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Filmmaker Angela Murray Gibson


Today is the birthday of filmmaker Angela Murray Gibson. Nobody is certain what year she was born, because she refused to reveal her age, and her tombstone reveals only the year she died – 1953. Best guess is that she was born in Scotland around 1878.

During the Roaring ‘20s, American women gained independence and flourished as never before. Angela was one of those women. Her family immigrated when she was five, ultimately settling in Casselton. Angela was one of the first two women to graduate from what is now NDSU.

About that time, during production for a movie called THE PRIDE OF THE CLAN, actress Mary Pickford learned that Angela Gibson did performances that featured her Scottish heritage. Pickford arranged for Angela to come to Hollywood to work as an advisor. She ended up wearing one of Angela’s Scottish costumes in the film.

Gibson absorbed a great deal by watching the day-to-day movie-making, and after the production wrapped, she went to Columbia University to study cinematography. She purchased a camera, but in an unusual move, she took her formal training not to Hollywood, but back to Casselton. She started the state’s first movie studio. It was completely run and financed by women. Angela was the writer, director and actress, and her sister, Ruby, ran the business end. Her mother was recruited to crank the camera.

Movie clips reveal that Gibson didn’t shy away from action. In one scene, she crawls out a second story window wearing a floor-length ruffled dress and slippery shoes. The scene cuts to the exterior, showing her slipping and edging down the roof.

Gibson started off with several documentaries – one about the life of a grain of wheat and another about a rodeo in Medora. Her earliest surviving feature film is called THAT ICE TICKET, a story about a young woman who, on a hot day, hangs out a sign offering ice to lure potential suitors. But her younger brother pulls a prank by hanging a smallpox sign over the ice sign. In the end, the heroine’s true love risks his health to see her, and all is well.

When the depression arrived, costs of materials became so high that Gibson – like many others – had to give up her life as a filmmaker. Most of her films disappeared after that, but in 1976, the Centennial Commission discovered what remained and sought to restore the footage. Much of the film had been water damaged, but luckily Angela had transferred some of her footage onto what is known as “safety film,” which survived in much better shape than the original.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm