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William Heise Poster

Biography

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Overview (2)

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Mini Bio (1)

William Heise was an engineer who was integral in the development of the kinetoscope for Thomas Edison, working with inventor William K.L. Dickson in the development of the device. He later became a cameraman, director and producer responsible for the creation of hundreds of short films.

In 1890, Heise was employed as a machinist at Edison's West Orange, New Jersey laboratory, fabricating the first prototype of a film perforator. Though not a true motion picture projector, Edison's kinetescope ran a strip of perforated film encased in a cabinet over a light source, which was viewed by a single individual through a viewing screen by means of a shutter in a "peep show" configuration. (Though soon surpassed by new technology, the kinetoscope would be used for peep shows for decades afterwards, though in the end, strictly as a novelty.)

Under the direction of Dickson, Heise operated the kinetograph camera for making kinetoscope films from the very beginning of the movie-making process in 1890 and appeared in the 1892 short A Hand Shake (1892), which some cineastes call the first "modern" American motion picture. He became a cameraman in the famous Black Maria studio located at Edison's campus.

Dickson left Edison in 1895, and Heise stayed on, making kinetoscope films and later films for the vitascope, a 35-mm film projector developed by Thomas Armat and C. Francis Jenkins that Edison bought the rights to in 1896. Film exhibition in a theater was now a reality. Heise was the cameraman for one of the most famous shorts of the first decade of cinema, The Kiss (1896) featuring Broadway stars May Irwin and John C. Rice.

By mid-1896, a portable camera was fabricated that permitted Heise and other Edison cameramen to leave the Black Maria and shoot "actualities" on location in New York City and such locations as Niagara Falls. Heise often worked with director James H. White, another cinema pioneer of both the kinetoscope and the vitascope. White went off on a filming trip to the Orient in 1897-98 with another cameraman; in his 10-month-long absence, Heise produced, directed and shot numerous films. He quit Edison in October 1898, and his film-making career was through, except for one short documentary he made in 1903, Cock Fight, No. 2 (1903). He eventually returned to Edison, but was no longer associated with film-making.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

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