OTD: First full-length silent film features Canada’s Marie Dressler

On today’s date in 1914, Ontario-born actor Marie Dressler starred in Tilley’s Punctured Romance, the world’s first six-reel, feature-length comedy, alongside Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand and Mack Swain.

Directed by fellow Canadian Mack Sennett, the 74-minute silent film was also the first feature-length motion picture produced by the Keystone Film Company, which Sennett founded two years earlier. The movie debuted in New York, N.Y., and was based on Dressler’s vaudeville act, “Tillie’s Nightmare,” which premiered on Broadway in 1910.

“Confident and headstrong, Dressler was not an easy star for Sennett or later managers to direct, becoming grumpy and flouncing off set,” reads a 2016 column published by the Kingston Whig-Standard. “Although it was her first movie, she insisted that things be done her way.”

The 2016 column also quotes Sennett from a 1997 book, Marie Dressler: The Unlikeliest Star, by Betty Lee: “In the midst of a comic scene I had planned carefully beforehand, Miss Dressler would say, ‘No Mack, that’s wrong. Now this is the way we are going to do it.’ I was the head of the studio and I was supervising this particular picture, but neither of these things influenced Miss Dressler.”

An official first-day cover released as part of the ‘Canadians in Hollywood’ issue measures 113 millimetres by 190 millimetres.

While it later gained popularity among moviegoers, Tilley’s Punctured Romance wasn’t an immediate hit, forcing Dressler to return to the theatre, where she polished her skills beginning at age 14, when she left home to start her career with travelling troupes.

While her career declined through much of the 1920s, Dressler returned to the big screen in 1927 – at age 59 – and found a remarkable string of successes. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1930-31 for Min and Bill and was named the top film star for 1932 and 1933. She starred in more than 40 films altogether, earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the honour of being the first woman featured on the cover of Time magazine.

In 1934, a year after her second consecutive billing as the world’s top film star, Dressler died of cancer in Santa Barbara, Calif. Married twice, she had no children.

A four-stamp souvenir sheet was also issued as part of the 2008 set.

2008 DRESSLER STAMP

In 2008, as part of its second “Canadians in Hollywood” set, Canada Post honoured Dressler (Scott #2279c, #2280a) alongside three other Canadians who found fame in Hollywood—Norma Shearer (SC #2279a, #2280c), Chief Dan George (SC #2279b, #2280b) and Raymond Burr (SC #2279d, #2280d).

Printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company on Spicers paper using five-colour lithography plus varnish, each of the 52-cent stamps has general tagging along each side.

Designed by John Belisle and Kosta Tsetsekas, of Vancouver’s Signals Design, the stamps use images created by Neal Armstrong, the artist who painted the images for the first set of stamps.

“Neal has done a great job of capturing the essence of each actor and creating a sense that this is a sequel,” Belisle was quoted as saying in Canada Post’s promotional material. “We also wanted to connect the audience to these stamps, so we used illustrator Adam Rogers to craft the souvenir sheet and official first-day cover. Adam created a vintage feel that gives a real impression of being in a theatre watching a movie. The crowd is at the front, and the stamps sit right on the screen.”

In keeping with the desire to bring the audience into the design, the cancels depict a bag of popcorn and a soft drink with a straw.

“The cancels connect the audience to the silver screen and help to create a real movie experience,” Belisle added.

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