Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Strange Career of Otto Sarony

Take a close look at this photograph and see a credit for O. Sarony.  There are tens of thousands of photographs credited to Otto Sarony, and he didn't take one of them.

Otto Sarony, 1859-1903, was the privileged son of famous photographer Napoleon Sarony.  The elder Sarony was born in Canada, but made his fortune in New York City.  A society photographer, Napoleon Sarony came up with an interesting business model.  Rather than waiting in his studio for the rich and famous to show up for a portrait, he paid sitting fees to his clients in exchange for the right to reproduce and sell their images.  Napoleon Sarony dressed flamboyantly, attended the parties given by the New York theatrical community and became every bit as well known as his celebrity sitters.  His studio sold cartes de visite, cabinet cards, and latter postcards of 19th century stage stars to anyone with a few pennies in their pocket.  Despite his public image, Napoleon was a hard working, successful businessman who made a lot of money.

 Raised by his father to take over the business, working as a studio assistant, Otto didn't share his father's enthusiasm for the photographic business.  It wasn't that Otto wanted to follow another profession.  He preferred yachts, gambling and parties.  Perhaps that's why Napoleon's will required Otto to run the business for at least fifteen years, and limited his weekly wages to $75.  To put it mildly, Otto was unhappy.  In 1898, two years after his father's death, Otto sold the studio to William F. Burrow, but remained as the public face of The Sarony Studios.  In 1901, Otto Sarony wanted even more money, so he sold rights to his name to Col. Theodore Marceau.  So, there were two competing studios in New York City producing photographs credited to Otto Sarony.  In 1903, Otto Sarony died of pneumonia.  For the next decade a series of law suits were filed as William F. Burrow and Theodore Marceau fought over who had the right to use the Sarony name.  Marceau managed to use the Sarony name into the 1910s.  Burrow's Sarony Studios closed in 1930.

Robert Edeson was a successful stage actor in New York and latter a well respected character actor in silent movies.  He was in a favorite silent movie of mine, The Clinging Vine, starring Leatrice Joy.  Highly recommended.  Edeson's career survived into the sound era.  He died in 1931.

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