Before the Movies

Before the Movies

American Magic Lantern Entertainment and the Nation's First Great Screen Artist, Joseph Boggs Beale
Borton, Terry; Borton, Debbie
Distribution: World
Publication date: 02/10/2015
Format: Hardback 330 color illus.
ISBN: 978-0-861-96711-7
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Before the Movies is the first book about American screen entertainment in the pre-movie era. A groundbreaking study, lavishly illustrated with 330 color pictures, it is a comprehensive survey of the American artists who created early magic-lantern stories and songs for the screen. The book emphasizes the work of Joseph Boggs Beale, a pioneer in the field and demonstrates that Beale almost single-handedly created American-made screen entertainment for the generation before the movies. His lifetime output was 2,073 images in 258 sets—the screen-time equivalent of 14 full-length films—which millions enjoyed every year. The provenance, attribution, and dates of Beale’s lantern slides are discussed in detail, and a comprehensive catalog of his lantern images makes Before the Movies an essential reference volume.

Author Bio

Terry Borton holds a doctorate in education from Harvard and is Director of the American Magic Lantern Theater.

Deborah Borton holds a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania and is President of the Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada.


This meticulously researched book means nothing less than the resurrection of a once-popular art form. It is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the origins of today’s media culture.Before the Movies is not only a superbly researched and illustrated in-depth study of Joseph Boggs Beale, it is also the first balanced history of early magic lantern entertainment in the United States.Before the Movies is an invaluable resource—a brilliant, ground-breaking study of Joseph Boggs Beale’s work. Beale is a figure of the utmost importance, and this desperately needed study is long overdue.

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Table of Contents

1. The Magic Lantern
2. Provenance, Attribution, Dating--An Introduction to Beale’s Catalogue Raisonné
3. The Larger Context of Beale’s Work
4. Other American Magic-Lantern Artists
5. Assessing the Screen Art of Joseph Boggs Beale
Appendix 1. Notes to The Condensed Catalogue Raisonné of Beale’s Magic-Lantern Slides
The Condensed Catalogue Raisonné of Beale’s Magic-Lantern Slides
Endnotes for Condensed Catalogue Raisonné
Appendix 2. Chronological List of Beale Sets and Groups
Appendix 3. Slides Possibly by Beale
Appendix 4. Lantern Slide Companies Distributing Beale Slides
Appendix 5. The Beale Method for Dating Catalogs
Appendix 6. Illustrated Song Slides Containing Beale Images
Appendix 7. List of Books Illustrated by Beale
Appendix 8. Selected Bibliography

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