This televised special, hosted by Gene Kelly, celebrates the "golden years" of silent cinema. The program opens with clips from classic films, and Kelly takes the audience to "the beginning" at the start of the 20th century when people began creating motion pictures, primarily in New York City. "The Great Train Robbery" (1903) was the first to contain a clear, dramatic story. Thomas Edison, creator of the camera, attempted to establish a monopoly on filmmaking in the east, so independent artists moved west and settled in southern California. Hollywood began to grow as the center of filmmaking, and actors soon became well-known stars. Mack Sennett created dozens of comedy films, relying heavily on slapstick action and attractive girls and discovering many stars, including Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. D.W. Griffith brought a "respectability" to moviemaking and pioneered many visual techniques, though the racist overtones in his Civil War-themed "Birth of a Nation" (1915) led to a harsh backlash, and he made the ambitious "Intolerance" (1916) in response. Actress Mary Pickford gained great fame for her ability to play characters of greatly varying ages, winning audiences over with her "youthful exuberance." Other big names included the dashing Douglas Fairbanks, Pickford's husband, and Charlie Chaplin, discovered by Sennett and later world-famous for his physical comedy and his "Little Tramp" character, appearing in such films as "The Gold Rush" (1925), in which he infamously eats his own shoe. Many stars used their fame to sell liberty bonds during World War One, and after the war, nickelodeons were replaced with upscale theatre chains run by "powerful tycoons."

Alongside Tom Mix, Lionel Barrymore, Buster Keaton and "It Girl" Clara Bow, Italian Rudolph Valentino was one of the biggest stars of the day, gaining fame in "The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse" and "The Sheikh" (1921) as a romantic, exotic leading man. He married three times and enjoyed a highly successful career before dying unexpectedly at age thirty-one, and his funeral was attended by thousands. Greta Garbo too established herself as a screen beauty in "Flesh and the Devil" (1926), becoming a legend despite her early retirement in 1941. Financial challenges caused Pickford, Fairbanks, Chaplin and Griffith to found their own production company, United Artists, and many actors moved to Beverly Hills, near Hollywood, electing Will Rogers as their "unofficial mayor." Director Cecil B. DeMille shocked audience with films like "Male and Female" (1919), which introduced Gloria Swanson, and when racy themes and images began to gain popularity, Will H. Hays was elected to reinstitute "morality" into motion pictures, later creating the so-called "Hays Code." DeMille transitioned to religious-themed films, including "The King of Kings" (1927) and later "The Ten Commandments" (1956). Other memorable films included the original "Ben-Hur" (1925, remade in 1959), "Wings," which won the first-ever Best Picture Academy Award in 1929, and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923), starring Lon Chaney, Sr. When radio became popular, however, the film industry lost money, and Warner Brothers took a risk in using the Vitaphone to introduce sound effects and music into the film "Don Juan" (1926). Though at first considering a "passing fad," filmmakers came to realize that audiences enjoyed the use of sound, and "The Jazz Singer" (1927), starring Al Jolson, became the first "talkie," a feature-length film with audible dialogue, ushering in a new era of cinema. Commercials deleted.


  • DATE: November 29, 1961 7:30 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 0:52:44
  • COLOR/B&W: B&W
  • CATALOG ID: B:15244
  • GENRE: Specials
  • SERIES RUN: NBC - TV, 1961


  • David L. Wolper … Producer, Director
  • Jack Haley Jr. … Associate Producer
  • Sidney Skolsky … Writer
  • Malvin Wald … Writer
  • Elmer Bernstein … Music by
  • Gene Kelly … Host
  • Roscoe Arbuckle
  • Lionel Barrymore
  • Clara Bow
  • Lon Chaney Sr.
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Cecil B. DeMille
  • Thomas Edison
  • Douglas Fairbanks
  • Greta Garbo
  • D.W. Griffith
  • Will H. Hays
  • Al Jolson
  • Buster Keaton
  • Tom Mix
  • Mary Pickford
  • Will Rogers
  • Mack Sennett
  • Gloria Swanson
  • Rudolph Valentino