- Beatriz Michelena
bgcolour = silver
name = Beatriz Michelena
birthdate = birth date|1890|02|02|df=yes
New York City, New York, United States
deathdate = nowrap|death date and age |1942|10|10|1890|02|02|df=yes
San Francisco, California, United States
yearsactive = 1914 - 1920
spouse = George E. Middleton
Beatriz Michelena (
February 2 1890– October 10 1942) was an American actress during the silent movieera. She was one of the few Latinastars visible on the silver screen in the United States in the 1910s. [cite book |title=Latinas in the United States |last=Ruiz |first=Vicki |coauthors=Virginia Sánchez Korrol |year=2006 |publisher=Indiana University Press |isbn= |pages=498 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=_62IjQ-XQScC ] She was the leading lady in each film project she was involved in, and co-founded a production company with her husband, producing four of her own films. She faded from historiography for many years after her film company disbanded in the 1920s, [cite book |title=meXicana Encounters: The Making of Social Identities on the Borderlands |last=Fregoso |first=Rosa Linda |year=2003 |publisher=University of California Press |isbn=0520229975 |pages=105 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=O2zy-l5Va2EC ] but her place in history has recently been re-examined; she was mentioned in 2002 in a presidential proclamation [ [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/09/20020914-3.html The White House. President George W. Bush. "National Hispanic Heritage Month, 2002" By the President of the United States of America: A Proclamation] ] and her single surviving film, "Salomy Jane", is enjoying a limited re-release.
Beatriz Michelena was born in
New York Cityin 1890, six years after her sister Vera Michelena [ [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0584960/ Internet Movie Database. "Vera Michelena bio"] ] and around the same time that her father, Fernando Michelena, was singing the title role of the opera " Ernani" with a traveling theatre company that performed famous operas translated to English for American audiences. [ [http://digital.library.louisville.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/macauley&CISOPTR=1107&CISOBOX=1&REC=2 University of Louisville. Libraries: Digital Collections. "Fernando Michelena", photograph by Theodore C. Marceau] ] Both Vera and Beatriz were trained in classical voice and dramastudies, and they followed in their father's footsteps by beginning singing careers. Vera first appeared onstage at 17 in the Princess Chic company and took a starring role at 19 in "The Man from China" in 1904. [cite book |title=Everybody's Magazine |year=1904 |publisher=The Ridgway-Thayer Company |location=New York |pages=679 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=hIk8AAAAIAA ] Beatriz, too, performed with Princess Chic in 1901, taking chorus roles suitable for a child. [ [http://digital.library.louisville.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/macauley&CISOPTR=1108&CISOBOX=1&REC=1 University of Louisville. Libraries: Digital Collections. "Beatriz Michelena", 1901 photograph by Bushnell] ] The Michelena family moved to San Francisco, Californiasome time in the 1900s.
Beatriz began singing on stage in the 1910s in San Francisco. She was aware of the growing power of the film industry but resisted its attraction. Michelena wrote a regular column in the
San Francisco Examiner, "Friendly Talks with Screen-Struck Girls", telling hopeful girls to stay home and avoid "bitter disappointment" in movie making. [cite book |title=Movie Crazy: Fans, Stars, and the Cult of Celebrity |last=Barbas |first=Samantha |year=2002 |publisher=Palgrave Macmillan |isbn=1403960453 |pages=68 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=f4beond0wMwC]
In 1912, Beatriz Michelena attended an
auto showin San Francisco where she met George E. Middleton, manager of the local Middleton Motor Car Company and son of a California timber baron, who immediately fell for her vivacious beauty. Middleton began introducing Michelena to his society friends and business partners, including the trustees of Charles Crocker's estate who had rebuilt the St. Francis Hotel. Michelena saw further success with a singing role in "The Tik-Tok Man of Oz" in 1913. As a result, she was asked to sing at the inauguration of San Francisco's Great Highway. [ [http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~jlin/lincoln/papers/examiner/1913-10-31.html Lincoln Highway. San Francisco Examiner. October 31, 1913. "Public To See Dedication Of Great Highway". Stuart Gayness] ]
California Motion Picture Company
Middleton had previously set up the California Motion Picture Company (CMPC) in San Rafael in 1912 for the purpose of shooting promotional footage of the automobiles he was selling. [http://www.pacificsun.com/story.php?story_id=2409 Pacific Sun. Arts and Entertainment. September 26, 2008. Jason Walsh. Film: "Salomy's last dance: A flashback to Marin's century-old quest for cinematic superstardom"] ] By 1914, Middleton and Michelena had married and were in the midst of making three major films at the same time.
