Minnie at the Movies

Source: Marian Bowlan, ‘Minnie at the Movies’, from City Types: A Book of Monologues Sketching the City Woman (Chicago: T.S. Denison, 1916 – copyright date of original piece 1913), pp. 231-235

Text: Minnie at the Movies

Character:
MINNIE MURRAY, an independent and emotional follower of the film drama.

SCENE — A neighborhood nickel theater.

MINNIE MURRAY charges down the aisle and expounds:

Go on down in front, Tillie, and never mind raspin’ about where that fly usher plants yu. Well, if there ain’t that sassy bunch o’ kids with Jimmie Casey from the flat below us amonopolizin’ the front row!

(Seating herself) What’s the name o’ the reel that’s on now? Oh, ya-ah, Elmer’s Fall! Jimmie Casey, you turn right around and the very next time you holler “Archer Avenue (or name local street of corresponding type) Belle” at me when I’m leavin’ for a dance, I’ll report yu to the station.

(To Tillie.) Ain’t it funny you never see any kids in real life like the children in the movin’ pitchers? Look at them two little boys in sailor suits asingin’ hymns on their mother’s knees in the twilight. One of ’em is hung in the last act? Don’t you get fresh and stuff me, Jimmie Casey, like the way you was tryin’ last week to tell me them western injun and cowboy pitchers was taken in Evingston (name local suburban town.)

Whatyuthink Gus and me did Sunday, Tillie? We took in all the fi’cent theeayters between (two widely separated streets embracing neighborhood of Archer Avenue type.) Honest! And the next mornin’ when I shows up to work, the Boss says what’s the matter with my eyes and before I got a chanct to answer that flip bookkeeper speaks up and says, Who, Min? Oh, she’s got the movin’ pitcher squint!”

What’s the name o’ this fillum? The Drama Of The Dessert Say, I wonder if A-rabs always wears white; the laundries must work overtime. Say, Til, how’dju like to wear a veil over your jaw like that there A-rab lady? — though there is some girls of my aquaintance [sic] that does need a gag for the mouth and no mistake. Ruby Clancy, fer instance. She’s sore because I met Gus at her house and he’s been just about livin’ at our flat ever since. There’s not a mornin’ I gets to the office but what Ruby dislocates her neck alampin’ my lef’ hand. Gus is in a awful unusual business. He makes costumes for circuses and has always got his pockets full o’ samples o’ dazzling red and green. Gus says he in’t acomin’ to the nickel show no more cause he’s gettin’ knock-kneed from fallin’ over the baby carriages out front.

I gotta yawn. These pitchers they got on now — a ancient ruined city it says — are turr’ble dry. The music is good, though; that’s the Chicle Rag. But who wants to look at a pile o’ old stones? My brother’n-law works in a quarry.

Here comes that swell baritone with all the diamonds, Tillie. Don’t his vest glitter, though? I’m just crazy about the way he sings Red, Red, Roses. Ya-ah, he rolls his eyes sump’n grand in the chorus. (Flustered.) He’s lookin’ straight at us. Til. (Nudging her.) Ain’t he, huh? Whatyu gettin’ so embarrassed about?

That fellah at the snare drum works in a boiler factory daytimes. He has awful pow’rful arms; the man’ger o’ the show is crazy about him because there’s the elevated and the night freight and the river tugs has to be drowned out while the show is goin’ on. I usta know the fella that played the coronet. He was a gen’lman — give me and Ma passes twice ever’ evenin’.

That girl at the piano remin’s me o’ the new girl who’s moved into the flat acrost the hall from us. She’s turr’ble entertainin’. Til. She’s a waitress, u-huh, a waitress in a restaurant. And say, some o’ the things she can tell about the way they cook in those swell places! Her advice to everybody that’s partic’lar is: “Cut out hash, don’t think o’ stew, and for heaven’s sake never touch a chicken croquette. “No,” she sez, “far better a cheese sandwich and a egg nog at home; you know what you’re gettin.”

