Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 15, white, high-school sophomore’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 37

Text: I have attempted to imitate the manners of several actresses, but I have never received any satisfactory results. I bobbed my hair when I was only eight years old, as a result of seeing someone in the movies doing likewise. I try to walk and move with ease and grace, but I find that it is a little difficult to act like others if I can’t see how I look. I remember one movie star, Mabel Normand, who had large eyes, and from the admiring of them I gradually began to stare at others with wide eyes. My friends thought there was something wrong with my eyes because I did this, and perhaps I did acquire poor eyesight as a result. At other times I curled my hair, manicured my fingernails, and dressed like my favorite stars. Of course my attempts never brought any pleasing results, so I abandoned my imitations and became original. Sometimes I posed for hours at a time before my dressing table mirror, posing with my hands about my face, and moving my arms as gracefully as I could. In the movies, it always seems that the innocent, wide-eyed girls have the most suitors, and that shyness promotes respect and adoration on the part of the opposite sex. When I went to parties I tried to be a meek little maid, but it proved to be a failure in attracting sweethearts; only gay and vivid types are wanted by the modern generation.

Comment: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. Most of the evidence relates to picturegoing in the 1920s. The interview above comes from the chapter ‘Imitation by Adolescents’.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

Working with the Working Woman

Source: Cornelia Stratton Parker, Working With the Working Woman (New York/London: Harper & Brothers, 1922), pp. 160-161

Text: Outside of the gayety during working hours, there was little going on about the Falls. Movies – of course, movies. Four times a week the same people, usually each entire family, conscientiously change into their best garments and go to the movie palace. The children and young people fill the first rows, the grown folk bring up the rear. Four times a week young and old get fed on society dramas, problem plays, bathing girl comedies. Next day it is always:

“Sadie, did ya saw the show last night? Wasn’t it swell where she recognized her lover just before he got hung?”

Just once since movies were has the town been taken by storm, and that was while I was there. It was “The Kid” that did it. Many that day at the bleachery said they weren’t going – didn’t like Charlie Chaplin – common and pie-slinging; cheap; always all of that. Sweet-faced Mamie, who longs to go through Sing Sing some day – “That’s where they got the biggest criminals ever. Wonder if they let you see the worst ones” – Mamie, who had thrilled to a trip through the insane asylum; Mamie, who could discuss for hours the details of how a father beat his child to death; Mamie, to whom a divorce was meat and a suicide drink – Mamie wasn’t going to see Charlie Chaplin. All that pie-slinging stuff made her sick.

Usually a film shows but once at the Falls. “The Kid” ran Monday matinée. Monday night the first time in history the movie palace was filled and over two hundred turned away. Tuesday night it was shown to a third full house. Everyone was converted.

Comment: Cornelia Stratton Parker wrote six pieces from Harper’s Magazine June-December 1921 which recorded how she had mixed with low-wage-earning women in America to learn about their lives. The articles were then turned into a book Working With the Working Woman. This passage comes from her chapter ‘No. 536 Tickets Pillow Cases’ on the workers in a New York bleachery (original article title ‘Labeling pillow cases in a bleachery’). Chaplin’s feature film The Kid was released in 1921.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive