Come and see the pictures

Source: Donald McGill, ‘Come and see the pictures’, postcard posted from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, 1910s, from the Nicholas Hiley collection

comeandsee

comeandsee_reverse

Comments: Donald McGill (1875-1962) was a British postcard artist who became famous (and at times notorious) for his ‘saucy’ seaside postcards. Postcards in the 1910s commonly depicted the cinema as a place of sexual licence, where romantic scenes on the screen were reflected in the thoughts of those in the audience.

The little Madeleine

Source: Mrs Robert Henrey, The little Madeleine: the autobiography of a young French girl (New York: Dutton, 1953), pp. 199-200, 204-205

Text: Mme Maurer, grateful and generous, found a charming way to say thank you. Immediately after lunch on my half-holiday she, my mother, and I would go to the cinema in the Avenue de Clichy, where the programme included a film in several episodes, with Pearl White, and a Max Linder comedy. The programme started at two, and as soon as I heard the bell announcing the approach of the great moment my excitement was immense. Pathé Journal began with a flickering news-reel. Weary soldiers in long files marched down the lines. Lloyd George and Clemenceau danced across the screen with unbelievable speed. King George V and his good-looking son, the Prince of Wales, shook hands with soldiers and climbed over trenches and barbed wire. The cinema seemed to soak all these famous men and incidents with an oblique and incessant rain.

My mother found in these visits to the cinema her first moments of genuine pleasure. We would discuss what we had seen, thinking all the week about the next episode. A little later the great Gaumont Palace was opened in the Place Clichy. Then it was a different matter. The most famous cabaret singers in Paris were engaged to appear in the intervals, and the auditorium, full of soldiers and officers of every nation, made our hearts beat with patriotism.

[…]

When my father was on a night shift my mother, Marguerite Rosier (we had now forgiven her for running away from the man with the knife), and I went to a cheap cinema in the Boulevard National, arriving half an hour before the performance started, to be sure of having the best seats.

Our cinema smelt of garlic and peppermint drops. Palm-trees stood on either side of the stage, their branches casting uneven shadows on the white screen like giant spiders. Excitedly we waited. In spite of our love for Pearl White we had not quite cured ourselves of thinking of the cinema in terms of the age-old theatre, and we had gone instinctively to the front of the stalls where, after a while, we would see appear from behind a curtain a little hunchback woman with a big white head surmounted by a number of diamanté spangled combs. She would slip her rheumatic knees under an upright piano and begin a Strauss waltz. The apache boys from the fortifications who were here in large numbers whistled the accompaniment, while putting an arm round the shoulder of a girl, getting into position to unbutton the blouse and fondle her breasts. These were the girls who worked for them as prostitutes on the outer zone, drawing men with alluring gestures, like Circes, near to the wall where the apache lay in waiting with his knife. All the boys wore their caps and sometimes their red scarves. A few moments later came a small dark man holding a violin case tightly under his arm, and as he made his way towards the hunchback his journey was followed by loud whistles and exclamations of ‘Hurry up, maestro! You’re late, brother! Let’s go and sleep with his wife while he scratches a tune on his fiddle!’ The fiddler, pale and without any sign of fluster, removed a black hat, placing it carefully on the edge of a chair, folded his overcoat, took up the hat which he would then place on top of the folded overcoat, and delicately brush the dandruff from his narrow shoulders. At last he opened the case, holding the violin under an arm whilst he put a handkerchief under his chin. The audience invariably cried out: ‘The little old man is going to weep!’ Then dolefully: ‘Don’t worry, daddy, you’ll see her again, your girl friend!’ Now at last, with a sign of his bow to the hunchback, he would begin to play. The lights would go out. The screen flickered.

By the time the big film started this chaffing audience was settling down to the charms of Mary Pickford with her blonde curls. The love-story was getting the better of these boys and girls from the fortifications who, for all their naughtiness, were just sentimental children. At this magnificent moment, after all the fatigues of the long day, after school, after queueing, after playing in the street, exhausted, I fell fast asleep on my mother’s shoulder! This happened every time we went to the cinema. Before setting out in the evening I would say: ‘If I go to sleep you will wake me up, won’t you, mother?’ She promised. Indeed she did wake me, but after rubbing the sand out of my eyes and trying to unravel the plot, I fell asleep again, and my mother, transported to a land of make-believe, was far too interested in the romance to keep on pinching my arm. I would sulk on the way home, and childishly threaten to tell my father where we had been. My mother answered patiently: ‘To-morrow I will describe the whole episode to you while you are sewing, and next time you really must try to keep awake!’