feature filmcompleted by CMPC was "Salomy Jane", screened initially at the St. Francis Hotel by invitation only. Michelena's role was Bret Harte's Salomy Jane Clay, an energetic daughter of an emigrant miner. She is wooed by four men but prefers a fifth played by British heartthrob House Peters. The movie saw limited but nationwide distribution and was judged a hit by viewers who were impressed by the shots of wild California scenery including giant redwood trees, winding roads hugging rocky bluffs and the Russian River, and by Michelena's dominant portrayal of the title role. [http://www.santacruzpl.org/history/films/harte.shtml Santa Cruz Public Libraries, California. Local History. Overland Monthly, June 1915. Josephine Clifford McCrackin. "Bret Harte in "The Movies"] ] Josephine Clifford McCrackin wrote of her in Overland Monthly, June 1915:
CMPC shooting locations included property near
Boulder Creek, Californiawhere Middleton's father had established a timber holding now known as the Middleton Tract. [Marin Independent Journal. May 29, 1962. Obituary for William H. Middleton, 82 (brother of George E. Middleton)] Other filming locations included undeveloped portions of Sonoma, Santa Cruz and Marin counties. In San Rafael, the studio boasted a large glass-walled and -roofed building that let in light but not wind so that shooting for indoor scenes could take place in full light without the telltale flapping of tablecloths and clothing blown by gusts. They used a US$1,250 Bell & Howell movie camera—expensive for the time. [ [http://www.santacruzpl.org/history/films/scfilms/surf/2-16-15.shtml Santa Cruz Daily Surf. February 16, 1915. James P. Leonard. "The Lily of Poverty Flat: A Visit to Mimic Pioneer Village Where Movies Are Being Made"] ]
Even though "Salomy Jane" didn't return a profit (likely due to second-string distribution channels), its favorable reception convinced Middleton that his wife could challenge the world's top movie star,
Mary Pickford. Every CMPC film was from that time intended to be a star vehicle for Michelena. Unfortunately, Michelena's ego expanded with the glowing reviews of her skill, and her demands for star treatment brought heavier expenses to productions that continued to lose money. "Mignon", "The Lily of Poverty Flat", "A Phyllis of the Sierras", "Salvation Nell" and "The Rose of the Misty Pool" failed to turn a profit, and a lavish production of "Faust" which was in production in 1915 was given until the end of the year to be completed. "Faust" wasn't done by January 1916, and CMPC president Herbert Payne shut the film company down and filed for bankruptcy. "Faust" was never released.
Middleton and Michelena bought the film company for very little money in 1917 and renamed it Michelena Studios. Their new film company was called Beatriz Michelena Features, [ [http://www.imdb.com/company/co0006246/ Beatriz Michelena Features] ] and shooting began on their next feature, "Just Squaw". Michelena's lead character was a white woman raised by American Indians, a woman who doesn't realize her racial heritage until after she falls into forbidden love with a white man. The film played for only a week in San Francisco in 1919, and did not return a profit.
The filmmakers' new distributor, Robertson-Cole, [ [http://www.imdb.com/company/co0000632/ Internet Movie Database. "Robertson-Cole Distributing Corporation" (US)] ] was unable to find the right market for "Heart of Juanita" and "The Flame of Hellgate" in 1920. American audiences had grown more sophisticated, yet Michelena Studios was still employing their earlier production techniques. Middleton and Michelena stopped making films; she returned to her singing performances and he to his car sales. They divorced in the 1920s. The union produced no children.
The studio facility in San Rafael sat empty for a decade with its solitary metal-clad brick vault housing all their
nitrate films, including the earlier ones shot by CMPC. In 1931, boys playing with a firecracker at the deserted lot set the vault and all of its flammable contents spectacularly on fire. Every known copy of Michelena's films was destroyed, a loss that Middleton estimated to be worth US$200,000. In 1996, an 82-year-old nitrate copy of "Salomy Jane" was found in Australia; it was sent to the Library of Congress for preservation. A new print of it was released for limited distribution in 2008. [ [http://www.cafilm.org/rfc/events/946.html California Film Institute. Smith Rafael Film Center. "Salomy Jane": Introduced by historians David Kiehn and William Sagar, Piano Accompaniment by Bruce Loeb] ]
*imdb name|id=0584955|name=Beatriz Michelena
* [http://www.santacruzpl.org/history/films/scfilms/photos/salomy.shtml Santa Cruz Public Libraries, California. On Location. Still photograph of Beatriz Michelena from "Salomy Jane"]
* [http://www.sananselmohistory.org/1920narrative.html Photo of Beatriz Michelena in costume in San Anselmo]
* [http://www.things-and-other-stuff.com/images/astos/mj-moriarty/0385_mj_beatriz_michelena.jpgBeatriz Michelena's portrait on the Three of Diamonds]
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