James Stuart Blackton

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James Stuart Blackton

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James Stuart Blackton, born in Lincolnshire England, was a cartoonist and journalist for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and  New York’s Evening World. He did brisk business in a vaudeville act called Lightning Sketches, where the cartoonist draws as he lectures. They were mostly crude ethnic jokes. He sometimes did his act in a dress as Madamoiselle Stuart. 

In 1900, the Eagle sent him to interview and draw the great inventor Thomas Edison at his Menlo Park Lab. Once talking to Edison, they got on to the subject of making animated zoetrope trick films to be photographed onto the new motion picture film. Blackton talked to Edward Muybridge first, then tired a brief experiment called The Enchanted Drawing, where some of his lightning sketches moved.  He made a fortune when he sold Vitagraph to Warner Bros and lost it all in the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

In 1941, a poor vagrant, he was hit by a bus on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles and was killed. In his memoirs he neglected to mention that he had invented animation. He was a co-founder of Vitagraph Motion Picture Company and invented the the Vitagraph camera for trick photography. He not only ran the company, he produced, directed wrote and starred in the films as well. He played the comic strip character “Happy Hooligan” in a series of shorts.

Career outline

While interviewing Edison, he became so impressed with Blackton’s artistry that he made of film of Blackton drawing funny faces called Blackton the Evening World Cartoonist (1896). Blackton purchased a bought a Kinetoscope from Edison and established the American Vitagraph Company with Albert E. Smith. The first film was The Burglar on the Roof (1897). The Enchanted Drawing (1900) was Blackton’s first film that featured his “chalk talk” that gave life to his drawings through the use of camera trickery.

In 1906, he made Humorous Phases of Funny Faces for Edison which historians consider the first American animated cartoon. In 1907 he made Lightning Sketched (1907). In 1917 Blackton left Vitagraph to start his own company producing patriotic films. Two years later, he returned to England where he made live-action dramas, shot using the Prizmacolor. He made three dr.amas in England, The Glorious Adventure (1922), Gypsy Cavalier (1922), and The Virgin Queen. In 1923, Blackton returned to the United States to direct more films. After losing his money in the stock market crash, he was forced to exhibit his early films films at sideshows.


  • Lenburg, Jeff. Who’s Who in Animated Cartoons. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2006.

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