(See below for additional silent film photos)
The History of Film in Las Vegas, NM
Las Vegas, New Mexico, is a well kept secret…very few know about us, but when discovered, it is hard not to come back. I often hear stories of cross country travelers being completely thrown off by the three Las Vegas exits leading to a rural community populated by a mere 15,000 people. I find it even more amusing when I hear comments like “It must be a blast living near the strip!” or, “I didn’t know you moved to Mexico!” Well, our little Las Vegas may not have all the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas strip, but we are only an hour away from a number of popular casino destinations and you may just come across a Mexican border crossing driving down Grand Avenue. Las Vegas’ University Street exit was used as a border crossing into Juarez in the film Due Date, starring Robert Downey Jr., as well as in the Academy Award winning film No Country for Old Men.
This may come as a surprise, but Las Vegas has been a sought after filming destination for nearly 100 years. The director, actor, writer and cinematographer, Romaine Fielding (1868-1927), was drawn to the beauty and potential of Las Vegas as a permanent filming destination. According to 100 Years of Filmmaking in New Mexico, “Fielding practically took over [Las Vegas], […] installing his production company there.”[i] In addition, actor Tom Mix (1880-1940) headed the film company Selig Polyscope, based out of Las Vegas. A star of his time, Mix acted in and directed around thirty short Western films while in Las Vegas.[ii] These two powerful men in film led what has now become a 3 billion dollar industry in the state of New Mexico.
Las Vegas is of particular interest to the film industry as it offers a complete package of unique settings that cannot be found together anywhere else in the state. To the West, Las Vegas boasts beautiful mountains and to the East, grassy plains; two lakes are within minutes of town; a castle sits in the hills; a historic fully functioning drive-in theater is open to the public through the spring and summer months; homes and businesses range from Queen Anne, Romanesque, Richardsonian Romanesque, Italianate, Territorial, Pueblo Revival and Folk Renaissance Revival architecture; and the streets offer varied characteristics that have portrayed cities and towns from Manhattan to Juarez. Las Vegas truly is a filmmaker’s playground.
[i] Dispenza, Joseph. 1998. The Romance of New Mexico. In 100 Years of Filmmaking in New Mexico, 1898-1998, ed. Mikelle Cosandaey and Jon Bowman, pp. 13-14. A joint project of NM Magazine and the NM Film Office.
[ii] Dispenza, Joseph. 1998. The Romance of New Mexico. In 100 Years of Filmmaking in New Mexico, 1898-1998, ed. Mikelle Cosandaey and Jon Bowman, p. 14. A joint project of NM Magazine and the NM Film Office.
For a detailed history of film in Las Vegas check out Early Filmmaking in the Meadow City. (Prepared for the New Mexico Film Office by John Raymond Armijo)
For a list of Romaine Fielding and Tom Mix silent films shot in Las Vegas check out Lubin and Selig in Las Vegas. (Compiled for the New Mexico Film Office by John Raymond Armijo)
For a list of films shot in Las Vegas check out Filmed in Las Vegas. (Compiled by the New Mexico Film Office)
A number of the photos below are courtesy of Walle Landenberger who inherited several photo stills that her great-great uncle, Jess Robinson, saved from his acting career as an actor for both Lubin Films and the Powers Company in 1911 and 1913.