Cecil Hepworth and Percy Snow, “Alice in Wonderland”, 1903, Silent Blcak and White Film, Cinematographer Cecil Hepworth, Hepworth Studios, Film Gifs
Born in the London borough of Lambeth in March of 1874, Cecil Milton Hepworth was a British film director and producer, screen writer, and inventor. Among the founders of the British film industry, he continually made films at his Hepworth Studios from 1897 to 1923,
Born to the magic-lantern showman and author Thomas Cradock Hepworth, Cecil Hepworth began working in the early stages of filmmaking under film pioneer Birt Acres, the inventor of the Birtac, Britain’s first 35 mm moving picture camera. He also worked during this time under film producer and distributor Charles Urban, a pioneer of documentary and educational films, many of them produced through the Kinemacolor motion picture color system. With the knowledge he acquired from this experience, Hepworth wrote in 1897 the first British book on filmmaking.
Hepworth and his cousin Monty Wicks founded the Hepworth Film Manufacturing Company, later renamed Hepworth Picture Plays. In 1899, they established Hepworth Studios, a small film studio in Walton-on-Thames in northwest Surrey. In 1901, the British director Percy Stow entered into a partnership with Hepworth until 1904 when Snow founded his Clarendon Film Company, a movie camera equipment company which made short films. Snow specialized in film effects and became co-director on the 1903 “Alice in Wonderland”, his second film with Hepworth Studios.
Cecil Hepworth was the inventor of the Hepworth Vivaphone, a 1910 early sound on disc system developed and marketed by the Hepworth Film Manufacturing Company. It was not a true synchronized sound system for film. The performers appearing in the films would typically synch their singing and speech to prerecorded phonograph records. The device and the short films produced on this system were distributed in Britain and later, beginning in 1913, to Canada and the United States.
Despite Hepworth’s increasingly outdated film style, Hepworth Studio continued making popular films into the 1920s. The studio had several successful films, including the 1905 “Rescue by Rover”, whose collie is considered the first canine film star, and the internationally successful 1919 “Alf’s Button”, the story of a British soldier whose magic button produces a wish-fulfilling genie. Despite these successes, Hepworth failed to raise the necessary capital to fund studio development. After the box office failure of the 1923 “Coming Thro the Rye”, Hepworth declared bankruptcy, which put the studio in receivership and ended his career as a director and producer. All of the original films in Hepworth’s possession were melted down by the receiver to sell the silver. Though some originals and copies have survived, many of the studio’s films are considered lost to history.
Cecil Hepworth, proud of his place in history, toured in later life with a lecture program on the birth of cinema. Among the films he had produced were several Charles Dickens adaptions, including “Oliver Twist” and “David Copperfield”, and a version of “Hamlet” starring Sir Johnston Forbes-Robinson, an actor considered the finest Hamlet of the Victorian era. So popular were Hepworth’s films that actress Alma Taylor, who starred in fourteen films by his studio, became one of the major British stars of the 1910s and early 1920s. Cecil Hepworth died in February of 1953 in Greenford, Middlesex, England at the age of seventy-eight.
Hepworth Studio’s 1903 British silent fantasy film “Alice in Wonderland” was directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Snow. Only one copy of the original twelve-minute film is known to exist. The British Film Institute partially restored the film and its original film tinting and, in 2010, released the restoration with a running time of nine minutes. Filmed mostly in Oxford’s Port Meadow, it is the first movie adaption of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. Instead of a flowing narrative found in the book, the story is seen through several vignettes taken from the novel.
The 1903 “Alice in Wonderland” starred May Clark, already a Hepworth Studio veteran at age eighteen, as Alice; Cecil Hepworth as The Frog Footman; Cecil’s wife Margaret Hepworth as the White Rabbit and the Red Queen of Hearts; Norman Whitten as the Mad Hatter and The Fish; and the two Faithfull brothers, Geoffrey and Stanley, as Playing Cards. The Hepworth’s family cat made its appearance as the Cheshire Cat. The film is notable for the early special effects work by Percy Snow, among which are Alice’s shrinking in the Hall of Many Doors and the regrown Alice stuck inside the White Rabbit’s tiny home.
Note: The restored 1903 “Alice in Wonderland” was released as a bonus feature on a 1996 British Broadcasting Company disc. It is now available from several sources including online venues. A full-length restoration with a piano soundtrack, which is available as a download, can be found at the Internet Archive located at: https://archive.org/details/AliceInWonderland1903
Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Cecil Milton Hepworth”, circa 1910-1920
Three Insert Images: Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, 1895, Book Cover with Two Illustrations by John Tenniel, Publisher McMillan & Company, New York