Edison, the Man


1h 47m 1940
Edison, the Man

Brief Synopsis

Thomas Edison fights to turn his dreams into reality.

Photos & Videos

Edison, the Man - Lobby Cards

Film Details

Also Known As
The Wizard of Menlo Park
Genre
Biography
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
May 10, 1940
Premiere Information
Orange, New Jersey: 16 May 1940
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 47m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

In 1929, at the Golden Jubilee of Light banquet celebrating the fiftieth anniversay of the invention of the electric lamp, Thomas Edison, the guest of honor, reflects as the toastmaster recalls his achievements: Arriving in New York as an unknown inventor, Edison tries to interest Taggart, the manager of a firm that supplies gold quotes to the board of trade, in his ideas about electricity. The shortsighted Taggart ignores the young inventor until the ticker machine breaks down and Edison repairs it. Impressed by Edison's ingenuity, General Powell, the president of Western Union, offers him a job at the Western Union workshop. There Edison is befriended by Mary Stilwell, a secretary at the company. Assisted by fellow workers Bigelow, Lundstrum and Michael Simon, Edison perfects the stock ticker and sells it to General Powell and Taggart. With the proceeds, Edison opens his own laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey and weds Mary. As time passes, Edison finds himself on the verge of insolvency and is about to lose his company when his friend Powell dies and he is forced to turn to Taggart for help. When Taggart insists upon total control, Edison refuses his offer and is near bankruptcy. In the nick of time, Edison invents the phonograph, which saves his lab, but he is beset by more problems when his friend, Bunt Cavatt, tells the press that he has developed an electric light. Branded as a charlatan by the scientific community, Edison strives to perfect his light invention. Enduring years of failure, Edison perseveres until he discovers incandescent light. Opposed by the gas interests led by Taggart, Edison is granted six months to prove that he can light New York City. At the last minute, Edison throws the switch to his generators and miraculously illuminates the city.

Cast

Spencer Tracy

Thomas A. Edison

Rita Johnson

Mary Stilwell

Lynne Overman

Bunt Cavatt

Charles Coburn

General Powell

Gene Lockhart

Mr. Taggart

Henry Travers

Ben Els

Felix Bressart

Michael Simon

Peter Godfrey

Ashton

Guy D'ennery

Lundstrom

Byron Foulger

Edwin Hall

Milton Parsons

"Acid" Graham

Arthur Aylesworth

Bigelow

Gene Reynolds

Jimmy Price

Addison Richards

Mr. Johnson

Grant Mitchell

Snade

Paul Hurst

Sheriff

George Lessey

Toastmaster

Jay Ward

John Schofield

Ann Gillis

Nancy Grey

Frank Faylen

Galbreath

Donald Douglas

Jordan

Harlan Briggs

Bisbee

Charles Trowbridge

Clark

Harold Minjir

Blair

George Meader

Minister

Charles Waldron

First commissioner

Charles Lane

Second lecturer

John Butler

Mechanic

Edgar Dearing

Policeman

Tom Mahoney

Policeman

George Ovey

Lamplighter

George Chandler

Operator

Edward Earle

Broker

Arthur Stuart Hull

Broker

Howard Chase

Broker

Maurice Costello

Broker

Arthur Belasco

Broker

Edward Hearn

Broker

Louis Natheaux

Broker

Jack Daley

Broker

Hooper Atchley

Broker

Wilfred Lucas

Broker

Harry Humphrey

Broker

Hale Hamilton

Broker

Forbes Murray

Broker

John Dilson

Broker

Lloyd Whitlock

Broker

Jimmy Conlin

Waiter

Eddie Gribbon

Cashier

Emmett Vogan

Secretary

Robert Winkler

Newsboy

Erville Alderson

First lecturer

Ed J. Lesaint

Doctor

Cyril Ring

Reporter

Billy Bletcher

Reporter

Ralph Mccullough

Reporter

Nick Copeland

Reporter

Bruce Mitchell

Coachman

Roy Cummings

Footman

Milton Kibbee

Workman

Eve Kendall

Marion Estelle Edison

Harry C. Bradley

Preacher

Michael Simms

Thomas Edison, Jr.

Alex Pollard

Butler

Walter Fenner

Man at banquet

Edward Keane

Lecturer

Joe Whitehead

Harry Strang

Billy Arnold

Thomas Pogue

Nell Craig

Fritzi Brunette

Helen Dickson

Film Details

Also Known As
The Wizard of Menlo Park
Genre
Biography
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
May 10, 1940
Premiere Information
Orange, New Jersey: 16 May 1940
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 47m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Original Story

1940

Articles

Edison the Man


After striking pay dirt with Boy's Town (1938), the biography of Father Flanagan co-starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney, MGM gave producer John Considine the go-head for not one but two biographies of Thomas Edison, the father of the motion pictures. And just to guarantee that both films would deliver at the box office, they came up with the innovative idea of having Rooney play Young Tom Edison and Tracy play Edison the Man, with the films to be released only three months apart. The move was daring - at the time sequels were considered box-office poison - but it paid off when Edison the Man became an even bigger hit than the first film.

