Working North from Patagonia

Source: Harry A. Franck, Working North from Patagonia; being the narrative of a journey, earned on the way, through southern and eastern South America (New York: The Century Co., 1921), pp. 357-358

Text: Long before the first session ended we had closed the inner doors and the lobby was threatening to overflow. For the first time in Brazil I had permitted other “special attractions” to be offered with our own; that is, in addition to the ordinary films Ruben had engaged two stray Italian females who howled through several spasms of what they and most of the audience seemed to think was music. As they had been hired before our contract was made, and their wages were nothing out of our pockets, I could only reasonably demand that the Kinetophone remain the head-liner …

Our first Sunday, in particular, was a busy day. It is the custom all over Brazil for the “excellentissimas familias” to go to the “movies” on Sunday afternoon or evening, and the habit is so fixed that they prefer to pack in to the point of drowning in their own perspiration, even at double prices, rather than see a better show on a week day. For managers naturally take advantage of this fad and offer their poorest attractions—just as Ruben withdrew his “imported artists” on this day—knowing they will fill their houses anyway. If only we could have taken Sunday with us, movable, transportable, and played on that day in every town, we would have made as great a fortune as if the World War had never cast the pall of a “brutal crisis” over Brazil.

By one in the afternoon I was at the theater door in impresario full-dress and managerial smile, greeting the considerable crowd that came to the matinee, and disrupting the plans of those who had hoped to drag five or six children by in the shadow of their skirts or trousers. Then, with scarcely time for a meat-laden Brazilian supper in our disreputable hotel across the street, I came back to the most crowded theater I had seen in months. By 7:30 we had already closed the inner doors and the elite of Bahia continued to stack up in the lobby until that, too, had overflowed long before the first session ended. We were compelled to send policemen in to eject the first audience, and when the house had been emptied and the gates opened again, it flooded full from floor to “paradise” five stories up as quickly as a lock at Panama does with water. Even then all could not crowd in, and we herded them up once more in preparation for a third session, which, though not beginning until after ten, was also packed. Nothing so warms the cockles of a manager’s heart as to watch an unbroken sea of flushed and eager faces following his entertainment. By this time I had met most of the high society of Bahia, all her white and near-white “best families,” with now and then some physically very attractive girls among them, having marched at least once past my eagle eye. That night I carried off more money than had fallen to our lot since our first days in Rio and São Paulo.

Comments: Harry Alverson Franck (1881-1962) was an American travel writer, whose journeys took him China, Latin America, Europe and the USSR. For the journey through South America described in this book Franck served as an agent for the Edison Kinetophone, a film projection system synchronised with musical discs, and there are many descriptions of the operation of the Kinetophone and its mixed reception across the continent in Franck’s characteristically sardonic style. The show described took place at São Salvador, in Bahia state. Although the publication date of the book is 1921, the trip occurred around 1913-14.

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