The Lost Films of Billy B. Van
FOUND! A print of one of Billy B. Van's lost films, "Where Are Your Husbands?" has been found, and there will be a screening with new piano accompaniment on Lake Sunapee, Summer 2017.
Stay tuned here for details
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 only one survives: "The Plucky Hoodoo."
"The Plucky Hoodoo"
Filmed on Lake Sunapee in 1920
The only surviving film of Billy B. Van exists on a poor quality videotape-to-DVD copy of unknown origin. A Reelcraft “Royal Comedy,” this 2-reel silent film tells the story of how a hapless farmhand, in love with the farmer's daughter, pretends to be a hero, and, by the end of the movie, not only wins the hand of the farmer's daughter but wins the farm as well. 20 minutes.
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. That said, “The Plucky Hoodoo” did survive at least into the videotape age, so this one film may still exist. As for the others… the search continues.
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.