Comments: Madeleine Henrey (1906-2004), who mostly published as Mrs Robert Henrey, was a French author of popular memoirs. Her son, Bobby Henrey, played the child lead in the film The Fallen Idol (UK 1948). The Gaumont Palace, located at Place Clichy, Paris, opened in December 1907, ahead of Henrey’s First World War period memories. It was the largest cinema in Europe, seating over 6,000.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Kissin’ in the Back Row

Source: Tony Macaulay and Roger Greenaway, ‘Kissin’ in the Back Row’, song recorded by The Drifters, 1974. Lyrics reproduced from http://www.metrolyrics.com/kissin-in-the-back-row-of-the-movies-lyrics-the-drifters.html

Text: Your mama says that through the week
You can’t go out with me
But when the weekend comes around
She knows where we will be

Kissin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
Holdin’ hands together, you and I
Holdin’ hands together

Smoochin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
We could stay forever, you and I
We could stay forever, you and I
Huggin’ and a kissin’ in the back row of the movies

Every night, I pick you up from school
‘Cause you’re my steady date
But Monday to the Friday night
I leave you at the gate, yeah

You know, we can’t have too much fun
‘Til all your homework’s done
But when the weekend comes
She knows where we will be, oh

Kissin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
Holdin’ hands together, you and I
Holdin’ hands together, baby

Smoochin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
We could stay forever, you and I
We could stay forever, you and I
Huggin’ and a kissin’ in the back row of the movies

Oh, I sit at home at night and watch TV
I still think of you
But Monday to the Friday night
We share a joke of two, yeah

You know, they don’t knock on my door
At the Friday night for sure
But when the weekend comes
She knows where we will be, yeah

Kissin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
Holdin’ hands together, you and I
Holdin’ hands together, baby

Smoochin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you, yeah
We could stay forever, you and I
We could stay forever, you and I
Huggin’ and a kissin’ in the back row of the movies, yeah

Kissin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
Holdin’ hands together, you and I
Holdin’ hands together, baby

Smoochin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
Where we could stay forever, you and I

Comments: American vocal group The Drifters was founded in 1953, and different permutations of the line-up have continued to the present day. This song was a hit in the UK, where it reached number two in the charts in 1974.

Kissin' in the Back Row

Source: Tony Macaulay and Roger Greenaway, ‘Kissin’ in the Back Row’, song recorded by The Drifters, 1974. Lyrics reproduced from http://www.metrolyrics.com/kissin-in-the-back-row-of-the-movies-lyrics-the-drifters.html

Text: Your mama says that through the week
You can’t go out with me
But when the weekend comes around
She knows where we will be

Kissin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
Holdin’ hands together, you and I
Holdin’ hands together

Smoochin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
We could stay forever, you and I
We could stay forever, you and I
Huggin’ and a kissin’ in the back row of the movies

Every night, I pick you up from school
‘Cause you’re my steady date
But Monday to the Friday night
I leave you at the gate, yeah

You know, we can’t have too much fun
‘Til all your homework’s done
But when the weekend comes
She knows where we will be, oh

Kissin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
Holdin’ hands together, you and I
Holdin’ hands together, baby

Smoochin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
We could stay forever, you and I
We could stay forever, you and I
Huggin’ and a kissin’ in the back row of the movies

Oh, I sit at home at night and watch TV
I still think of you
But Monday to the Friday night
We share a joke of two, yeah

You know, they don’t knock on my door
At the Friday night for sure
But when the weekend comes
She knows where we will be, yeah

Kissin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
Holdin’ hands together, you and I
Holdin’ hands together, baby

Smoochin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you, yeah
We could stay forever, you and I
We could stay forever, you and I
Huggin’ and a kissin’ in the back row of the movies, yeah

Kissin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
Holdin’ hands together, you and I
Holdin’ hands together, baby

Smoochin’ in the back row
Of the movies on a Saturday night with you
Where we could stay forever, you and I

Comments: American vocal group The Drifters was founded in 1953, and different permutations of the line-up have continued to the present day. This song was a hit in the UK, where it reached number two in the charts in 1974.

A long-felt want

Source: ‘A long-felt want: a Cinema designed for both Lovers and Picture-Lovers’, from The Humourist (1925), reproduced in E.S. Turner, A History of Courting (New York: Dutton, 1955), p. 245

longfeltwant

Comments: E.S. Turner was a British journalist and author of popular social histories. His A History of Courting has a chapter on cinema, entitled ‘Lessons in the Dark’.

