he got a cut of the profits from--those using his equipment.

Wilson, in fact, began his film career as an employee of Thomas Edison. Billed as "Benjamin Wilson," he made his film debut in Edwin S. Porter's Silver Threads Among the Gold (1911) for the Edison Co. From 1911-13 Wilson appeared in 13 movies directed by J. Searle Dawley, including The Priest and the Man (1913), the first cinematic adaptation of a work by popular Canadian novelist and short-story writer Gilbert Parker. Wilson first directed himself as an actor in A Shot in the Dark (1912). He directed 88 movies in which he appeared as an actor, mostly in the period of 1915-16. He left Edison for the Nestor Co. and eventually started his own production company, with a distribution deal with the Universal Film Manufacturing Co., which was still headquartered on the East Coast. He was popular enough as an actor by 1916 to be featured on his own "trading card" in an issue from Piedmont Cigarettes. Other honorees included Florence Lawrence, E.K. Lincoln and Pearl White. The next year he appeared on a card issued by Egyptian Oasis cigarettes along with such other stars as King Baggot, Sidney Drew, Mrs. Sidney Drew, Marshall Neilan and Anna Q. Nilsson. In 1918 Wilson hooked up again with Universal, this time as a producer. He produced and directed the 18-part action-adventure serial The Brass Bullet (1918). Eventually, he served on the board of directors of the Motion Picture Directors' Association of America, a fraternal organization created by J. Searle Dawley and others in 1915 to promote the interests of movie directors.

In addition to appearing in 168 films as an actor, Wilson directed 123 movies, produced 69 and wrote 11 screenplays. By the late 1920s, however, he was reduced to grinding out cheap fodder for Poverty Row, producing, directing and writing silent films up through 1930 for Morris R. Schlank Productions, pretty much the bottom of the barrel of Hollywood studios. He made the transition to sound as an actor only: Wilson's last film was an acting gig in the Buck Jones western Shadow Ranch (1930) for Columbia Pictures, which was released in 1930. It remains his only sound picture, as his career was cut short by ill health.

Ben F. Wilson died from complications of heart disease on August 25, 1930, in Glendale, CA. He was 54 years old.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Trivia (1)

Profiled in "Serial Film Stars: A Biographical Dictionary, 1912-1956 (2 Volume Set)" by Buck Rainey (2005).

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