The Lost Films of Billy B. Van

"Fragment Found in a Newport Barn Leads to a Discovery at the Library of Congress" Valley News

Billy B. Van in the recently re-discovered Reelcraft silent comedy "Where Are Your Husbands?" 1920

Billy B. Van in the recently re-discovered Reelcraft silent comedy "Where Are Your Husbands?" 1920

New Hampshire's Lake Sunapee was once home to a now almost forgotten silent film star, Billy B. Van. The hunt is now underway to find and rescue his silent comedies so that they may be viewed, shared and enjoyed by residents of the region, and fans of silent film everywhere.

This site presents the definitive list of his known films, a timeline of his brief, yet prolific film career, and research culled from literally thousands of pages of film industry trade-press of the day. It is intended as a resource for those interested in Billy B. Van and silent film, as well as a research tool for those who may have leads on locating and preserving these unique local historical artifacts.

Billy B. Van's life in the movies is only one chapter in an entire lifetime in the entertainment industry- from his well-documented days as an acclaimed actor in minstrel shows, vaudeville and Broadway, spanning to his career as a recording artist, filmmaker, businessman and motivational speaker. Billy B. Van was truly a show-business entrepreneur cut from the same cloth as the stars of today. 

More than a century ago, Billy B. Van built Equity Motion Picture Company, a casino, theater, and what may be Northern New England’s earliest movie studio in Georges Mills, New Hampshire on the shores of Lake Sunapee. Van produced several silent comedies at his empire— though almost nothing has survived from this surprising heyday of filmmaking.

Film archivist John Tariot of Hanover, New Hampshire is seeking assistance from anyone with information on the lost films of Billy B. Van. This search may be in vain, however. The U.S. Librarian of Congress estimates up to 90% of American silent films are lost for all time. 


Scenes from the recently re-discovered "WHERE ARE YOUR HUSBANDS?"

Where might the films be? In addition to searching locally, the current leads are any film archive holdings which may have uncataloged films of the Reelcraft Pictures "Royal Comedy" series, which were widely released through film circuits across the United States. Reelcraft’s films eventually changed hands to the Export and Import Film Company- where the films ended up afterwards is currently unknown. Two Billy B. Van films are cataloged in the Kodascope Library, and several of Billy’s earliest films were last known to be with Miller and Steen Distributors.