Gertie, the world’s first animated dinosaur, made her screen debut at Chicago’s Palace Theater on 8 February 1914, one hundred years ago today. Pioneer cartoonist Winsor McCay created the animated dinosaur as part of his vaudeville act. At the beginning of the show, a tuxedoed McCay would stand on stage with a whip and other props and lecture his audience about the making of animated films. Standing to the side of the film screen, he would then introduce Gertie, “the only dinosaur in captivity.” Once the animated film was playing, McCay would interact with Gertie, calling her out, giving her commands, even throwing her an apple. Near the end of the act, he would disappear backstage and then seem to reappear in the film. Gertie would then pick her animated master up, put him on her back, and walk away while McCay bowed to the audience.
Reviews were positive and the show was a popular success. Soon, McCay moved his act to New York City. Unfortunately, McCay’s regular employer, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, was unhappy about the time he was spending on stage. Under pressure to curtail the act, McCay agreed to extend the film with a lengthy, live-action prologue, part of which was filmed at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. He also added title cards – a silent film staple – to replace his stage act. The longer film then toured the country’s motion picture theaters as Gertie the Dinosaur.
She was a scream!
The longer version of the film is the best-preserved of McCay’s animated work. It is now listed on the US National Film Registry. Click here to see the entire film.