As an affiliated event of the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Conference, the Norman Studios will screen “The Flying Ace” Tuesday, June 19, 7pm at Flagler College‘s Gamache-Koger Theatre. The film will play to live musical accompaniment, just as silent films were presented back in the day.
Filmed at the site of the Norman Studios, a five-building complex still standing in Jacksonville’s historic Old Arlington neighborhood, and in Mayport, “The Flying Ace” is one of the earliest films to star African American actors playing positive, non-stereotypical roles. It stars Lawrence Criner as Capt. Billy Stokes, a World War I pilot who returns home and resumes his former job as a railroad detective; and Kathryn Boyd as Ruth Sawtelle, the beautiful daughter of the railroad station master. Having valiantly served his country in war and returning a hero, Stokes must again prove the hero by solving the mystery of a missing payroll agent and a satchel holding $25,000 and saving Ruth’s life in a fiery air drama.
“The Flying Ace” was inspired by Bessie Coleman, America’s first black female licensed pilot, with whom filmmaker Richard Norman had discussed making an aviation movie. Unfortunately, Coleman was killed in an April 1926 plane crash while practicing for an air show at Jacksonville’s Paxon Airfield, now the Paxon School for Advanced Studies. Norman based the character of Ruth Sawtelle on Coleman, produced and released the film later that year. According to World War II historians, many of the young boys who would grow up to become the Tuskegee Airmen were inspired to fly by seeing “The Flying Ace.”
The Norman Studios Silent Film Museum, a nonprofit organization working to help restore and reopen Norman’s five-building silent film studio complex in Jacksonville, is partnering with the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom to bring the film to St. Augustine. A project of the National Parks Service, the Underground Railroad to support preservation and education efforts nationwide and integrate local historical places, museums, and interpretive programs associated with the Underground Railroad into a mosaic of community, regional, and national stories.
The screening of “The Flying Ace” is free and open to the public. Donations to help fund projects and initiatives of the Norman Studios Silent Film Museum will be accepted.