Strange Truth

Source: James MacKenzie, Strange Truth: The Autobiography of a Circus, Showman, Stage & Exhibition Man [n.d] [manuscript, two volumes] (Brunel University, 1-473), vol. 1, pp. 242-246

Text: The Living Pictures had arrived. I determined to get a machine and films. I soon got the information they were only showing at Music Halls, but I hear some showmen are going to have them. I was nearly first.

The machine and two hundred and fifty feet of film only from the pioneers of Film making in England you had to buy the films then!

I was soon equipped with a booth and a lorry, cylinders of Oxy-Hydrogen gas, for the limelight to show the films, a powerful light was needed.

I find a place to open, & the Whit Monday to follow, a man, and my wife and myself, it took me very little time to know all about the machine. I tried it out, all was O.K.

I opened at a Gala, and I showed over forty times that day the show only lasted a few minutes but they were Living Pictures.

It took longer to wind the film out of the bag (note – There was no self winding on a Spool in the front of the Machine at that time) where it went. Wo[r]se than the performance, and the “Music” was the rattle of the machine, which sounded like a steam roller.

My two chaps and myself bawling outside, and telling a short tale inside and working the machine in full view of the audience, with all the curiosity of this new invention, in a few minutes the show was over, but they had seen the latest invention living pictures. They were at that time virtually only on Music Hall.

It was a grand financial start, but the next pitch was on a common at Whitsuntide, and the weather was atrocious building up in the rain, to eventually to be blown down with repairs to do on the following day … I had little fear of failure as I had booked fairs well ahead, and in the wait between them, I put up in the remotest village. My men & horses jog[g]ed along most happily, covering expenses, and saving and the natives had heard of this novelty, so the advent of them helped considerably.

I showed so many times my machine run hot and my films got worn, so I had to replenish them several times. Then came the back end of the season with terrible weather, it rained six fairs in succession, that sort of business empty’s [sic] one’s pocket, but it’s all in the “game” … I am about eight miles from a Cattle Fair, I knew the place well having been through it many times before, I knew now shows built up there, or Pleasure Fair. So I said to my boys, that I was determined to chance it and go. [He cycles to the village] … I cycled to it, and the Boniface was standing on the doorstep, with his little half apron .. I entertained him told him I was a showman, but reserved my purpose till we were quite friends, the[n] I told him of my living pictures, his eyes stared in wonder, he could hardly credit I had them, then I asked him whether I could put my show up outside his vacant land and show for the Cattle Fair. The answer came Yes! Like a bullet from a revolver … Next morning very early we build up and taking money very early. I had a great crowd the Inn was full. Living Picture was on the lips of a crowd. I was the first there to show them. The two days Friday and Saturday I felt like the Bank of England … I stopped there a week, a sing song every night, and when I departed they waved me out of the village.

Comment: James MacKenzie’s unpublished memoir of seventy years as a circus and fairground showman is held by Brunel University. He was born in London in 1862. The section above presumably refers to the late 1890s.


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