Links: Copy of book at Hathi Trust

In the Cinema

Source: W. Stocker Shaw, ‘In the Cinema’, postcard c.1910, from the Nicholas Hiley collection

inthecinema

inthecinema_back

Comments: William Stocker Shaw (1879 – ?) was a prolific British comic postcard artist. This is an example of one of the many postcards from this period which play on the idea of the cinema as a place for sexual licence because it located people in the dark. The thoughts of the audience are complemented by the image on the screen. The venue portrayed is a theatre, with box, rather than a cinema. The message on the reverse of the card makes no mention of the image.

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 21, white, college senior’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 66

Text: 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.

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. Most of the evidence relates to picturegoing in the 1920s. The interview above comes from the chapter ‘Day-Dreaming and Fantasy’.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

The Movies Take to the Pastures

Source: John Durrant, extract from ‘The Movies Take to the Pastures’, Saturday Evening Post, 14 October 1950. pp. 25, 85, 89

Text: For the fifth year in a row now movie attendance has been going down, down, down like Alice’s plunge to the bottom of the rabbit hole in her Wonderland adventure. The cinema dive, though, is no dream. It is real, and the industry is chewing its nails, wondering whether to blame its favorite whipping boy, television; the 20 per cent Federal tax on tickets; strikes and war fears; Hollywood’s pinkish tint, or too-good weather, which is supposed to keep the customers away from the movies. Whatever the causes, attendance has been slipping away steadily, although recent figures indicate that the decline may now be slowing up. Tbere is, however, one phase of the industry which has been running contrary to the general trend and bringing smiles to an increasing number of exhibitors.

It is the drive-in business, which has expanded phenomenally since the end of World War I. At the time of Pearl Harbor, for instance, there were less than 100 “ozoners” in the country. None was built during the war, but by 1947 there were 400, double that number the following year and now there are a probable 2200 in the United States and forty in Canada.

As one movie mogul famous for his malapropisms said, “They are sweeping the country like wildflowers.” And Bob Hope recently commented, “There will soon be so many drive-ins in California that you’ll be able to get married, have a honeymoon and get a divorce without ever getting out of your car.”

Hope is not exaggerating too wildly. Here, for instance, are some of the things you can do at various ozoners without taking your eyes off the screen or missing a word of dialogue: You can eat a complete meal, get your car washed and serviced, including a change of tires, have the week’s laundry done, your shopping list filled and the baby’s bottle warmed. All this while the show is on.

It’s a cinch to attend a drive-in. You buy a ticket without getting out of your car, drive to one of the rows and take a position on a ramp which causes the car to tilt slightly upward at the front end. Alongside there’s a speaker, attached to a post, which you unhook and fasten to the inside of your car window. Volume can be controlled by turning a switch, and although at first it may seem odd to be hearing sounds from a speaker next to your ear, with the action on the screen a couple of hundred yards away, the illusion is acceptable. If you want to leave in the middle of the show you replace the speaker in the post and drive forward over the ramp and make for the exit. Thus, there is no climbing over the laps of annoyed spectators as there is in the conventional theaters.

If Hope thinks that California is becoming overcrowded with drive-ins, be should visit Ohio and North Carolina, where every cow pasture is crowned by a screen. North Carolina, about one third the size of California in both population and area, boasts 125 ozoners to California’s ninety-five. Ohio has 135. While Califomia’s theaters are larger and hold more cars, the concentration of so many ozoners in the two other states is way out of proportion to their size. Why, no one knows. But the business is full of oddities. Texas, as you might expect, leads the country with some 200 theaters. Then come Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania in that order, followed by California, where the drive-ins operate the year round and everybody owns a car.

Due to the rapidity of construction – and closings, in some regions – the business is in a constant state of flux, and figures are changing daily. One thing is apparent, however, and that is that the trend is up and the saturation point has not yet been reached. When it comes – movie people put it at 3500 drive-ins – it is anybody’s guess whether there will be like the miniature-golf-course fiasco in the 30s, or a gradual leveling off, with the best-run theaters surviving.

Most conventional theater owners, who despise the ozoners and battle them at every turn, say the thing is a fad, that it’s going too fast and, anyway, the places are no more than parking lots for petters. Variety, the bible of show business calls them “passion pits with pix.” Needless to there are no figures on petting frequency in drive-ins, but I can offer the result of a one-man nonsnooping survey made by myself. I talked with dozens of exhibitors, and all firmly stated that no more went on in the cars than in the rear seats of the conventional theaters. All were quite touchy on the subject, by the way. Only one said he had ever had a complaint in that direction from a patron.

