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7/1/1894: The World's First Movie Star

Fred Ott's Sneeze (1894)

The world’s first movie star wasn’t a Chaplin or a Keaton – or even Flo Lawrence, as some would have you believe; it was actually a plump, comical fellow with a walrus moustache and a penchant for comical sneezes.   The chap’s name was Fred Ott, a lab worker at Edison’s laboratory – and brother of John who had appeared (uncredited) in Blacksmith Scene the previous year.   Such was Fred’s impact that the movie in which he first starred – Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (1894) – is now more widely known as Fred Ott’s Sneeze.

The movie was never intended for display in a Kinetoscope.   It was filmed on the 7th January 1894, in response to a request from Harper’s Bizarre journalist Burton Phillips for ‘some nice looking person’ to perform for the kinetograph so that the resulting film could be used to illustrate an article he was writing for the magazine.   In the film, Ott, filmed in close-up, is seen to inhale some snuff and then immediately sneeze in a comical fashion.

Although the film was not the first filmed by Edison, it holds a place in the history of cinema as the first ever copyrighted movie.   Each individual frame was recorded with its own number on paper and then copyrighted as a photograph at the US Library of Congress on 9th January 1894.   It is, today, the oldest copyrighted film in existence.

So impressive was he in this, his debut performance, that Ott was quickly featured in a sequel – Fred Ott Holding a Bird – in the very same year.   Sadly, this movie failed to have the impact of its predecessor, and Ott’s fledgling movie career came to an untimely end, although he did go on to co-direct the Dickson Experimental Sound Film in 1895.  

In recent years, Ott has achieved newfound distinction by being one of the select few actors in the history of the movies to have a Bacon number of infinity.

See Fred's stunning performance here. [ADD]




USA: 1891-1895



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