Considine assigned both scripts to one of MGM's brightest young writers, Dore Schary, who had won an Oscar for his original story for Boy's Town. But at first Schary had trouble finding anything screen-worthy in Edison's biographies, and their interviews with the great man's family and friend Edsel Ford didn't lead anywhere either. Finally, however, he came up with a combination of legend and fact to create a fast-moving family drama for Rooney. And by setting Edison the Man in 1929, with Edison as an old man, Schary was able to flash back to the high spots of his adult career. Given the different tones of the two films, and Rooney's and Tracy's performances, MGM added a prologue to the first film calling it merely an attempt to capture the spirit of the great man.

MGM put all of its resources behind capturing the reality of Edison the Man. Using extensive photographs and documentary footage, the art department re-created Edison's long-abandoned laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, including the more than 10,000 devices he had invented. Popular Mechanics magazine lauded their efforts in a major publicity piece for the film: "Where Edison took years to make new devices workable, property men turned out a dozen of his more important inventions in a few days."

But it was star Spencer Tracy who gave the film its greatest authenticity. He started out with an advantage - a slight resemblance to the inventor. He reinforced that by studying biographies of Edison and reviewing all existing film footage of him. The one thing he didn't have to study was the man's deafness - Tracy's son John had been born deaf. The only part of his characterization that deviated from fact was substituting cigars for Edison's trademark chewing tobacco - at the request of his son Charles Edison.

Director: Clarence Brown
Producer: John W. Considine, Jr.
Screenplay: Bradbury Foote, Talbot Jennings
Story: Dore Schary, Hugo Butler
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, John S. Detlie
Music: Herbert Stothart
Principal Cast: Spencer Tracy (Thomas Edison), Rita Johnson (Mary Stillwell Edison), Lynne Overman (Bunt Cavatt), Charles Coburn (General Powell), Gene Lockhart (Mr. Taggart), Henry Travers (Mister Els). BW-108m. Close captioning.

By Frank Miller
Edison The Man

Edison the Man

After striking pay dirt with Boy's Town (1938), the biography of Father Flanagan co-starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney, MGM gave producer John Considine the go-head for not one but two biographies of Thomas Edison, the father of the motion pictures. And just to guarantee that both films would deliver at the box office, they came up with the innovative idea of having Rooney play Young Tom Edison and Tracy play Edison the Man, with the films to be released only three months apart. The move was daring - at the time sequels were considered box-office poison - but it paid off when Edison the Man became an even bigger hit than the first film. Considine assigned both scripts to one of MGM's brightest young writers, Dore Schary, who had won an Oscar for his original story for Boy's Town. But at first Schary had trouble finding anything screen-worthy in Edison's biographies, and their interviews with the great man's family and friend Edsel Ford didn't lead anywhere either. Finally, however, he came up with a combination of legend and fact to create a fast-moving family drama for Rooney. And by setting Edison the Man in 1929, with Edison as an old man, Schary was able to flash back to the high spots of his adult career. Given the different tones of the two films, and Rooney's and Tracy's performances, MGM added a prologue to the first film calling it merely an attempt to capture the spirit of the great man. MGM put all of its resources behind capturing the reality of Edison the Man. Using extensive photographs and documentary footage, the art department re-created Edison's long-abandoned laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, including the more than 10,000 devices he had invented. Popular Mechanics magazine lauded their efforts in a major publicity piece for the film: "Where Edison took years to make new devices workable, property men turned out a dozen of his more important inventions in a few days." But it was star Spencer Tracy who gave the film its greatest authenticity. He started out with an advantage - a slight resemblance to the inventor. He reinforced that by studying biographies of Edison and reviewing all existing film footage of him. The one thing he didn't have to study was the man's deafness - Tracy's son John had been born deaf. The only part of his characterization that deviated from fact was substituting cigars for Edison's trademark chewing tobacco - at the request of his son Charles Edison. Director: Clarence Brown Producer: John W. Considine, Jr. Screenplay: Bradbury Foote, Talbot Jennings Story: Dore Schary, Hugo Butler Cinematography: Harold Rosson Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, John S. Detlie Music: Herbert Stothart Principal Cast: Spencer Tracy (Thomas Edison), Rita Johnson (Mary Stillwell Edison), Lynne Overman (Bunt Cavatt), Charles Coburn (General Powell), Gene Lockhart (Mr. Taggart), Henry Travers (Mister Els). BW-108m. Close captioning. By Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working title of this picture was The Wizard of Menlo Park. According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, H. Alan Dunn was to have co-scripted the picture, but his participation in the final project has not been confirmed. A Hollywood Reporter production chart adds Regis Toomey to the cast, but he was not in the released film. The Call Bureau Cast Service list Irving Bacon in the role of the sheriff, but that part was played by Paul Hurst. Studio publicity notes that originally M-G-M had intended to produce only one picture about Edison, but when that project proved too long, they broke the story into two parts. The first, Young Tom Edison, starred Mickey Rooney as the young Edison . Technical advisor William A. Simonds was from the Edison Institute in Dearborn, MI, and Norman R. Speiden was director of Historical Research at Thomas A. Edison, Inc. in West Orange, NJ. Dore Schary and Hugo Butler received an Academy Award nomination in the Writing (Original Story) category.