This one is the big fillum that they’ve got them thrillin’ blue and yellow pitchers of outside, the Horse Thief’s Revenge. That’s it. There’s the hero-een with the long braid down her back. Ain’t she sweet? The girl’s brother is plotting against the cowboy because he seen him stealin’ the horse out of the coral. The cowboy- — ain’t he handsome in a dress suit? — is goin’ for a ride up the mountain and I bechu anything the bonehead brother’ull waylay him. I seen him on his hands and feet around them rocks a minute ago. Look at the dagger, will yu! (Covers face with hands.) Did they stab him, Tillie? (Muffled.) Did they? Oh, I wisht I was home! Is they blood comin’? (Taking hands down from face.)

Part II! She’s goin’ to him — the girl’s goin’ to him. Ain’t you crazy about the way she fixes her hair? I’m goin’ to try mine that way when I get home. Look at her horse goin’ licketycut. Yu can hear the hoofbeats just as plain. Do yu think she’ll get there in time? Say, Til, do yu? She does. Gee, I’m glad.

But it ain’t all over yet. There comes that half-breed sneakin’ out from those trees. He draws a gun. Look, Til, he’s goin’ to shoot. (She covers her face with her hands.) Gosh, I swallowed my gum! And the hero knocks the gun out o’ the half-breed’s hands. Then my gum went for nothin’.

(Rising.) That last reel just took ever’thing out of me. My forehead is wringin’ wet. Ever’time I come to this nickel show I gotta be almost carried to the drug store across the street. The man there allus expects me now. I feel it so. Now, I just imagined I was that girl in The Horse Thief’s Revenge. It’s awful.

(Starting for exit.) I sez to Gus ….. at the movies…… (exit).

Comment: This is a comic monologue designed for theatrical performance. Archer Avenue runs through Chicago (the reference to the elevated train further confirms the location). The Drama of the Desert and The Horse Thief’s Revenge are imaginary film titles.

Links:
Available from the Internet Archive

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Excerpt from interview with James Malone, C707/245/1-2, 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: There weren’t so many other recreations for working men in those days were there? [meaning pubs]

A: Well the cinema was a penny, come out for a packet of sweets, and there was clubs and turns, you know, old time – what they used to call old time variety…

Q: … How did you spend Saturdays as a child?

A: Oh now I’ve got to think now. – Saturdays – oh I suppose Saturdays to me was a – oh I know, we used to go to a cinema called the Star cinema, a penny. And we used to wait – ’til the pianist came down the aisle. We used to call him curly and when he come down we all used to stand and scream, good old Curley. And I remember Saturday afternoons a penny …

Q: … Did she [mother] ever go out to enjoy herself?

A: She used to go to the cinema with my father. By the way she behaved and other women too in a cinema – they used to live with it, they used to talk to the actors. She used to say to ’em, look behind you, and – he never done it. He done it, you see, it was very good indeed. They lived with it. Well I remember my mother coming out of the cinema with my father and I was very – very young and I remember what she said to him she said, Jim – she should never have married that man, he’ll never be any good to her. Now that’s what I call – living with a picture, that is true. Yes.

Q: How often would they go to the pictures?

A: Oh once or twice a week. People used to really cry at the cinema them days, when the lights went up you look around – see ’em all tears down their eyes you see. Used to snivel.

Comment: James Malone was born in Highgate, London 1904, eldest of four. ather was carpenter and joiner, often out of work, and the family was extremely poor, frequently moving house after evictions. .Malone wrestled for Great Britain as a middle-weight in the Olympic Games of 1928 and 1932. He was interviewed on 2 and 26 March 1971, 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).

The Cinema

Source: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (London: Williams and Norgate, 1917), pp. 276-282

Text: April 21, 1917. MINUTES OF EVIDENCE. Dr. Kimmins. Examined.

