Sunday, July 12, 2015

The High Bridge, New York

The High Bridge (originally the Aqueduct Bridge) is the oldest bridge in New York City. On June 9, 2015 it reopened as a pedestrian and bicycle thruway after being closed for over 40 years. It connects The Bronx and Manhattan over the Harlem River. The eastern end is located in the Highbridge section of The Bronx near the western end of West 170th Street, and the western end is located in Highbridge Park in Manhattan, roughly Washington Heights. These are pictures taken on a walk over the bridge on July 11, 2015.

The High Bridge Water Tower was built in 1866-72, and was accompanied by a 7-acre reservoir. The High Bridge system reached its full capacity by 1875 and, with the opening of the Croton Aqueduct, the High Bridge system was less relied upon. During World War I it was shut down. In 1949 the tower was removed from service, and a carillon (bell) was installed in 1958. The tower was damaged by arson in 1984. It was restored in 1989-90.

Is this the last remaining Howard Johnson's Motel in existence? It's on The Bronx side of the High Bridge.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Watch and Wear: Florence Lawrence

She made more movies than Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn combined. She was more recognized by moviegoers than Meryl Streep. She equaled Hedy Lamarr by inventing something society still uses to this day. And she had plastic surgery before Joan Rivers made it vogue. Yet no one remembers her: The Biograph Girl, The Imp Girl, The Girl of a Thousand Faces. Historically, she is referred to as the first Movie Star but it was the early 20th century before actors and characters were documented on film stock. Anonymously, she was so loved that the American public demanded to know her name and soon they found out: Florence Lawrence.

The Taming Of The Shrew 1908

Florence started performing on stage and in vaudeville as Baby Florence, the Child Wonder before finding work as an extra for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company in the fledgling film industry of turn of the century New York City. D.W. Griffith was her director and Billy Bitzer her cinematographer. Her natural abilities turned into bigger parts and the public started writing letters to Biograph asking who she was. Florence was soon hired by the Independent Moving Picture Company (IMP). The company even capitalized on her fame by referring to her in IMP advertisements as The Biograph Girl. It was this marketing move by IMP that forced other film production companies to start advertising the names and faces of the actors appearing in their pictures.

The Lure Of The Gown 1909

Before these production companies followed suit though, they tried to nip it in the bud by announcing to the national press that Miss Lawrence, The Biograph Girl, had been killed in an automobile accident. Lawrence's pictures and the story were plastered all over the national newspapers. The story was so ensconced in the mindset of the film-going public that she had to travel to St. Louis (where the story originated) to quell the rumors of her demise. The plan worked but by her own admission Florence took a sabbatical from motion pictures starting in 1913.

Growing Up With The Movies is the story of Florence’s early career
as told to writer Monte M. Katterjohn. This PDF (also accessible on
contains all four parts as published in Photoplay magazine issues
dated November/December 1914 and January/February 1915.

The Country Doctor 1909

According to Kelly R. Brown’s 1999 biography The Biograph Girl, Florence was able to afford an automobile. In 1914, she developed a mechanical signaling arm that, with the press of a button, raised or lowered a flag on the car’s rear bumper that signaled which way the car would turn. She also devised a brake signal that worked on the same principle: with the press of a button, a “STOP” sign flipped up from the back bumper. Because Florence never bothered to file patents, unlike Hedy Lamarr, she never got the recognition she deserved. (Her mother, also an inventor, patented the first electrical windshield wipers in 1917 but never got credit either.)

Florence did attempt a comeback in 1922 by starring in The Unfoldment but nothing much came of it. It was around this time she reportedly got a nose job to help in procuring work. She ultimately found work at M-G-M usually in uncredited bit parts. In 1937, she was diagnosed with a disease described a rare bone marrow disease which was incurable at the time. On December 28, 1938, Florence called in sick and some time in the afternoon swallowed cough syrup and ant paste. She was found by a neighbor and was rushed to Beverly Hills Emergency Hospital where she was pronounced dead at 2:45 p.m. A suicide note found in her home was addressed to her housemate Bob Brinlow and stated:
Dear Bob,

Call Dr. Wilson. I am tired. Hope this works. Good bye, my darling. They can't cure me, so let it go at that. Lovingly, Florence - P.S. You've all been swell guys. Everything is yours.

Lawrence's death was ruled a "probable suicide" owing to her "ill health" and she was buried in an unmarked grave in the Hollywood Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever Cemetery). In 1991 an anonymous British actor paid for a memorial marker which reads The Biograph Girl/The First Movie Star. In 2000 William J. Mann published The Biograph Girl which blends the facts of Lawrence's life with fiction. Instead of fading into oblivion and committing suicide, a doctor helps Lawrence fool the public into thinking she committed suicide but instead lives at a nursing home. A journalist discovers Lawrence at the nursing home and decides to write a biography about her. In 2013, the Gale Theatre Company introduced Florence which tells her story through dance, video, and physical theater.