British Cinemas and their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), pp. 112-113

Text: AGE: 21 SEX: M
OCCUPATION: CLERK
NATIONALITY: BRITISH
FATHER’S OCCUPATION: BACON CURER

I shall always remember my first important visit to the cinema. The Local Gaumont was being opened by the Mayor and many other important townsfolk yet out of that impressive ceremony way back at the beginning of the thirties, the only part that stands out vividly to me today was the film. It was a musical starring Jack Buchanan and entitled Goodnight Vienna.

Why this particular incident should have aroused my first profound interest in the cinema remains a mystery, yet I am convinced that before that date, the thought of ‘Going to the flicks’ never meant much to me.

I was of course quite young at the time about 10 years of age. For some years, I simply doted on musicals and the thought of seeing another Astaire-Rogers extravaganza provided plenty of excitement for little me. I found myself wanting to tapdance, although I was careful not to disclose any of these ambitions to my parents. Sometimes I wonder whether ‘careful’ was the word. The back-yard shows my pals and I used to put on were always received with wild enthusiasm. I might add that as the price for admission consisted of 3 ‘conkers’ or (when such things were out of season) perhaps a pen-nibs, audiences did jolly well under the circumstances.

My enthusiasm for musicals continued for quite a while until I reached the age when more serious aspects of films began to make themselves felt. It all started with my seeing Bette Davies in Dark Victory. Never shall I forget her terrific performance in this film. It stands out as one of the most enthralling episodes in my movie experience. That really started the ball rolling and from that day to this I have been an ardent dramatic fan. In fact, I am hoping to study drama upon my demobilisation. I love great acting, for the emotional benefit I myself get out of it is greatly satisfying. That is why I am such an admirer of Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Muni.

As for films influencing my daily life, until I discovered that drama was my ideal, I must admit that my life was not unduly affected. I enjoyed helping to stage our so-called concerts with my neighbours and that was all. Today however, it is a different story. I discover that if I should miss a dramatic film that I had been bent on seeing, nothing would stop me until I cought [sic] up with it at last.

Films have made me want to visit the U.S.A. in rather an unusual way. By reading rather a lot of authentic literature on that country I have realised now hopelessly incompetent a large precentage [sic] of films have been in portraying life in the U.S.A. I have come to believe in the books I have read and the fact that they do not tie up with what I have seen on the screen, has made me even more eager to go there and see for myself. I am referring to modern life in the States of course.

Since my joining the Forces in 1942 , 1 have also become interested in the technical side of films not with the interest of a technician but artistically. I can now appreciate photography and lighting and I realise that the cinema is most definitely an art. That is why I uphold Orson Well’s [sic] work and get annoyed when such masterpieces as Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons get snuffed at by the general public.

To-day I am an ardent film fan making sure I read all the reviews of the films as they reach the West End. I even keep a record of the date of arrival of each film and any other particulars that I think arc worth recording.

Yes, indeed my life is well wrapped in the cinema and I sincerely hope it won’t be long before I can have a go at entering the industry myself. I shall always be grateful to Miss Davis for revealing an ambition that had previously slept within me.

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’. Contributors were asked to trace the history of their interest in films, the influence films had on them (including if they were ever frightened by films), what they imitated from films, if films made them more receptive to love-making, if films made them want to travel or to be dissatisfied with their way of life or neighbourhood, and if films gave them vocational ambitions. It is interesting to see in the book the number of respondents who praise Citizen Kane (USA 1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (USA 1942), films which were supposed to have been rejected by most audiences. The other films mentioned are Goodnight Vienna (UK 1932) and Dark Victory (USA 1939).

The "Televisor"

Source: ‘The “Televisor”: Successful Test of New Apparatus’, The Times, 28 January 1926, p. 9

Text: Members of the Royal Institution and other visitors to a laboratory in an upper room in Frith-Street, Soho, on Tuesday saw a demonstration of apparatus invented by Mr. J.L. Baird, who claims to have solved the problem of television. They were shown a transmitting machine, consisting of a large wooden revolving disc containing lenses, behind which was a revolving shutter and a light sensitive cell. It was explained that by means of the shutter and lens disc an image of articles or persons standing in front of the machine could be made to pass over the light sensitive cell at high speed. The current in the cell varies in proportion to the light falling on it, and this varying current is transmitted to a receiver where it controls a light behind an optical arrangement similar to that at the sending end. By this means a point of light is caused to traverse a ground glass screen. The light is dim at the shadows and bright at the high lights, and crosses the screen so rapidly that the whole image appears simultaneously to the eye.

For the purposes of the demonstration the head of a ventriloquist’s doll was manipulated as the image to be transmitted, though the human face was also reproduced. First on a receiver in the same room as the transmitter and then on a portable receiver in another room, the visitors were shown recognizable reception of the movements of the dummy head and of a person speaking. The image as transmitted was faint and often blurred, but substantiated a claim that through the “Televisor” as Mr. Baird has named his apparatus, it is possible to transmit and reproduce instantly the details of movement, and such things as the play of expression on the face.