DR. KIMMINS: I think the simplest way would be for me to elaborate the evidence, and give you a few extracts from essays showing you the mind of the child with regard to the cinema. I would urge you not to attach much importance to the results from the girls’ central school, because I only had 184 papers sent in, which is not a sufficient number from which to draw a very definite conclusion. In many of the children’s essays they simply refer to the last performance or the one before that. I have thoroughly analysed the papers and there are several points which come out very clearly. I have noticed that the girls take a greater interest in domestic drama and fairy stories. Quite a large number of fairy stories have been filmed, and they have been described in great detail. As regards the comics they are very much more popular with the boys than the girls, and when one analyses every age one finds that in the upper standards the boys are less attracted by the comics than the boys in the lower standards. The boys are much keener on serial films than the girls, but this may be explained by the fact that the boys have more opportunities of attending the cinema than the girls. The interest in war films is very great and varies from school to school. Then, again, the boys take a keener interest in the crook films than the girls, while love films are more popular with the girls than the boys; and it is very noticeable that in the schools in very well-to-do districts the purely love film is more popular than in the poorer districts. To carry on this investigation I selected six schools from poor districts and six schools from good districts, in order to get a great difference in the home surroundings. One point comes out in the analyses of the papers of the girls’ central school; and that is, that there is an increased interest at twelve and thirteen years of age in films about cowboys and adventure. I will quote some extracts from essays as to why some of the children do not go to cinemas.

The first is rather pathetic, it is from a child of nine: “I have never been in a cinema. It was my dada’s wish that I was not to go in a cinema. Mother likes to keep his wish because he was killed” (in France).

Then another child of nine says: “My reasons for not going to cinemas are that the heat gives me a headache. I also found that germs like the dark and so cinemas are unhealthy, so father and mother decided I better not go. I like books very much and having many at home I do not want to go.”

Then a child of ten: “I have never been to cinemas. Last year my two sisters went, and in two or three days, one had scarlet fever and the other measles, and so mother would not let me go because she thought I might get it.”

Then a girl of thirteen says — and I must say here that a girl of thirteen is much more critical than a boy of thirteen: “I do not go to the pictures because of these reasons: (1) I save money by stopping at home; (2) it don’t do your eyes any good; (3) it’s not healthy to be stuck inside a hot place taking other people’s breath.”

Now I will read some extracts from essays on films. Here is a rather remarkable one from a boy of ten: “A girl had an extremely heroic mother whose husband was locked up in a den of tigers. The woman, who was determined to save her man, boldly went to the circus train where she begged pitifully and melancholily to give her the keys of the den. After a long argument they answered in the affirmative. When she got to the place they said ‘ You can have the keys on one condition only,’ and that was, when she got to the door and unlocked it they must give back the keys. At first she answered in the negative, afterwards she agreed. The second she got into the gloomy cavern she heard her husband’s voice. ‘Is that you, John?’ ‘Who is that?’ came a dreamy and fatigued voice. ‘It is me your wife, Charlotte.’ Then the tears flowed.”

Here is an extraordinary account of the impression a girl of thirteen obtained from seeing a film dealing with the death of Nurse Cavell: “They took her to a prison in a German neighbourhood and ordered her to tell the British plans. When she thought of her God and country she said: ‘I will not be a traitor to my own country.’ The German Emperor, who is called the Kaiser, said : ‘You will suffer for it if you do not tell us.’ Nurse Cavell knelt by her stony bed and said her evening prayer. When Von Bissing saw her he spoke some German language to her, and she did not understand it. The following day the Kaiser ordered his soldiers to fetch her to the place where she was going to be shot. When she was led through the market the people laughed and teased her. When she arrived at her destination the Kaiser said: ‘Fancy you trying to fight against me.’ He then ordered Von Bissing to level his revolver and shoot her. He did so, and then he was given an Iron Cross and some money for killing her.”

One small child after describing a country scene says : “The picture I like best is like a meadow. It had flowers and little hills. Why I like it is, because it makes you think that you are in the country yourself. It also learns you your Nature study.”

Then a child of eleven says: “I always look forward to pictures about people who do daring things. I like to see people climb mountains under great difficulties, or people running away and being pursued. There is one picture that I think is very good. It is called Liberty. It is a very daring play and the people go through very dangerous things.”

