By Victoria Espinoza
“I want to be a bit different from the girl across the aisle.” — Edith Storey
Town of Huntington residents may be surprised to learn a Hollywood actress from the early 20th century once lived a stone’s throw away from their own backyards. Silent film star Edith Storey, who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, lived in Northport for a considerable amount of her life, and in celebration of her career, the Cinema Arts Centre will be showing two of her films this week.
A special screening of “A Florida Enchantment” (1914) followed by the 1916 short “Jane’s Bashful Hero” will take place on Wednesday, May 16 at 7:30 p.m. Film historian Steve Massa will speak at the event, and the film will have live theater organ accompaniment by Ben Model.
Considered one of her best films, “A Florida Enchantment” stars Storey as a strong-willed young woman named Lillian who is irritated with her much-older fiancé, Dr. Cassandene, played by Sidney Drew, who also directs the film. Lillian finds magic seeds that transform her into a man and enjoys the newfound freedoms she gains with her switch of gender. She kisses other women, dances with them, smokes cigarettes, applies for a man’s job and dresses in men’s clothing. When she starts secretly feeding the magic seeds to those around her, including her unsuspecting fiancé, pandemonium ensues.
Born in New York City in 1892, Storey began acting in Vitagraph productions at the age of 16, appearing in “Francesca da Rimini.” From 1908 to 1921 she starred in over 140 films and shorts in a variety of film genres including comedies and westerns. Reportedly an excellent horseback rider, one of her director’s commented that Storey could “ride anything with hair and four legs, throw a rope and shoot with the best of the cowpunchers.” During that time she was one of the most celebrated actresses on the American screen.
Dylan Skolnick, co-director at the Cinema Arts Centre said he happened upon Storey’s life story quite accidentally during a visit to the Northport Historical Society.
“They had a display of Northport’s history and significant people and there was this section about her,” Skolnick said in a phone interview. “I was shocked, I had never heard this story before.”
Skolnick said he reached out to Massa, who had written about Storey in his book “Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy” to learn more about the movie star.
“He was like, ‘Oh, of course, Edith Storey.’ His knowledge is so deep,” Skolnick said. The co-director said after learning more about the actress he reached out to the Library of Congress, which confirmed it had some of her films and would loan them to the Cinema Arts Centre.
Massa called Storey a “talented character actress” and outstanding in “A Florida Enchantment” in a recent email. He said during World War I she took time off from acting to drive an ambulance that transported wounded returning soldiers to New York hospitals.
After retiring from films in 1921 at the age of 29, she moved to a house in Asharoken where she eventually became village clerk, a position she held from 1932 to 1960. According to Skolnick, in the 1930s there was no village hall in Asharoken so elections were held at her house. During World War II, her front yard served as the drop spot for scrap metal. Children who grew up in the neighborhood later recalled how she would tell them stories of her movie career. Storey passed away in Northport in 1967 at the age of 75.
Skolnick is looking forward to this special evening dedicated to the silent film star. “It all sort of came together and here we are,” he said. “Audience members will have a really good time. The film is a delightful comedy and will be accompanied by some wonderful live music.”
The Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Tickets for this event are $16, $11 members. For more information, please call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.