It has yet to be seen to what extent further developments will carry Mr. Baird’s system towards practical use. He has overcome apparently earlier failures to construct light sensitive cells which would function at the high speed demanded, and he as is now assured of financial support in his work, he will be able to improve and elaborate his apparatus. Application has been made to the Postmaster-General for an experimental broadcasting licence and trials with the system may shortly be made from a building in St. Martin’s Lane.

Comments: John Logie Baird (1888-1946) gave the first public demonstration of a working television system before members of the Royal Institution and a single news reporter, from The Times, on 26 January 1926, in his rooms at 22 Frith Street, London. (Earlier exhibitions at Selfridge’s store in March 1925 had featured silhouettes rather than ‘true’ television with graduated tones). The 3x5cm images shown were composed of just thirty vertical lines, and were shown through a viewer pointed at the edge of a spinning disc. The BBC began experimental broadcasts using Baird’s 30-line system in 1929.

Hee-Hee for Tee-Vee

Source: Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, ‘Hee-Hee for Tee-Vee’ in Whizz for Atomms (London: Max Parrish, 1956), reproduced in Willans and Searle, Molesworth (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999), pp. 277-281

Text: Gosh super! we hav something to contend with which no other generation have ever had before i.e. the television cheers cheers cheers. Everybody know wot a t.v. is it is a square box with a screen. You switch on and o hapen, then just when you have given up hope and are going off to buzz conkers a great booming voice sa, ‘That’s an interesting point, postelthwaite. Wot does higginbottom feel? Higginbottom? ect. ect.’ It may be an interesting point but i could not care less and just go away agane when a ghastley face suddenly appere. It is worse than a squished tomato but it hold me in hypnotic trance and it is the same with molesworth 2, tho he always look dopey like that. We sit and watch more and more ghastley faces with out mouths open and even forget to chew the buble gum we are the slaves of the machine.

Of course all boys and gurls have to go through a time when there is no t.v. xcept at the postman’s down the road. Yore mater and pater then sa weedy things.

i will not hav one in the house.
the programmes are simply terible, my dear.
it is bad for children.
it destroy the simple pursuits of leisure.

Hem-hem if they only knew what the simple pursuits of leisure were like potting stones at vilage oiks or teaching parot rude words they would not hesitate for a moment. Anyway they get one in the end and sa ‘Children can only look for 1 hour at suitable programmes’ then they forget all about it until we are halfway through ‘1984’ and molesworth 2 sa ‘if that is the best a rat can do i do not think much of it.’ ‘The rat,’ i sa, ‘is exactly like thou, o clot-faced wet.’ Then mater become aware of our presence and hury the dreamy-eyed little felows up wood hill to blanket fair, as dear nana sa.

When you setle down to it this is wot hapens in your dulce domun (lat.)

Scene: A darkened room with glowing fire. Mum, Nana, me and molesworth 2 are goggling at the screen. So are the cats, dogs, rats, mice and various bugs about the place.

T.V. Are you a clump-press minder? (Grate cheers)
MATER: I thort he was an aero-dynamicist or a moulding-clamp turner……I really think……
ALL: Sshh

(Enter pater, third from the office.)

PATER: Are you looking at that friteful thing agane? Programmes are terible. Nothing to look at.

(With a roar and a ratle he put coal on the fire).

ALL: Sshh!

(Pater setle down. molesworth 2 aim his gat at very fat gentleman in specs. It is the same gun with which he shot mufin the mule, mcdonald hobley, a ping-pong champion, three midgets, a great-crested grebe, a persian student and lady Boyle and a budgerigar.)

MOLESWORTH 2: Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. Got you.

ALL: Shh!

MATER: Do you not think it would be better if their heads were not three feet away from their shoulders?

(Pater go and twiddle knobs. First of all there is a snowstorm then what seems like the batle of jutland, then an electronic bombardment. Finaly a vast explosion.)

MATER: You have ruined it, clot.
NANA: Boost the contrast.
MOLESWORTH 2: Adjust the definition.
ME: Oh gosh, hurry up.

(Now picture is upside down, then leaning drunkenly, then it disappear altogether amid boos and catcalls. Finaly Nana do it.)

T.V. Are you connected with seaweed? (Huge cheer)
MATER: look at tibby the cat he canot stand Gilbert Harding…..
ALL: Sssh.
PATER: He’s a guggle-gouger…..

(And so it go on. Supper is not cooked, fires go out, kettles boil their heads off, slates fall off the roof and house burn down, but we are all still looking at a nature film in w. africa chiz in fact we have seen more monkeys since we got the t.v. than ever before xcept at st. custard’s where peason have the face of a wild baboon.)

Aktually t.v. is v. cultural for boys and improving to the mind. You learn so many things than when you go back to skool all are quite surprised.

MOLESWORTH 1: To the q. whether the hydrogen bomb should be banned i give a categorical ‘no’. unless there can be international agreement to co-exist in disarmament.
MOLESWORTH 2: That is a valid point, o weedy wet. Do you kno the population of chile?
MOLESWORTH 1: No. But everyone should look both ways before crossing the road and wot can be more dramatic than man’s fight against the locust, eh?
MOLESWORTH 2: The problem of asia is the problem of over-population and now i will pla brahms etude number 765000 in F flat….

