He was an influence on Charlie Chaplin and wrote his own movies – so why has Max Linder’s true status in cinema history only just come to light?

Time was, according to Norma Desmond, when the cinema didn’t need dialogue, because it had faces. Very famous faces, that are less familiar to us now. And, according to new research, the very first film star face belonged to a French slapstick comedian, who died young in terrible circumstances and then was largely forgotten for decades. Max Linder was a dapper, handsome actor from the early silent era who not only starred in films but also directed, wrote and produced them.

Andrew Shail, senior lecturer in film at Newcastle University, has uncovered what appears to be the first film-star marketing: a poster for a Pathé Frères’ film featuring Linder called Le Petit Jeune Homme, released in Europe in September 1909. Whereas Linder had been known on-screen as a first-name-only character called “Max” since 1907’s The Skater’s Debut, this poster uses his full name, and is thus the earliest surviving European evidence of publicity for a regular film performer. The poster was found in the personal collection of Linder’s daughter, Maud, but it took Shail almost a year to date the exact release of the film. After this poster, Linder’s name and image were consistently used to sell his films to the public. “This makes Linder – as far as we can tell – the first film star anywhere,” says Shail. “Pathé Frères’ decision rippled out and changed the way film-makers marketed their wares. The effects of their decision can still be seen on posters and billboards around the world.”

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Read more: theguardian.com