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Al Christie was a Hollywood star in the 1920s. A new book aims to revive the Ontario man’s legacy | CBC News


The legacy of a successful Hollywood director from the silent film era who was born in London, Ont., has been mostly forgotten. But cue the action because Western University instructor Mark Kearney is hoping to change that with a new book on the bygone era star.

Al Christie was one of the first Canadians to move to Hollywood and the first person to make movies there, said Kearney, who has been researching Christie for the last 20 years.

“He was obviously a well-known name in those days. His films were shown all over the world. They were very popular in North America. He made a lot of money,” he said.

Christie got his first break at the Nestor Film Company, which was the first permanent film studio in Hollywood that would later merge with the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, now Universal Pictures.

He also founded a production company with his brother Charles in 1917 where he would come to direct, produce and write over 750 films before the business went under 16 years later, Kearney said.

al christie
Al Christie (left) was a London native and director, producer and writer mostly known for his comedic films in the silent and Golden eras of Hollywood. (Submitted by the London Room)

“He mostly did short comedy films and was a real believer in early situational comedies. A young man and a young woman get together, there’s mistaken identity or something, and somehow they get back together in the end,” Kearney said.

Christie was also an early advocate for women in film, with actresses in his silent-era romcoms going on to bigger success in the movie business.

From riches to rags

One of the most difficult parts of researching and writing about Christie’s history is that there aren’t many credible sources left to consult.

Jennifer Lorraine Fraser, who helped Kearney fill in the gaps about Christie and his family thanks to her extensive research on them, has run into the problem. She’s dug through a mountain of information, including paperwork on business and property, that showed how successful the family became during the height of their careers.

“Most people reference Stardust and Shadows, which is a fun book, but it’s full of inaccuracies about them,” she said.

Christie’s sister co-owned one of the first sound studios in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Sound Studio, and the family owned 11 other businesses, Fraser said.

“His brother owned one of the first private clubs where the elite of Hollywood would go to share gossip and was also one of the founding members of the Writers Guild, so they were these incredibly important people before they lost everything during the Great Depression.”

Lost to history

Kearney believes another reason Christie’s name faded from history was because he never made or produced a massive blockbuster hit, just a series of films that were considered good at the time.

“The silent film stars he worked with through the 1910s and 20s were big time names then, but they sort of faded.

In the 30s, Christie would have worked with people like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Bert Lahr, who was the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz,” said Kearney.

hollywood star
Al Christie’s Hollywood Star can be found on the north side of the 6700 block of Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles. (Supplied by Mark Learney)

Christie also directed a few movies starring Buster Keaton, a silent film star known for doing physical comedy with a deadpan expression, but this was after the Hollywood legend’s career was on the decline due to sound being introduced to film. 

“He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame but there’s certainly nothing here in Canada that recognizes him and he’s kind of just faded.”

Kearney’s book, Al Christie: Hollywood’s Forgotten Film Pioneer, was co-authored by silent film historian Steve Massa and was published on July 27 by BearManor Media.


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