British Cinemas and Their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), pp. 50-52

Text: NO. 17
AGE: 18 YRS. 8 MONTHS SEX: F.
FATHER: MECHANICAL ENGINEER, MOTHER: HOUSEWIFE
OCCUPATION: CIVIL SERVICE CLERK P.O. TELEPHONES
NATIONALITY: BRITISH

It was at the tender age of seven, when I first embarked upon the exciting and mysterious adventure of a visit to the cinema, under the supervision of Mother and Father; and ever since then, almost as far back as I can remember, I have had a deep interest in the film world and all concerned with it, an interest which increased in intensity as I grew older. The first film I saw was a silent one, and I remember leaving the cinema feeling rather excited and a wee bit sorry for some poor man, who had fallen head first into a barrel of flower [sic].

Time passed and I became more friendly with the other children in my street, and the excursions to the cinema became frequent and exciting exciting because I began to understand the actors and actresses, and the stories woven around them, which gave us youngsters our regular Saturday afternoon entertainment. To miss even one of these shows with my little playmates was a heart-rending disappointment, because I knew I should miss the next episode in the film serial. The latter was always my firm favourite, whatever the story. I hero-worshipped Larry Crabbe in Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars. At this time I would be about nine years old, and even then I was quite jealous if anyone else had a photograph of Mr. Crabbe.

Films affected our play very much. Our second favourite was a good Western film, with plenty of shooting, fighting and fast riding. After becoming thoroughly worked up about Buck Jones or Ken Maynard, we would enact these films, in versions all our own, after school each day the following week.

Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse followed closely on my list in third place. I adored Walt Disney cartoons, and, if I may be so bold as to admit it – I still do!

I disliked animal pictures intensely, because they all made me weep. They might not have been sad, but still I choked up when one was showing. I think it may be as well to add here that in all these months of picturegoing I was never frightened by any film, indeed every film was such a new thrill and experience that I don’t think I ever thought of fear.

During this time, too, new words crept into my vocabulary, and I remember clearly that my parents were quite shocked when I first used the word ‘scram’ before them! I liked to copy expressions used by my favourite actors, and use them often. One of the latter was Shirley Temple, and I liked to think that I could give a very good impression of her singing ‘Animal Crackers’. She was a firm favourite of mine and my friends.

At the age of thirteen, when I was enjoying second year at high school, and when the Saturday trips to the local cinema had ceased, I was experiencing varied emotions as a result of picture-going. It was then that I first began to pick out the films I wanted to see, and to go not just out of habit or for the sake of going, but because I knew just what it was I had a desire to see. Passionate schoolgirl ‘crushes’ followed each other as new and handsome men made their appearances on the screen. Many were the nights I cried myself to sleep because John Howard, Preston Foster or Robert Taylor was so far away. One glimpse of any of them would have sufficed and I felt I would have been the happiest girl in the world. Possessing a vivid imagination, I had wonderful dreams of being discovered by a Hollywood talent-scout, of visiting Hollywood and perhaps even playing opposite one of my favourite movie stars.

But inevitably I had to put these preoccupations in the background because lessons and homework needed concentration; at the age of sixteen I matriculated, and a little later left school to earn my own living.

An important load off my mind, I was again free to think more and spend more time upon what had once been a cherished hobby. I found I had lost none of the former interest; indeed, I indulged in a little wishful dreaming, and the one temptation was to run away from home and become an actress like Jane Withers. This I knew could never materialise, circumstances would not permit, so I had to be content with regular film-going and collecting pictures and magazines.

Then I once remember having a desperate desire to become a nurse, when I saw Rosamund John act so wonderfully well in The Lamp Still Burns; but it was a mere whim because I liked the film so much, and passed away in a matter of days.

So to the present day. The cinema is my main source of entertainment, and I am not really difficult to please as far as films are concerned. I like most kinds of productions but my favourites are flying epics, such as A Guy Named Joe and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, and straight dramatic stories, of the kind that Old Acquaintance represents. I have a deep admiration for Van Johnson, Irene Dunne, Bette Davis and Spencer Tracy; I envy them because their kind of life is so far beyond my reach, because the work they do is so hard and so very interesting, a job after my own heart.

Films have a great influence upon me. I find myself trying to be original in my method of attire, and copy Hollywood beauty ‘tips’ when using make-up: I find it hard to control the emotions aroused by a touching or very dramatic scene, and I cry very easily. The desire to become an actress is still prevalent and my interest in drama has increased. Thus I have become rather dissatisfied with my present existence and with the neighbourhood in which I live, but I love home life and, until the world is at peace again and our loved ones are safely restored to us, I am content to remain as I am, and just to plan and dream about a long awaited trip to that intriguing city of Hollywood, to see for myself everything and everyone that contributes to the making of the entertainment I love so much.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His British Cinemas and their Audiences collates motion picture autobiographies submitted through competitions in Picturegoer magazine. This contribution comes from the section ‘Films and the Pattern of Life’. The films mentioned are Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (USA 1938, serial), The Lamp Still Burns (UK 1943), A Guy Named Joe (USA 1943), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (USA 1944) and Old Acquaintance (USA 1943).

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