You kno wot this mean he is going to zoom to the piano and pla fairy bells nothing can stop him …

Comments: Geoffrey Willans (1911-1958) was a British schoolmaster and comic writer and Ronald Searle (1920-2011) was a British illustrator. Together they created the comic character of Nigel Molesworth, a pupil at dilapidated boys’ school St Custard’s, whose distinctively mispelt exploits were first documented in Punch magazine (from 1939) and then in four books. ‘Hee-Hee for Tee-Vee’ is the title of a chapter in the third book, Whizz for Atomms. Searle also created the rebellious girls school St Trinian’s. The BBC television production of George Orwell’s 1984 was first broadcast on 12 December 1954 and aroused much controversy for its ‘horrific’ scenes. The quiz show parodied here is What’s My Line, first broadcast by the BBC in 1951 and based on an American original. Gilbert Harding was a regular panellist on the show. Dramatic picture interference was a common experience for television audiences in the 1950s.

Enter the Dream-House

Source: Mo Heard, interviewed in Margaret O’Brien and Allen Eyles (eds.), Enter the Dream-House: Memories of Cinemas in South London from the Twenties to the Sixties (London: Museum of the Moving Image, 1993), pp. 63-66

Text: We lived in Catford, the edge of Catford, in Lewisham in South-East London. My Mum went to Taunton to have me because it was during the Blitz in 1940. I’m the only child. I have no brothers or sisters and my dad was away in the army. My mother went to the pictures twice a week and I’m sure she took me. My earliest memories are going to all the cinemas in that area: there were three in Catford and there were three in Lewisham and I went to all of them. My mother took me to “A” films – Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and all those. I think my earliest memories are round about 1945, 1946. I remember seeing It Always Rains on Sunday and all those British films. We used to go after nursery school. What I do remember is my mother used to buy the ice-cream in the Co-op, so it must have been at a period when you couldn’t get ice-creams in the cinemas or they were cheaper outside, and we used to take those with us.

About ice-creams in cinemas, we used to get tubs and they were very, very hard and you used to peel round the top of the cardboard tubs until it was halfway down and the ice-cream inside was so hard you could hold the tub and lick it like an ice-cream cone. And I always remember the tops – you never had wooden spoons in those days, you took the top off and folded it in half and used that as a spoon.

I remember coming out and it was dark and we used to walk home and always stop at the fish and chip shop and but threepenneth of chips. I was completely hooked by all those films.

Did any films frighten you as a child?

I remember very vividly certain frightening scenes but I do not remember what films they were from. They must have been “A” films but obviously, because I was so young, I would not know what the title was. I remember there was a woman in a bedroom and she heard the glass breaking downstairs and she went down the staircase and her silhouette was against the wall and she had a flowing nightgown on. I don’t know who it was. And she came down the stairs and I think whoever it was at the bottom reached up and murdered her or something. And there was another film where some woman was walking down a crunchy gravel path in a park or a garden at night and there were footsteps following her in this crunchy gravel. And then she stopped and they stopped.

In those days it was continuous performance, so you’d go in and move along the row and then you’d plonk down and you might be in the middle of a B picture. How at the age of four or five could you pick up a story like that? And then you’d go through the newsreels and the ads and the rest of it and then you’d get the A picture and then you’d come to the B picture. And the moment it got to the point where we came in, my mother would nudge me and say “This is where we came in.” And up you’d get and walk out. We didn’t have to leave but I suppose she didn’t want to sit there any longer.

Did you go to children’s shows on Saturday mornings?

I went to Saturday morning pictures at the Prince of Wales [Lewisham] and the Plaza [Catford]. I became an ABC Minor – “We’re Minors of the ABC and every Saturday we go there … and shout aloud with glee”, etc., etc. I remember when the manager – or whoever used to get up before the films on stage and get us to sing bouncing ball songs – asked if there were children who wanted to get up and do tap dances and things, I got up with a friend and we sang “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”. I think I must have been only about seven. It must have been painful.

And, of course, the terrible noise that all the yobby kids made! And my friend and I used to sit near the back and we were terribly classy because we knew about cinema and we watched the films. Every time in the films they came to the dialogue, suddenly mayhem, pandemonium broke out, and we would sit there and we’d go “Shut up! Be quiet!” and tell off these kids around us. Once we obviously chose the wrong people to tell off, because they chased us afterwards down the High Street and were going to beat us up.

When I was older I would say I was brought up on the American musical and I just dreamt and fantasised about being Vera-Ellen and Cyd Charisse, Debbie Reynolds, Mitzi Gaynor – all those actresses with their very tight waists and their big belts and their dresses and skirts that went out and there were all those petticoats. When someone like Mitzi Gaynor did a twirl and the skirts sort of rose up, they had about six miles of thick petticoats on underneath.

Did you ever try and copy hairstyles and make-up?

I don’t think so. I used to draw ladies with dresses like that on my school books and all over the place. I do remember in Catford there was a shoe shop on the corner of Wildfell Road and Rushey Green and it was called Vyners of Hollywood. And in the windows, literally stacked from floor to ceiling, were thousands of shoes, and they were all glamour shoes. And they had sort of twelve-inch wedge heels and they were made of snake skin. And they had peep toes and high ankle things. And I used to drool over that shop. I never ever met anyone in the street who ever wore anything like that. And I really wanted shoes like that. By the time I got to the age of being able to wear shoes like that, they’d disappeared.