The girls, by the way, take very much more interest in scenery than the boys, and here is what one of the girls says: “The picture that I enjoyed most was one delivered in six parts and dealing with the wild life of Alaska and the Yukon District. I cannot exactly recollect the details, but I have a rather hazy, it is true, remembrance of them. It is about a man who, in disguise, tracks to the snowy regions of Alaska and there kills the man who ran away with his wife. The music that was played at the time, I think, has a great deal to do with my decision.”

Here is another: “It was a beautiful picture and beautiful scenery too; as we sat looking at it, it seemed to dazzle our eyes. The lady of the house was dressed in green velvet, while her son had a green suit; her son’s sweetheart also had a green dress, but it was trimmed with black fur. As they sat under the trees, on a seat made of oak, in the moonlight, it was picturesque. The green made it look more beautiful than ever. We held our breaths as we watched it, for it was so beautiful.”

At the age of thirteen, the girls like to describe the appearance of the people who are acting. That comes out very strikingly in one or two essays I have here: “Joan was a young and beautiful girl of about seventeen years of age, who worked in the mines. Her friend was Lizzie, a pretty girl of about the same age, but fragile and obstinate. Their ‘boss’ as they called the manager, was a young man, handsome and kind. Many a time had he saved Joan from blows from the foreman, and she had grown to love him. Joan’s father was a bully and the terror of the mine.”

Here is another short description: “It was a dull day, and a heavy storm was raging overhead ; and a man, evidently a newcomer, entered the inn. He was tall and respectable, with large bright eyes, which seemed to influence everybody. Having had his fill, and the storm having abated, he left the inn and proceeded homewards. On arriving there he sat down and seemed lost in meditation.”

Here is a good description: “The picture that I liked most was not a funny story nor a drama, but just views of water waving and curling, and also some falls. It gave some most beautiful falls and fountains splashing and sparkling in sunny France. The water first turned a beautiful blue, and then on the fountains it sprinkled with a silver tint. Then came the fall, with its beautiful waters jumping and bubbling over sharp stones and rocks, making many pools of white foam. Another picture was the river, and sometimes it did not sparkle but was dark and sullen.”

This is a remarkable production for a young child.

Then another child says: “I like mysteries and detective pictures, from them you can learn many things: first, you can learn to copy detectives’ ways; secondly, you can be careful of whom you make acquaintance, whether a nice girl or a nasty mean girl.”

Here is something for the Censor: ” Some pictures are degrading, and they do not do one any good; but they would help to make the people who see them less pure and have less moral support. These pictures are only shown in cheap and degraded picture palaces, and are only supported by the people of inferior education. Some pictures are degrading, and these never ought to be passed by the Censor.”

The age of that girl is only thirteen and she goes to an ordinary elementary school.

Then you have: “Pictures of foreign scenes, exploration and aviation give one ideas that are not to be found in books and do a great deal to improve our ideas. My opinion is, that pictures could be utilised for the education of children along with the form of education that is taught in our schools. Pictures about foreign countries are highly valued for their aid to education, and in the improvement of children’s minds.”

Another girl says: “Love pictures are sometimes ridiculous and are only meant for grown-ups. Pictures such as ‘Quo Vadis?’ ‘John Halifax, Gentleman’ and ‘The Three Musketeers’ are really a help to education and give one a good idea of the habits of the people at the time.”

Then here is a delightful child who gives this description: “I have an aesthetic taste for scenery, and one of the best pictures I have seen is ‘Doran’s Travels in China.’ This young lady travelled on the tranquil winding river. The mountains glistened in the sun and the traveller stood amazed at the wondrous spectacle. The people in the massive building were similar to the ancient people of years ago. The beautiful scenery helps to uplift one to purer thoughts. It helps to give one a better idea of the beauty of the world and gives one ideas of different countries.”

