Grandson of silent film pioneers spends years tracking down old movies

Ned Thanhouser speaks about his love of silent films inside Portland's Hollywood Theatre. His grandparents founded the nation's most important motion picture studios in Rochelle, New York in 1909. (KATU Photo)

Northeast Portland resident Ned Thanhouser has spent more than 30 years tracking down hundreds of silent movies in the United States and abroad.

He's the grandson of Edwin and Gertrude Thanhouser, who founded the nation's most important motion picture studios in New Rochelle, New York in 1909.

"When I'm watching the silent films, I really feel my grandparents' presence," Ned Thanhouser said.

During its 8-year history, his grandparents' studio produced and released more than 1,000 films that were seen by audiences around the world.

For the longest time, Thanhouser thought his grandparents' films were gone.

"My grandfather thought that the films were of no value, and when he was presented with a bill for storing the volatile nitrate negatives in the local vault, he said, 'Ha! These are worthless. Burn 'em, nobody cares!'" Thanhouser said.

But in the 1980s, Thanhouser discovered prints of the negatives survived, and so began his decades-long mission to restore what his family thought they'd lost.

"Silent film is not dead. We're bringing it back," Thanhouser said.

And he's bringing it back the way it was meant to be enjoyed-- with music!

"Early silent films were always not silent. They always had a musical accompaniment," he told KATU.

On Saturday, May 27 Ned is showing seven restored Thanhouser films at the Hollywood Theatre in Northeast Portland with live organ accompaniment.

He's hoping his family's legacy never goes silent.


Saturday, May 27 at 2 p.m.


Hollywood Theatre

4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd., Portland, OR 97212


$12 at the door

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