James Dixon Williams

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James Dixon Williams
James Dixon Williams - Jan 1921 Film Fun.jpg
From a 1921 magazine
Born 1877
Ceredo, West Virginia, United States
Died August 28, 1934(1934-08-28) (aged 56–57)
New York City, United States
Occupation Film producer, studio executive
Spouse(s) Ethel Hope (married 1916–1934)

James Dixon Williams (1877 – August 28, 1934) was an early American film producer and studio executive. He was a founder of First National Pictures and British National Pictures.

Biography[edit]

John Dixon Williams was born in Ceredo, West Virginia, most likely to O.H. and Harriett Williams.[1] He worked in live theater, selling tickets and later playing the house organ. He then worked as a traveling picture showman. From around 1897 until 1908 he toured with his show across the United States, ending up in Spokane, Seattle, and Vancouver.[2]

He went to Australia in 1910, and in 1912 he opened Luna Park in Melbourne — illuminated by 15,000 electric lights and drawing 22,300 people on the first night. Live entertainment was the main attraction with high wire artists, trick cyclists, unicyclists and others.[2] Williams is also credited with introducing motion pictures on a national scale in Australia. In 1916 he married Ethel Hope.[3]

Williams returned to the United States and in 1917 founded First National Pictures with Thomas L. Tally.[2][3] First National began as an association of exhibitors, led by Williams, and soon expanded into film distribution and production, becoming a major force in the film industry.[4] Williams signed Charlie Chaplin to the first $1 million contract in film history, and launched the motion picture careers of independent producers including Louis B. Mayer. Williams left the company in 1927 and, in London, founded British National Pictures. He built its first studio at Elstree before leaving British National in 1928 and filing suit against his former partners. In the course of a contentious trial the company compromised, making a substantial payment to Williams and agreeing to clear his name. Mr. Justice Horridge stated his hope that the trial would not impair Williams "in the exercise of those abilities which during the course of the trial it had become certain he possessed."[3][5]

Williams died August 28, 1934, aged 57, in Manhattan State Hospital,[3] following a nervous breakdown. At his death, Variety described Williams as having been "at one time one of the leaders of the motion picture industry, and for years a dominant factor … He is probably the only operator ever to have established major companies on three continents, all of them still going concerns. And yet it is to be presumed that it was financial worries that brought about his breakdown."[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 1880 US Census for Ceredo, West Virginia
  2. ^ a b c Matthews, Jill Julius (2006). "Modern nomads and national film history: the multi-continental career of J. D. Williams". In Curthoys, Ann; Lake, Marilyn. Connected Worlds: History in Transnational Perspective. Australian National University Press. ISBN 1-920942-44-0. 
  3. ^ a b c d "J. D. Williams, Film Pioneer, Dies". New York Times. August 29, 1934. Retrieved 2015-12-28. 
  4. ^ Katz, Ephraim; Fred Klein; Ronald Dean Nolan (2005). The Film Encyclopedia (5th ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. p. 459. ISBN 0-06-074214-3. 
  5. ^ a b "James D. Williams". Variety. 115 (12): 61. September 4, 1934. Retrieved 2015-12-28.