One of the first female motion picture directors in the U.S. was from Casselton. In 1916, “America's Sweetheart,” Mary Pickford, selected Angela Gibson to be her assistant director for the movie “The Pride of the Clan.”
After the release of the film, Gibson studied cinematography at Columbia University. With her education and apprenticeship completed, she did not move to Hollywood but, instead, returned to Casselton and established Gibson Studios, the first movie studio in the state.
Angela Murray Gibson was born June 29, 1878, in Fifeshire, Scotland, to Robert and Angela (Jenkins) Gibson. When she was 5 years old, her family immigrated to the U.S., settling first in Boston, then in St. Paul, Minn., and, ultimately, in Casselton.
Because her father was on the road for considerable periods of time as a travel agent; Gibson, her mother, and older sister, Ruby, rented an apartment in Fargo while Gibson attended classes at the North Dakota Agricultural College, now North Dakota State University. She graduated in 1898 with a bachelor's degree in domestic science.
While Angela Gibson attended college, Ruby Gibson worked at the Herbst Clothing Store in Fargo, and the owner, Isaac Herbst, observed that Ruby Gibson had a gift for merchandizing. He agreed to help her establish her own store in Casselton, which was called the Bee Hive Store.
Initially, the store was a huge success, and with the profits, Ruby Gibson assisted Angela Gibson with her theatrical ambitions. In 1908, she paid for Angela Gibson's trip to Scotland to study the culture and dress of her homeland.
When Angela Gibson returned to the U.S., she put together a show performed on a Scottish harp. In 1911, she took her show on the road, performing all over the U.S. and Canada. One of the people who took notice of her shows was Pickford.
In 1916, Pickford was preparing to make the movie “The Pride of the Clan,” based on a script by Elaine Carrington, who later gained fame as the creator of the soap opera. For the movie, Pickford arranged for Gibson to work as an adviser and assistant director.
The movie was about the daughter of the last chieftain of a Scottish clan who needed to take a leadership role after her father died. To help give the movie authenticity, Gibson offered advice on costumes, Scottish dances, and dialogue.
The center of the movie industry at the time was not Hollywood, but rather it was located in Fort Lee, N.J. The director of Pickford's movie was Maurice Tourneur, who had relocated from France to the U.S. a couple of years earlier.
Tourneur demanded a good, authentic movie, and since that is what Gibson helped to provide, the two got along very well.
Gibson meticulously observed the director's work on the film and learned valuable information on how to make a good movie. She also gained acting experience by playing a small role in the film.
Having worked on a major motion picture with a highly acclaimed director, Gibson was hooked on becoming a movie director. To learn more about the profession, she attended Columbia University in New York City, where she worked under the tutelage of Carl Gregory, the principal cameraman for a couple of motion picture companies .
When her classes were over, Gibson worked for several months with other movie companies studying directing and camera work. In 1919, she purchased a movie camera and returned to Casselton, where she established Gibson Studios. Ruby Gibson was put in charge of running the business aspects of Gibson Studios, and Angela Gibson, with assistance from her mother, planned on doing most of the work on the set.
First, Angela Gibson wrote the scenario, and then she and her mother went over a list of acquaintances in Casselton to determine the cast. Since Angela Gibson would be playing a major role in each movie, her mom needed to learn to operate the movie camera.
Most of the action for the films took place in the Gibson house, and Angela Gibson did the film processing and editing. When the movies were completed, she located exchanges that distributed the films.
With the start of the Great Depression, Angela Gibson was no longer financially able to continue making movies, and the film studio was transformed into a dance and elocution studio where she was the instructor.
During World War II, Angela Gibson reportedly came up with the idea of “ready mix” pie crust. She approached General Mills with her idea, and they were impressed. Negotiations broke down, and the company ended up going with a Betty Crocker brand of ready mix.
In the later 1940s, Angela Gibson contracted tuberculosis and spent much of her remaining years in sanatoriums. She died on Oct. 22, 1953.
During the next two decades, many of her films disappeared or had greatly deteriorated. In 1976, the Centennial Commission discovered what remained of her films, and they contracted with Snyder Films, of Fargo, to salvage and restore what they could.
In 1997, the film “The Angela Murray Gibson Experience” was produced, which took a look at North Dakota's pioneer movie director. This film allowed new generations to see excerpts of films made by a most remarkable lady.
(Written by Curt Eriksmoen. Reach Eriksmoen at email@example.com.)