By Adam Mandelbaum
Rutgers English would like to congratulate Professor Richard Koszarski for winning the 2005 Historic Preservation Commendation Award from the Bergen County Historic Preservation Advisory Board. This award is given to individuals and organizations that help preserve, maintain, and promote the county’s cultural heritage. His new book Fort Lee: The Film Town, tells the entertaining story of New Jersey’s film history.
Professor Koszarski teaches Film Studies at Rutgers. He is also a member of the Film Commission for Fort Lee, a town now most famous for being the New Jersey end of the George Washington Bridge. Professor Koszarski’s book details the period of the 1910s and 1920s, chronicling Fort Lee’s role as the birthplace of the American motion picture industry. During those years, the leading actors and directors of the time came to Fort Lee to make movies. Hollywood and New Jersey were equal rivals in the industry.
Taking advantage of the open space and the wide range of nearby scenery, film companies eagerly built studios all around the town. From the streets of downtown Fort Lee to the Jersey shore to the steep cliffs of the Palisades on the Hudson River, the city offered filmmakers a wide range of locations. The arrival of the industry led to an economic boom, as new people coming in – whether they were working on a movie or just hoping to be cast in one – supported hotels, restaurants, and many other businesses.
As Professor Koszarski shows, the prosperity did not last long, and after WWI the New Jersey movie studios began to close. Cold winters often delayed outdoor filming, which led filmmakers to favor Hollywood. The rest of the production process followed the camera crews, moving most of the film industry away from the East and ending the era. Unfortunately, most of the films made in Fort Lee have been lost due to lack of care, chemical deterioration, fire, or intentional destruction, and up to ninety percent of them now exist only as still photographs.
Fort Lee: The Film Town retells the largely forgotten story of film production in New Jersey, with hundreds of behind-the-scenes photographs, movie stills, and movie posters. As a documentary history, the book reprints accounts from dozens of people who were there, describing firsthand what the New Jersey movie industry was like from its beginnings to its peak and through its decline. Although the days of movie stars walking Fort Lee’s streets are long gone, Professor Koszarski honors New Jersey’s legacy in his new book.
More about Fort Lee: The Film Town
The Fort Lee Film Commission