I used to go to matinees in the holidays with friends. And I remember my friend and I, we must have been about ten, queuing up for hours to see this wonderful film at the Queens in Rushey Green. It was next to the Lewisham Hippodrome. It was the most beautiful cinema. It was very tiny. There were a few marble steps up to these gold-handled glass doors and then there was a central paybox. I think you went in either side. I remember low ceilings, very narrow inside, and lots of brass. There was a brass rail halfway down with a red plush curtain and presumably the expensive seats were behind and the cheaper ones in front. On the left-hand side, there were only three or four seats against the wall before the aisle, just a few seats down the side. I can see it now: it was quite narrow but tall and arched, so it was definitely a mini electric palace.

And I remember queuing for hours to see this film with my friend and when we finally got in and were sitting there watching this film, the usherette came up with a torch and shone it one me. And there was my dad who was terribly cross because he’d obviously got very worried that I hadn’t come home. He knew that I’d gone to the pictures and he’d come to find me and fetch me out.

Talk about being shown up in the cinema, I remember going to the Gaumont at Lewisham with my mum and my aunt and it was in the afternoon and just a few people in there, and they’d bought the cheaper seats at the front. And I remember my aunt, who was always a bit of a girl, she said, “Come on, there are loads of seats – let’s move back.” And we moved back and, of course, the usherette came and told us off and made us move forward again. There was no one sitting at the front at all and I was very embarrassed by that.

What was the Gaumont like as a building?

The Gaumont at Lewisham was a palace. We never, ever went in the circle at the Gaumont. It was obviously far too expensive for my mum. We always went in the stalls. And what I do remember is queuing to get into a film that everybody wanted to go and see. And once you’d bought your ticket, on each side of the foyer they had these “corrals” and you would go into this corral which had a brass rail and you would queue inside that. And then they would let you into the back of the stalls where they had more corrals, which I’ve never seen anywhere else. The cinema was enormous – I think it must have had about six aisles. Right at the back, you had the low wall on the back seats and then you had this step up away from the back aisle and that had the brass rails round it. So you were let into one of these corrals where you stood and you were higher than the seats so you could watch the film. And then they would gradually get you out and seat you.

And one other thing: some B picture star, Faith Domergue, had appeared at the Gaumont and there she was coming down the stairs and my mother said, “Go on, go and ask her for an autograph.” And she got my diary out and I went up and this film star used my back to write her autograph, and there was a flash, a photographer, and my mother discovered it was the local paper. And she said, “You’re going to be in the local paper.” But I never was.

Comments: Mo Heard has been an actress, publisher, writer, usherette at the National Film Theatre, and at the time of this interview in 1993 she was manager of the Actors’ Company at the Museum of the Moving Image in London. The Queen’s Hall at Rushey Green opened in 1913 and closed in 1959. The Gaumont Palace in Lewisham opened in 1932 and seated 3,050. It finally closed as a cinema in 1981. My grateful thanks to Mo Heard for permission to reproduce this interview.

It took nine tailors

Source: Adolphe Menjou and M.M. Musselman, It took nine tailors (New York/Toronto: Whittlesey House, 1948), pp. 16-17

Text: Perhaps the years have added glamour and magnitude to my recollection of the Casino, for I still think of it as a Taj Mahal among restaurants. I have dined in some of the finest eating places in the world, but in my memory none ever compared with Father’s coup de maître. It must have been quite a place at that, for today my mother’s face still lights up when it is mentioned, and many other old Clevelanders recall its cuisine, its wine cellar, and its multiplex grandeur with that heart-felt nostalgia commonly reserved for such turn-of-the-century frivolities as bock beer, bicycles built for two, and the bird on Nellie’s hat.

The Casino was located at 325-327 Superior Street in downtown Cleveland. It was really several cafés in one. On the main floor was a bar and grill for gentlemen only. On the second floor was a subdued ladies’ café, which did not mean that it was for ladies only, but that it was for gentlemen escorting ladies. On the third floor was a more sumptuous dining room where a gypsy orchestra played sentimental music from an overhanging balcony. The top floor was given over to Cleveland’s first roof garden, which was open from eight until midnight. It was more like today’s night clubs with one exception, as my mother points out — the music, the entertainment, and the dancing were as refined as you could want in your own home.

Shortly after the Casino opened Father became one of the first motion-picture exhibitors in Cleveland. He rented a projector and some films from New York to show his roof-garden customers this interesting novelty that, up to that time, most of them had only read about in the newspapers.

On the night when the first pictures were shown at the garden, Mother allowed Henry and me to view this amazing new phenomenon — pictures that moved. We gaped in amazement at our first view of Niagara Falls in action; we fell in love with a beautiful creature who performed a “skirt dance”; and when the Empire State Express appeared on the screen and thundered straight at us, we almost jumped out of our skins.

The audience merely applauded politely at these sights; but when Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders rode onto the scene, fresh from the Battle of San Juan Hill, they were greeted by a spontaneous ovation.