In one essay a girl traces the extraordinary influence of one person upon another: “Bob believed in crime, and reared Daisy, as the little girl was called, to believe in the same principles. One day Daisy was hungry, and being now a girl of seventeen and very pretty, she decided to pick some one’s pocket, but also was detected and carried to the police station, where a middle-aged man took pity on her and took her to his own home, which was situated in Park Lane. Daisy had never seen such a lovely house, and even after she was dressed in lovely clothes, the impulse to steal would come to her, and at last, while the haughty footman was asleep, she cut off the gorgeous gold braid from his shoulder, and tied it round her own waist.”

Then here is the essay of a boy of eight years of age: “There was a girl about fourteen years of age. She had a very nice young man. There was another lady who was very jealous, because she wanted the young man. So she made up her mind to murder this young lady. She got two young men to capture her. One day they saw her out. They blindfolded her and took her away. They put her in a house and left her there. While she was looking out of the window she saw her sweetheart. She opened the window and called out to him and told him all about it, so he knocked the door down and got her.”

Here is a boy of nine: ” The best film I have ever seen is ‘The Man Who Stayed at Home.’ I like it best, because it ended up nicely, and some pictures end up so funny. But ‘The Man Who Stayed at Home’ ended up where the Man Who Stayed at Home saves one of our biggest liners, and sunk one of the German submarines, and killed a lot of German soldiers. So you can see that it did end up very nicely.”

The boys’ descriptions of war films are extremely well done, as you will see by this one: “Name — Battle of the Ancre. Crash! Boom! The Tower Cinema Band is imitating the battle of the Ancre. You see the Tanks in action, also men slushing about in mud. Now you see a transport wagon being guided round a shell hole by an officer; the officer takes an unlucky step and has a bath in mud. Now the eighteen-pounders in action, making frightful havoc over in the German trenches. Now the whistle shrills, and they leap over the parapet, rat, tap, tap, tap, go the German machine guns, but nothing daunts our soldiers. Crack ! and their gallant captain falls. This enrages the men to fury. At last they reach the German lines. Most of the Germans flee for their lives shouting ‘Kamerad! Kamerad!’ etc. Now the British and German wounded are brought in, some seriously, others slightly. Soon after follow the German prisoners, some vicious-looking scoundrels that I should not like to meet on a dark night, others young boys, about sixteen years of age.”

Here is the essay of a boy of eleven: “Moving pictures are nice, and although I have seen and enjoyed many, that which I liked most was a film entitled ‘His Mistake.’ In the first picture one saw three evil-looking men in an old shepherd’s hut, plotting to kill Lord Harston of Myrtle Manor. The next shows these men slinking home in the dark to a dilapidated cottage. Third, one saw Lord Harston riding out with his faithful dog ‘Rufe.’ As Harston came down a leafy lane a masked man with a revolver calls upon him to stop. Harston speaks to his dog, which, unnoticed, creeps behind the masked man and then, with a low crouch, darts forward upon Harston’s would-be kidnapper. He, startled by the attack, falls and is immediately attacked by the dog. Part II shows Lord Harston’s Manor, which he is using as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. Part III films a second attempt on Harston’s life, in which he receives a mysterious threat in a note brought by a shaggy dog. Last part: Lord Harston’s baby is kidnapped and threatened with death unless Harston turns up at a certain spot. Lord Harston takes ten constables, captures the robbers or plotters and imprisons them.”

I have had some fine descriptions of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. It is a very favourable film with the girls and many of them write upon that. Then just one description of the way in which the boys describe Charlie Chaplin —

“Charlie by the Sea. In this two-reel farce we see the inimitable Charlie Chaplin garbed in the clothes of a seaside lounger, bowler hat and baggy trousers complete, strolling along the front at Mud-splosh-on-Sea, winking merrily at the oysters and twiddling the toothbrush on his upper lip. A fair form hoves in sight, which gradually changes itself into a fair maiden, escorted by a fierce old gentleman with a moustache which nearly hid his uncomely face from view. She soon left him asleep, at which Charlie gaily tripped along, his golden locks waving gently to and fro in the breezes. On being asked, the fair damsel agreed to go for a stroll along the sands with our hero. After a game with another of the young maiden’s admirers in which a lifeboat came prominently into action, Charlie left his young lady to meet his friend Jerry Swiller, whom he treated to some ices. At the end of the picture we see all the irate maidens he had jilted chasing our hero.”