Leon Rosen, who has managed both types of theaters for the Fabian Theaters, a chain of eighty conventionals and seven drive-ins in the Middle Atlantic states, told me that more than 3,000,000 people have attended the ozoners he’s managed and he has never received a single complaint. He could not say the same for his indoor theaters. “Sure, a fellow slips his arm around his girl in the drive-ins,” he said. “The same as in the regular theaters or on a park bench. No more than that. And there’s one thing you don’t get in the drive-ins that you get inside. That’s the guy on the prowl, the seat changer who molests lone women. There’s none of that in the drive-ins.”

Still, the bad name persists and is kept alive by gents’-room gags which probably stem from the prewar days, when drive-ins were completely blacked out and circulating food venders and ushers were a rarity. But what disproves the cheap gags more than anything else is the type of audience that fills the drive-ins today. It is by far a family audience, with a probable 75 per cent of the cars containing children who, incidentally, are let in free by most drive-ins if they are under twelve. This is the main reason the ozoners have been so successful – their appeal to the
family group. They are the answer to parents who want to take in the movies, but can’t leave their children alone at home. No baby sitters are needed. And the kids are no bother to anyone in the audience. There’s no vaulting of theater seats, running up and down the aisles or drowning out the dialogue by yapping.

A workingman told me that the drive-ins had saved his family from a near split-up. He didn’t like the movies, he said, and his wife did. The result was a battle every Saturday night, when she wanted to see a movie and he refused to go. Saturday night was his beer night, and no movies were going to interfere with it. His wife went anyway, and he stayed home sipping beer and keeping an eye on Junior. But this didn’t work out. The weekly argument went on, and the breach between them got wider. Then, one Saturday night, he agreed to take in a drive-in with her, provided he could take a long a couple of bottles of beer. After that everything was solved. They now go every Saturday night. She sits in the front seat with Junior and watches the flickers. He sits in back alone, with his beer in a bucket of ice, and pays little attention to the movie as he sips the brew and smokes cigars with his legs crossed. Now everybody is happy and there’s no more talk of a split-up.

After the war, the drive-ins began to go all out for the family trade. The so-called “moonlight” flooding of the parking area and aisle lighting came in, and exhibitors built children’s play areas, with swings, slides, merry-go-rounds and pony rides. Some installed miniature railroads which hauled kids over several hundred yards of track. Picnic grounds, swimming pools and monkey villages appeared in the larger theaters. While the youngsters disport themselves at these elaborate plants, their parents can have a go at miniature golf courses and driving ranges or they can play shuffleboard, pitch horse-shoes and dance before live bands.

That is the trend now in the de luxe drive-ins, ones with a capacity of, say, 800 cars or more. They are becoming community recreation centers, and the idea is to attract people two or three hours before show time. It gives the receipts a boost and the family a whole evening’s outing, not just three hour sat the movies, according to the new school of exhibitors. Many old-time managers disagree.

“This carnival stuff cheapens the business,” one told me. “And the biggest mistake the drive-ins made was to let kids in free. They can’t go to the indoor houses for nothing, so a lot of people think we show only rotten pictures and they stay away.”

The manager touched a sore point here. The films shown in the ozoners are in the main pretty frightful. Most are third-run pictures, rusty with age. Drive-in exhibitors are not entirely to blame for this. Film distributors point out that their first loyalty is to their regular customers, the all-year conventional houses, and the ozoners must wait in line or pay through the nose.

It doesn’t seem to make much difference what kind of pictures are shown, because drive-in fans are far less choosy than the indoor variety. A large part of them never have been regular indoor movie-goers, and almost any picture is new to them. The ozoners have struck a rich vein of new fans. Leading the list are the moderate-income families who bring the kids to save money on baby-sitters. Furthermore, they don’t have to dress up, find a parking place, walk a few blocks to a ticket booth and then stand in line. The drive-ins make it easy for them and for workers and farmers, who can come in their working clothes straight from the evening’s chores, and for the aged and physically handicapped. They are a boon to the hard of hearing and to invalids, many of whom never saw a movie before the drive-ins. They draw fat men who have trouble wedging themselves between the arms of theater seats, and tall men sensitive about blocking off the screen from those behind. Add the teen-agers to these people, and you have a weekly attendance of about 7,000,000, an impressive share of the country’s 60,000,000 weekly ticket buyers …

Comments: Drive-ins were introduced in the United States in 1933.

Links: Complete article on Saturday Evening Post site