In the ten or fifteen minutes it took to unreel the series of short subjects that made up the bill that night, I became an inveterate movie fan. And I am still one of Hollywood’s best customers. Some movie actors like to brag that they never even go to see their own pictures. Perhaps I’m naive, but I like the movies; I even stay for the second feature.

The day after the movies had been shown at the Casino Father reported to Mother and Grand’mère that the customers had been highly entertained by the novelty of the night before, but that they had all agreed that moving pictures were just a passing fad — like automobiles.

Comments: Adolphe Menjou (1890-1963) was an American film actor of French ancestry. His films included A Woman of Paris (1923), The Front Page (1931) and A Star is Born (1937). His father was a restauranteur, whose Casino venue opened in Cleveland around 1898. The films Menjou recalls appear to have been Biograph productions, and include Empire State Express (1896) and probably Roosevelt Rough Riders (1898). The Battle of San Juan Hill was part of the Spanish-American War and was fought on 1 July 1898. The Biograph film showed Teddy Roosevelt’s military unit galloping towards the camera, filmed before the battle.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Department of Physics

Source: ‘Department of Physics’, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 10 May 1893, p. 9

Text: Department of Physics. Annual Election in an Important Branch of the Institute. The Business Meeting Was Followed by an Exhibition of Edison’s New Instrument, the Kinetograph, Which Throws a Picture on a Screen Simultaneously with the Production by Phonograph of the Scene Presented and the Movements Pictured.

The Annual Election for officers in the department of physics, Brooklyn Institute, followed by an exhibition of Edison’s new instrument, the kinetograph, was held at 502 Fulton street last evening. The following new officers were unanimously elected: President, Professor Samuel Sheldon; vice president, Professor W. Gould Levison; secretary, James R. Priddy; treasurer, P.H. Van Evern. After a few words from the new officers, Mr. George M. Hopkins addressed the audience. In his desire to get something to interest the department he had written to Mr. Edison, who had replied in substance: “How would the kinetograph do?” He immediately visited Mr. Edison’s laboratory to investigate, and found that the kinetograph he had hoped to secure was beyond his reach. The instrument of that name, about which so much appeared in the newspapers a few years ago, is an optical lantern and a mechanical device by which a moving image is projected in the screen simultaneously with the production by a phonograph of the words of song which accompany the movements pictured. For example: The photograph of a prima donna would be shown on the screen, with the movement of the lips, the head and the body, together with the changes of facial expression, while the phonograph would produce the song. To arrange this apparatus for this evening was impracticable, he said, and the audience would have to be satisfied with the small instrument designed for individual observation, which simply shows the movements without the accompanying words. This apparatus is the refinement of Plateau’s phenakistoscope or the zootrope, and is carried out to great perfection. The principle can be readily understood by anyone who has ever examined the instrument. Persistence of vision is depended upon to blend the successive images into one continuous ever-changing photographic picture. In addition to Plateau’s experiments he referred to the work accomplished by Muybridge and Anschuetz [sic], who very successfully photographed animals in motion, and Demeny, who produced an instrument called the phonoscope, which gave the facial expression while words were being spoken, so that deaf and dumb people could readily understand. But Mr. Edison, Mr. Hopkins said, has produced a machine by means of which far more perfect results are secured. The fundamental feature in his experiments is the camera, by means of which the pictures are taken. This camera starts, moves and stops the sensitive strip which receives the photographic image, forty-six times a second, and the exposure of the plate takes place in one-eighth of this time, or in about one-fifty-seventh of a second. The lens for producing these pictures was made to order at an enormous expense, and every detail at this end of the experiment was carefully looked after. There are 700 impressions on each strip, and when these pictures are shown in succession in the kinetograph the light is intercepted 700 times during one revolution of the strip. The duration of each image is 1-92 of a second and the entire strip passes through the instrument in about thirty seconds. In this instrument each image dwells upon the retina until it is replaced by the succeeding one, and the difference between any picture and the succeeding one or preceding one is so slight as to render it impossible to observe the intermittent character of the picture. Ht explained the manner in which the photographs were produced by presenting the familiar dancing skeleton on the screen. A zootrope, adapted to the lantern shows the principle of the Kinetograph. In this instrument a disk having a radial slit is revolved rapidly in front of a disk bearing a series of images in different positions, which are arranged radially upon a rapidly revolving disk. The relative speeds of these disks are such that when they are revolved in the lantern the radial slit causes the images to [be] seen in regular succession, so that they replace each other and appear to really be in motion, but this instrument on exhibition, as compared with the kinetograph, is a very crude affair.

At the conclusion of Mr. Hopkins’ address every one was accorded an opportunity of looking into the new machine, which was for the first time exhibited publicly. It is one of many Mr. Edison has made for the world fair and was exhibited last night by one of his assistants, Mr. W. Kennedy Laurie Dickson. It can be compared to the photograph, that is, it pictorially presents every object brought within its view. As described above, it shows living subjects portrayed in a manner to excite wonderment. One of the pictures seen in the machine, for example, was that of a blacksmith shop in which two men were working, one shoeing a horse, the other heating iron at the forge. The one would be seen to drive the nail into the shoe on the horse’s hoof, to change his position, and every movement needed in the work was clearly shown as if the object was in real life. In fact, the whole routine of the two men’s labor and their movements for the day was presented to the view of the observer. At the conclusion of the exhibition a vote of thanks was passed to Mr. Hopkins.