This is, I think, one of the best of the Battle pictures: “The best picture I have seen was the Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks. It shows us in Old England the privations Tommy has to undergo in blood-sodden France and Belgium. The Tommies went to the trenches stumbling and slipping, but always wore the smile which the Kaiser’s legions, try hard as they might, could not brush off. Lords, tinkers, earls, chimney sweeps, side by side, were shown in this splendid film. It showed and proved that although England was small and Germany large, the British Lion was a match for the German Eagle any day. The film also showed that monster terror and fear of the Germans, the Tank. Snorting, creaking, waddling, the huge bogey started for the German first-line trenches. The film showed the huge British guns. Day and night, night and day the huge monsters of destruction roared never ceasing.”

That I think is a remarkable essay for a small boy from an elementary school. I will conclude with one or two extracts from the girls’ essays.

A child of eight says: ” When I went to the picture palace I saw a picture of a fire. It was a large house which was on fire. The fire was caused by a little girl dropping a lighted lamp. When the house was burning a boy came walking along. He saw the house on fire and three little girls looking out of the window. He threw up to them a large rope. They took hold of it and climbed down in turns. The mother came down after her children and the father came down last. The mother and father were very pleased with the boy for saving their children’s lives and their own.”

Then a girl of ten says: “The pictures I like best are dramas not too sad. I like about when people get bankrupt. A lady has to marry a person she does not like to get her father’s business back. She loves another gentleman and she tells him her trouble. Then just as they are going to church a telegram boy comes to say that her uncle has died and she is an heiress. Then she marries her real young man. Her father is then able to keep his business on.”

Here is the extraordinary story of the reformation of a beer-drinker: “Once when I went to the cinema I saw a picture about a little girl named Mary, whose mother was very ill and whose father was a drunkard. One night her father came home very drunk and he aimed a jug at his wife and killed her, and when Mary saw it she ran away. Presently she came to a motor and got under a covering and went to sleep. Later, a gentleman got in who was very rich, and whose fiancée had broken off her engagement with him because he drank beer. When he got in the motor he put his feet on the blanket and he woke Mary up. He sat her on his lap and she said: ‘I don’t like you; your breath smells like my daddy’s.’ He took her home with him determined not to touch beer again.”

This next one is very typical and shows the child’s extreme love of detail: “‘The House of Fear’ was the moving picture I enjoyed most. It was a drama in four acts, but it was not as long as some dramas. It was about a very old lady, named Mrs. White, who was bedridden. She had only one child, a girl named Margaret, who was married to a certain Mr. Fairley, who had no relatives. Margaret had one child named. Elsie, who was thirteen months old. Soon after Elsie’s second birthday her father was accidently [sic] shot through the head and died immediately. Her mother, hearing of her husband’s sudden death, is taken very ill and dies soon afterwards. She then lived with her grandmother until she had turned five, knowing but little of her parents’ deaths. In her ninety-ninth year Mrs. White dies, leaving the child in the care of an uncle who is her godfather, but the uncle was a miser and did not wish to keep her. After the funeral of her grandmother Elsie is brought before a meeting in her house and the uncle is asked to keep his promise. He does not wish to, but in the end, wishing not to appear ungrateful, he consents. In the end Elsie is married to her uncle’s nephew, and here we leave her with a good husband, a comfortable home and two children.”

Comment: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (1917) is a report and summary of evidence taken by the Cinema Commission Inquiry, instituted by the National Council of Public Morals. This remarkable sequence features evidence from Commission member Dr. Charles William Kimmins, Chief Inspector under the Education Committee of the London County Council (his son Anthony Kimmins became an actor and film director). He had 6,701 children of different ages from 25 London schools each write an account of ‘the moving picture they liked most of all those they had seen in the cinema’. They had 15 minutes in which to do so, with no preparatory discussion. These extracts from the essays (the originals appear to be lost) form a precious and substantial body of evidence from children themselves about what they thought of films they had seen. Some of noteworthy points are the detailed recollection of artificial colour effects, the role of music in shaping memories of a film, the memory of film titles themselves, and the variety of films (fiction and non-fiction) that made a particular impression on their memories.

