Back in the days of silent movies, inventor Charles Pidgin patented a breakthrough way to simulate speech on screen. This invention provided for each character to inflate, at the appropriate moment, a balloon carrying the words to be spoken.
“the words constituting the speech of the actors or characters are placed on balloons of oblong shape adapted to be inflated to a relatively large size and normally occupying a comparatively small space with the words entirely visible… the blowing or inflation of the devices by the various characters of a photo-play will add to the realism of the picture by the words appearing to come from the mouths of the players. “
Pidgin didn’t think to provide instructions about how each actor would manipulate multiple balloons during lengthy conversations. But his patent was actually approved in 1917 so someone must have thought it had merit.
Another inventive star of the silent movie era was the beautiful “Biograph Girl” Florence Lawrence.
During her lifetime, Lawrence appeared in more than 270 films for various motion picture companies. Nicknamed “The Girl of a Thousand Faces”, at the height of her career, she was earning a great deal of money and could afford an automobile, something that at the time was still a luxury for most people. Born with a curious mind, she invented the first turn signal, a device attached to a motor vehicle’s rear fender. Dubbed as the “auto signaling arm”, when a driver pressed a button, an arm raised or lowered, with a sign attached indicating the direction of the intended turn. Following this, she developed a brake signal based on the same concept where an arm with a sign reading “STOP” was raised up whenever the driver stepped on the brake pedal. However, Ms. Lawrence’s inventions were not patented, and others in the rapidly expanding auto industry developed their own versions.
Carl Laemmle from Universal Pictures started a rumor that Florence had been killed by a street car in New York City. After gaining the attention of the media, he placed ads in newspapers that included a photo of Ms. Lawrence, declaring she was alive and well. This early example of the celebrity machine at work was a very successful publicity stunt to attract attention for her upcoming film. Her official cause of death in 1938 was by the ingestion of ant paste mixed with cough syrup.