Comments: This presentation for around 400 members members of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences on 9 April 1893 was the first public exhibition of the Edison Kinetoscope peepshow (an earlier model had been presented to members of the Federation of Women’s Clubs at Edison’s home at Glenmont, 20 May 1891). The article uses the term Kinetograph (which was the name of the camera) when it means the Kinetoscope (which had not been publicly named as such as yet). The films exhibited were Blacksmithing Scene (1893) and Horse Shoeing (1893). All of the press material on Edison’s moving image experiments at this time mention the intention to marry the viewer with the Phonograph, the crude realisation of which would be the Kinetophone of 1895 (a Kinetoscope with hearing device). The experimenters in motion photography mentioned in the article are Joseph Plateau, Eadweard Muybridge, Ottomar Anschütz and Georges Demenÿ. Contrary to what was promised here, the Kinetoscope was not exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Links: Brooklyn Newstand (online archive of Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘College senior, a girl of 22 years, of native white parentage’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 213-217

Text: Considerably influenced by the gospel of H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, I have for the past few years held the complacent attitude that “the movies were made for morons,” that they were an inferior order of entertainment, and that I was possessed of an intellect decidedly too keen to be swayed by such a low order of art. But as I detach myself from this groundless generalization and consider objectively my motion picture experiences, it appears that, on the contrary, I am at least temporarily very acutely affected.

The movies could not have wielded a very great or enduring influence over me, however, for the reason that I have never been a chronic devotee. All the eighteen years of my life I have lived in a small town whose only picture palace was a small, dark, ill-ventilated hole, frequented by every type of person. As I was rather frail, and an only child, my mother regularly discouraged attendance there; I do not recall ever seeing a movie unaccompanied by one of my parents until I was eleven years old. The theater was called the Critic, a name indicative of the types of shows presented to attract the ardent Baptist population.

My first recollection of a movie is still a very vivid one. I could not have been more than five at the time, when Mother took me to a matinee to see Charlie Chaplin. We arrived early, just in the middle of a “serial,” which was shown in weekly installments. It was called “The Claw,” and revolved about a villainous character whose right hand was replaced by an iron hook. I can still see this claw reaching out from behind a bridge to grab the heroine. Even the following antics of the famous comedian failed to soften my terrified impressions, and for weeks after I slept with the light on at night and peered carefully under the bed each morning before setting foot on the floor.

I also remember seeing at a later date other “serials” in one of which a mother and her child, shipwrecked, drifted about the Atlantic Ocean clinging to a log, while the struggling husband and father drowned before their eyes; and in the other of which occurred a forest fire. All my earliest impressions were those of fear – very real and vivid.

A little later on, however, between the ages of about six and nine, the movies began to work their way into our play. At one period, our favorite game was “Sandstorm,” an idea derived directly from some desert picture now forgotten. The two little boys with whom I played and I would hide in our caravan, the davenport, and watch the storm sweep over the horizon. When it reached us, we would battle our way through it, eventually to fall prostrate in the middle of the room, where we would lie until the storm blew over. Then we would get up and start the game over.

Another popular pastime, which was undoubtedly affected by certain “Western” pictures was “Cowboy.” My father had at one time lived on a coffee plantation in Mexico and owned and provided us with all the necessary regalia – ten-gallon hats, spurs, ‘kerchiefs, and holsters. The pistols which went with the outfit we were not allowed to have, but carried instead carved wooden guns. Stories of Father’s own (fictitious?) experiences were combined with movie scenarios to form what was for two years our great game. I do not recall any specific instances of our imitating the two-reelers, but I do know that Father obtained and autographed for us greatly cherished photographs of the inimitable William S. Hart.

After I entered school, my tastes changed rapidly from the hairbreadth, wild and woolly Westerners and slap-stick comedies to more sentimental forms. Until the time I entered Junior High, I was interested in the actresses, the heroines. I preferred them sweet, blonde, and fluffy – everything that I was not. I doted on misty close-ups of tear-streamed faces. In the sixth grade, my best friend and I were constantly imitating Mary Miles Minter and Mary Pickford, respectively. Later on I became, in turn, Alice Calhoun and Constance Talmadge, but my friend remained true to her first crush. In classes we wrote notes to each other, and signed them “Mary,” “Alice,” or whatever names we had at the time adopted.

After the seventh grade, however, my attentions again shifted, this time to the male actors. I had become boy-conscious, and, affecting an utter disdain toward all boys of my acquaintance, I took delight in the handsome and heroic men of the screen. I liked nearly all of them, as long as they were neither too old nor too paternal (like Thomas Meighan), but I especially favored Charles Ray, Harrison Ford, and, above all, Wallace Reid. He epitomized all I thought young manhood should be clean, good-looking, daring, and debonair. All the girls of my age and most of the boys liked him. We saw such pictures as “Clarence,” “The Affairs of Anatole,” and “Mr. Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford.”