The films mentioned include Tom Brown’s Schooldays (UK 1916 d. Rex Wilson), John Halifax, Gentleman (UK 1916 d. George Pearson), The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks (UK 1917, ph. Geoffrey Malins, J.B. McDowell, Oscar Bovill) (a War Office-sponsored documentary), Nurse and Martyr (UK 1915 d. Percy Moran), Quo Vadis (Italy 1913 d. Enrico Guazzoni), The Three Musketeers (USA 1916 d. Charles Swickard), The Man Who Stayed at Home (UK 1915 d. Cecil Hepworth), By the Sea (USA 1915 d. Charles Chaplin) and The House of Fear (USA 1915 d. Stuart Paton).

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Yesterday's Sunshine

Source: Verne Morgan, Yesterday’s Sunshine: Reminiscences of an Edwardian Childhood (Folkestone: Bailey Brothers and Swinfen, 1974), pp. 122-126

Text: The Moving Pictures, as we called them, first came to Bromley when I was about seven. They made their début at the Central Hall, and the performances took place on Friday nights. There were two houses, one at five o’clock for the children and one at seven for the grown-ups. The programmes lasted approximately one hour, and consisted of a succession of short films. Indeed some of them would last no longer than three or four minutes and there would be an appreciable wait in between while the man in the box got busy threading the next reel.

The Central Hall was a vast place with a huge gallery encircling it. It was used mostly for political meetings and the like, and quite often a band concert would be held there too. But it also had a pronounced ecclesiastical leaning and the man who owned it belonged in some way to the church and was avidly religious. He was an elderly man and wore pince-nez spectacles to which were attached a long black cord. He was a man of extremely good intentions and loved to stand upon the platform making long speeches spouting about them. Unfortunately, he had the most dreadful impediment and it was quite impossible to understand a word he said. But I well remember the enthusiastic claps he got when he eventually sat down, not because we had appreciated what he said so much as the fact that he had at last finished. The film programme could then begin.

The operating box was a temporary affair, and was perched up at the rear of the gallery. I used to get a seat as close to it as possible so that I could see how it was all done. The lighting was effected by a stick of black carbon, about the size of a piece of chalk, which lit up the small box with a brilliant blueish-white light and had a blinding effect if you looked right at it. Occasionally it would burn low and the operator would push it up a bit; this would be reflected by the density of light on the screen. The screen itself was also of a temporary nature, it was in fact little more than a large white sheet weighted at the bottom to keep it taut. Any movement close to it would cause it to wobble, and the picture would go a little peculiar. We were not critical of such minor details. The very fact that the picture moved was enough to satisfy us.

As each small reel was finished the operator would place it outside for re-winding, his box being of limited dimensions. On account of this I was able to study the technique as to how the pictures appeared to move. It was so simple I could hardly believe it. I told my Brother about it; I told my Mother about it; I told lots of people about it. But no one believed me. So, to prove myself right, I set about editing a film on my own account. I drew a succession of pictures in pencil on the bottom of a hymn book in church. Each one was just that little bit different, so that when the pages were flicked over the overall picture appeared to move. This technique, in ‘flicker’ form, has, of course, been used in many ways since then, but at the time it was entirely my own idea, and I was middling proud of it. I can’t say that anybody was particularly impressed, but at the time it thrilled me beyond description. In due course I pictorialised all the hymn books I could lay my hands on, during the sermon and other breaks in the church service. They consisted mostly of football matches with someone scoring a goal. Or it might be a boxing match with someone getting knocked out. Or an exciting race with a hectically close finish. Anything that inspired my sporting instincts was in course of time recorded in the hymn books of St. Luke’s Church, Bromley. I have often wondered since what the effect must have been on the boy who eventually took my seat in the choir pew when he found what he had inherited. I can only hope that he had as much enjoyment out of watching animated pictures as I had got out of drawing them.

