Family & Companions
Growing up outside of London near the film studios, William K. Everson was addicted to cinema before he could read. At the age of 21 he emigrated to the U.S. and, like most immigrants, was struck breathless by the new land. It wasn't the Statue of Liberty, the skyscrapers, or the waving fields of wheat, however, that impressed him: "As soon as I got off the boat, I was confronted by 42nd Street," he explained years later. "Row upon row of marquees! And the first marquee I saw had Chaplin's "City Lights" and Von Sternberg's "The Scarlet Empress," neither of which I'd seen in England, so I was off like a shot!"
Almost immediately, Everson began collecting films. He was in the right place at the right time. The studios were lax in preserving films from the 1920s and 30s that they thought had no value, and TV had not yet discovered the treasure trove of the studio libraries. Working in the industry as a sometime publicist, he would often hear that some reels of an old film were about to be destroyed simply because a distributor's contract had run out. He'd offer to buy them; sometimes legal barriers required that he "liberate" them. Answering to a higher authority, he did so.
Gradually the hobby became an obsession. It wasn't enough to own a representative set of John Fords, for example; he had to have them all. Moreover, at the same time that he was passionately collecting, Hollywood was dispassionately destroying "useless" old movies.
What Everson and other private collectors were doing on their own in the U.S., governments were sponsoring in Europe. Compare Everson's experience in New York to that of Henri Langlois in Paris. A similarly obsessed collector, Langlois was able to found the Cinematheque Francaise, an official, funded organization. In 1970, when the American Film Institute was founded, some of the pressure was taken off Everson.
By the mid-70s Everson's collection had grown to around 4000 feature titles, and a equal number of shorts, newsreels, cartoons and feature excerpts, nearly all of which were stored in his West Side New York apartment or in rented vault space. From the beginning he had been showing prints from his collection in his living room to a small circle of aficionados (he also joined the faculty of NYU's new department of Cinema Studies in the late 60s). In 1966, he began a long-running series of screenings at New York's New School for Social Research, which, in addition to his countless presentations and lectures worldwide over the years, have exposed thousands of filmgoers and scores of filmmakers to important parts of film history that would, without Everson, have been lost.
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Publicity director, Renown Pictures Corporation, Ltd., London, at age 15
Served in the armed force in Great Britain
Worked as a theater manager, publicist and booking consultant for the Monseigneur News Theatres in London
Came to the U.S.
Became publicity director for Allied Artists Inc.
Became a producer, writer and researcher with the Paul Killiam Co.