When I was in high school I had bought a book about some interesting historical facts about New Jersey. Before you ask yourself why on earth would I buy a book about New Jersey, I live in the Garden State down the shore. Anyway, one of the most interesting things I read in the book was that NJ was used as a filming location for early silent films. Directors like D.W. Griffith used to go to the town of Fort Lee to make their films. For all that time that piece of information about NJ being the first Hollywood always stuck with me. Now that I have become a film enthusiast and have researched film history I find that fact even more interesting and special. It is awesome to know that New Jersey, the state that everyone makes fun for The Jersey Shore, silly accents, and guidos, played an important part in shaping the modern movie industry and helped to build the careers of Griffith, Paramount, Alice Guy Blaché, Mary Pickford, the Barrymores, and the Gish sisters.
After all this time I have finally watched a silent film that was made in Fort Lee entitled The New York Hat.
A young girl named Mollie Goodhue (Mary Pickford) has lost her mother. Before the mother died she wrote a letter to the local minister Pastor Bolton (Lionel Barrymore) to take whatever money she was able to save and use it to help buy her daughter nice things that were denied to her by the girl’s father.
In the village is a hat shop with the latest hats from New York City. Mollie stands outside with some girls her age looking at the nice hats in the window wishing they could have one. Bolton passes by the shop and notices Mollie looking longingly at a ten dollar hat. Bolton goes inside and buys the hat for her. The local gossips just so happened to be in the store at the time Bolton buys the hat and soon enough word about his purchase spreads all over town.
Bolton brings the hat to Mollie. He leaves before she opens the box. When she sees he has bought her the hat she saw in the window she is happy, sad, and delighted all at the same time.
At church that Sunday the women notice Mollie is wearing the hat Pastor Bolton bought during the week. The three gossips from the store are up in arms using their vicious tongues to tell Mollie’s father what they have imagined has been going on. When Mollie comes home her father asks her about the hat. When she tells him that Pastor Bolton did buy her the hat, her father takes the gift and rips it apart.
Upset Mollie runs to Bolton in a flood of tears to tell him what has happened to his gift. Not long after that the gossips and, possibly their husbands, angrily come to Pastor Bolton to speak to him and accuse him of a scandal. When they arrive Bolton shows them the letter Mrs. Goodhue had written to him before she died. Mr. Goodhue also comes and is also shown the letter. Everything that has happened was all a misunderstanding from malicious gossip.
I liked The New York Hat. It was a cute story. Mary Pickford was perfect in her part as Mollie. At this time she was only nineteen years old. You can see she had that something that would make her one of the world’s most famous actresses. Lionel Barrymore was also very good. It was nice to see him as a good guy and to see him so young. Lillian and Dorothy Gish and Jack Pickford have background parts. The Gish sisters are in the shop scene and Jack has a small part that you have to really look for or know what he looks like in the church scene.
The New York Hat is great to watch if you are interested in film history because the film industry was just really starting out and this is where some of the most important stars of silent Hollywood began their careers.
If anyone is interested in learning about Fort Lee, NJ pertaining to the film industry please visit the website: Fort Lee Film Commission