As a young high-school student, I attended the movies largely for the love scenes. Although I never admitted it to my best friend, the most enjoyable part of the entire picture was inevitably the final embrace and fade-out. I always put myself in the place of the heroine. If the hero was some man by whom I should enjoy being kissed (as he invariably was), my evening was a success and I went home in an elated, dreamy frame of mind, my heart beating rather fast and my usually pale cheeks brilliantly flushed. I used to look in the mirror somewhat admiringly and try to imagine Wallace Reid or John Barrymore or Richard Barthelmess kissing that face! It seems ridiculous if not disgusting now, but until my Senior year this was the closest I came to Romance. And then I fell in love with a boy that looked remarkably like
Dick Barthelmess.

I liked my movies pure Romance: beautiful heroines in distress, handsome gallants in love, gorgeous costumes, and happy endings. “When Knighthood Was in Flower,” “Robin Hood,” “Beau Brummel,” and “Monsieur Beaucaire” were favorites, although as a rule I didn’t like screen versions of books I had read and loved. (“The Three Musketeers” was an example of an adored book grossly insulted.) In a life which was monotonous with all the placidity of a Baptist small town, these movies and books were about all the excitement one could enjoy.

I never liked pictures with a moral, unless it was so subtly expressed that I was unaware of its preaching. Such movies as “The Ten Commandments,” and more recently the “King of Kings,” impressed me as gorgeous spectacles, but too flagrant in their moralizing, so that in parts I was bored to the point of antagonism. A renovated production of “Ten Nights in a Barroom” was so bad it bordered on a screamingly funny burlesque. Just recently, however, I saw “White Shadows in the South Seas,” and was surprised to discover how deeply I was affected by the propaganda.

Over-sexed plays were always more or less repulsive. I remember especially “Flesh and the Devil” with the Garbo-Gilbert combination and an older one starring Gloria Swanson and Valentino. I liked neither. The former embarrassed and the latter bored me.

I have always been unrestrained in my emotions at a motion picture. My uncontrollable weeping at sad movies has been a never-ending source of mortification. I recall first shedding tears over the fate of some deserted water-baby when I was about eight years old, and I have wept consistently and unfailingly ever since, from “Penrod and Sam” to “Beau Geste.” The latter, which I liked as well as any picture I have ever seen, caused actual sobbing both times I saw it. I weep at scenes in which others can see no pathos whatsoever. Recently I have refused to see a half-dozen notably sad shows because of their distressing effects.

I do not believe the movies have ever stimulated me to a real thought, as books have done. Neither have they influenced me on questions of morals, of right and wrong. They have given me a more or less fluctuating standard of the ideal man – in general, the good-looking, dreamy, boyish type – and the kind of lover he must be – sincere, thoughtful, and tender. They have given me my ideas of luxury – sunken baths, silken chaises-lounges, arrays of servants and powerful motors; of historical background – medieval castles, old Egyptian palaces, gay Courts; and of geographical settings – the moonlit water framed in palms of the South Seas, the snow fields of the far North, the Sahara, the French Riviera, and numerous others. I suppose they have from time to time influenced my conception of myself; although I was not aware of this until recently when I saw “A Woman of Affairs,” the film version of Michael Arlen’s “Green Hat.” For days after I was consciously striving to be the “Gallant Lady”; to face a petty world squarely and uncomplainingly; to see things with her broad, sophisticated vision; even to walk and to smoke with her serene nonchalance. I, too, wished to be a gallant lady.

On the whole, I doubt if the movies have wielded much of an influence on my life; not because they were incapable of it, but because they have had too little opportunity. In my youth, my family discouraged attendance at the local cinema, and as I grew older, I formed other interests. Since the first of October, I have seen no more than ten pictures. Two of these impressed me immensely; three of them I could not sit through. Last year I used to go mainly to hear the organ music, but with the advent of the Vitaphone, this attraction is dispensed with. I dislike the stage shows presented at the leading theaters, and also the “talkies.” I usually attend a movie for rest and relaxation, and a bellowing, hollow voice or a raucous vaudeville act does not add to my pleasure. I like my movies unadulterated, silent, and far-between.

Comments: 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. This extract comes from Appendix C, ‘Typical Examples of the Longer Motion Picture Autobiographies’.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

McTeague

Source: Frank Norris, McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (New York: International Book and Publishing Company, 1900 [orig. pub. 1899]), pp. 97, 105

Text: While waiting they studied their programmes. First was an overture by the orchestra, after which came “The Gleasons, in their mirth-moving musical farce, entitled ‘McMonnigal’s Court-ship.'” This was to be followed by “The Lamont Sisters, Winnie and Violet, serio-comiques and skirt dancers.” And after this came a great array of other “artists” and “specialty performers,” musical wonders, acrobats, lightning artists, ventriloquists, and last of all, “The feature of the evening, the crowning scientific achievement of the nineteenth century, the kinetoscope.”

McTeague was excited, dazzled. In five years he had not been twice to the theatre. Now he beheld himself inviting his “girl” and her mother to accompany him. He began to feel that he was a man of the world. He ordered a cigar.

[…]

The kinetoscope fairly took their breaths away.

“What will they do next?” observed Trina, in amazement. “Ain’t that wonderful, Mac?”

McTeague was awe-struck.

