A Chicago native, the young Selig obtained apprentice training as an upholsterer before choosing a career in show business. He began as a stage magician. By 1890 he was the manager of a minstrel show: "Selig and Johnson's Colored Minstrels" consisted of a dozen performers who traveled the state of California by wagon. As a magician, Selig called himself "Professor" Selig; later he awarded himself the honorary title of "Colonel," which had no basis in fact.
Selig became interested in film in 1895, when he saw a demonstration of Edison's equipment in Dallas. Back in Chicago, he formed his first movie business, the Multiscope and Film Company, and produced his first film, The Tramp and the Dog, both in 1896. By 1898 he was a functioning commercial filmmaker; in November 1900 he incorporated the Selig Polyscope Company, with which he was to achieve the major success of his career.
After his movie company folded in 1918, Selig did some independent film production, and finished his life as a sort of literary agent: he sold to the studios the film rights to stories that he had acquired earlier in his career.
- Anthony Slide. Early American Cinema. 2nd edition, Scarecrow Press, 1994.