“Look at that horse move his head,” he cried excitedly, quite carried away. “Look at that cable car coming—and the man going across the street. See, here comes a truck. Well, I never in all my life! What would Marcus say to this?”

“It’s all a drick!” exclaimed Mrs. Sieppe, with sudden conviction. “I ain’t no fool; dot’s nothun but a drick.”

“Well, of course, mamma,” exclaimed Trina, “it’s——”

But Mrs. Sieppe put her head in the air.

“I’m too old to be fooled,” she persisted. “It’s a drick.” Nothing more could be got out of her than this.

The party stayed to the very end of the show, though the kinetoscope was the last number but one on the programme, and fully half the audience left immediately afterward.

Comments: Frank Norris (1870-1902) was an American novelist. His 1899 novel McTeague, about a dentist and his wife’s descent into poverty, was made into the film Greed (USA 1924), directed by Erich von Stroheim. The term kinetoscope is used here as a generic term for film projection, rather than the specific Edison Kinetoscope peepshow device. The full sequence from the novel describes the various variety acts that comprised the show.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

The Cinematograph

Source: ‘The Cinematograph’, The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, 27 February 1896, p. 2

Text: Our readers may probably remember the old “Wheel of Life,” and they are more likely still to be familiar with Edison’s kinetoscope. An instrument which is a further development of the principle of both these inventions is now on show in London, which is as far ahead of the kinetoscope as the kinetoscope was of the wheel of life. This is the cinematograph, which may be seen any day from 2 p.m. onwards at the Marlborough Rooms, in Regent Street. It is the invention of Messrs. August and Louis Lumiere, and is now shown for the first time in England, although it has been attracting crowds in Paris for a month past. It is impossible to describe the extraordinary effects produced. You enter a hall which is darkened, and where you can sit in comfort, without screwing up your eyes and peering (in a very uncomfortable position as was the case with the kinetoscope) into two tiny holes. At the end of the hall is a large white screen upon which the pictures are thrown, and the illusion is so complete that you appear to be looking through a window at something actually occurring in the next street. First of all you are shown a factory. The gates are open. Then the girls pour out, laughing and (apparently) talking. Then a boy comes out, jumps on a bicycle, and rides off. Suddenly a pair of doors are thrown back, the crowd opens, and a brougham is driven out, and so on. Then you are shown a railway station; a train is seen in the distance. It comes nearer and nearer. You see the steam from the funnel and valves, and you can almost imagine you hear the puffing of the engine. The train comes to a stand, the passengers jump out, and the whole platform is full of life and activity. Porters rush up and down, and the arrivals are greeted by their friends. Then the scene changes to a garden. The gardener has a hose in his hands. He turns a cock and you see the spray as it leaves the hose, flying all over the trees and shrubs. Then there comes a little comic relief. Somebody comes behind the gardener, and tilts up the hose, and sends the water into his face, blowing his hat off. After this comes a picture of three men playing at écarté. They are smoking, a whiffs of smoke from their cigarettes are seen in the still air curling round their heads. They shuffle and deal the cards, the stakes are paid over, the loser looks glum, and the winner slaps him on the back. But the most extraordinary and remarkable scene is the last. You are apparently looking at the sea. The long rollers come tumbling in. A party of bathers run along the springboard and take headers. The waves dash against the rocks, the foam flies up into the air, and you expect every moment to see the water pouring into the hall. There are other pictures shown, all of which are interesting, and the exhibition is of so entirely novel and pleasing a character that it will well repay a visit, affording as it does remarkable evidence of what science can do to deceive the senses.

Comments: The Lumière Cinématographe projector premiered in the UK at the Marlborough Hall within the Polytechnic Institute in Regent Street, London on 20 February. The ‘large’ screen was 6 feet by 4 foot 6 inches. The films described are Sortie de l’usine (1895), L’arrivée d’un train (1896), L’arroseur arrosé (1895), Partie d’écarté (1896) and Baignade en mer (1895). The ‘Wheel of Life’ is another name for the Zoetrope. My thanks to Deac Rossell for bringing this account to my attention.

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Extract from interview with Florence Kate Johnson, Thompson, P. and Lummis, T., Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], May 2009. SN: 2000, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-2000-1

Text: Q: Did you go to any cinemas?

A: There weren’t any. No. There was a thing called the Bioscope but I didn’t go to it, but I did go to Kensington and – you – sat in a coach – and thought you were tearing around, and seeing the scenery. I don’t know what – what it was. Paid about fourpence I think. That was before cinema anyway. The first cinema I think I went to was when – a King died. Now when was that? Oh I can’t remember when the cinema came, perhaps it was a bit earlier than I thought. Might have been. But of course we didn’t go much anyway.

Comments: Florence Kate Johnson was born in Battersea in 1892. The entertainment she half-remembers was Hale’s Tours of the World, in which motion pictures taken from the front of a train were projected inside a mock railway carriage which rocked to and fro as the audience inside viewed the films. The first Hale’s Tours in the UK opened in London’s Oxford Street in May 1906 and there was a Hale’s Tours located in Kensington High Street. The king dying was Edward VII, who died in 1910. She was one of 444 people interviewed by Paul Thompson and his team as part of a study of the Edwardian era which resulted in Thompson’s book The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975).