The Central Hall was situated close to the top of Bromley Hill, nearly three miles from where we lived. It was a long walk for small legs, and there was no public transport at that time. Yet, whatever the weather, we never missed. Every Friday, shortly after school hours, a swarm of happy-faced youngsters were to be seen all heading in the same direction. The Central Hall had become the centre of a new culture. But, as yet, only the school kids had caught on to it.

Then quite suddenly, the Grand Theatre in Bromley High Street, which up till then had housed nothing more spectacular than stage dramas of the “Maria Marten” and “Sweeney Todd” kind, put up the shutters and announced that in future Moving Pictures would take over. They would be put on once nightly with a full programme of films. A new firm moved in calling itself Jury’s. The old Grand was given a face-lift and transformed into a picture house.

This was revolutionary indeed.

The grown-ups were sceptical. But the programmes were of a higher standard than those at the Central Hall, and would sometimes have a two-reeler as the star attraction. The films began to take on a more realistic angle, with interesting stories, love scenes, cowboys and Indians, exciting battles and lots of gooey pathos.

People began to go.

When they announced a showing of the famous story “Quo Vadis” in seven reels, all Bromley turned out to see it. Even my father condescended, and grumbled volubly because he had to “line up” to get it (the word “queue” had not yet come into circulation).

It was the beginning of a new era. Very soon a place was built in the High Street, calling itself a cinema. Moving pictures were firmly on the map, and shortly to be called films. We watched with astonishment as the new building reached completion and gave itself the high-flown title of “The Palaise [sic] de luxe”.

Most of us pronounced it as it was spelt, “The Palace de lux”, but my cousin Daisy, who was seventeen and having French lessons twice a week, pronounced it the “Palyay dee Loo”. And she twisted her mouth into all sorts of shapes when she said it.

That being as it may, the Palaise de Luxe put on programmes that pulled in the crowds from far and near, and it wasn’t long before they engaged a pianist to play the piano while the films were in progress. I remember him well. A portly gentleman who hitherto had earned a precarious living playing in local pubs. He soon got into his stride and began to adapt his choice of music to the particular film that was being shown. If it was a comedy he would play something like “The Irish Washerwoman”; if it was something sad, he would rattle off a popular number of the day like, “If your heart should ache awhile never mind”, and if it was a military scene, he would strike up a well-known march. The classic example came when a religious film was presented and we saw Christ walking on the water. He immediately struck up a few bards of “A life on the ocean wave”.

Later on, all cinemas worthy of the name included a small orchestra to accompany the films, and in due course, a complete score of suitable music would be sent with the main feature film so as to give the right effect at the right moment.

The Palaise de Luxe was indeed a palace as far as we were concerned. We sat in plush tip-up seats and there were two programmes a night. Further, you could walk in any old time and leave when you felt like it. Which meant, of course, that you could, if you so desired, be in at the start and watch the programme twice through (which many of us did and suffered a tanning for getting home late). It was warm and cosy, and there was a small upper circle for those who didn’t wish to mix!

The projector was discreetly hidden away behind the back wall up in the circle, and no longer could you see the man turning the handle. We became conscious for the first time of the strong beam of light that extended from the operating box to the screen. It was all so fascinating and mysterious. The screen, too, was no longer a piece of white material hanging from the ceiling, it was built into the wall, or so it appeared, and it was solid, so that no amount of movement could make it wobble.

It quickly became the custom to visit the cinema once a week. It was the “in” thing, or as we said in those days, it was “all the rage”.

We learnt to discriminate. My Brother and I became infatuated with a funny little man who was just that bit different from the others. His tomfoolery had a “soul” we decided, and whereas we smiled and tittered at the others comics, we roared our heads off with laughter whenever this one came on the screen. We went to a great deal of trouble to find out who he was, for names were not very often given in the early days.

“He’s called Charlie Chaplin”, the manager of the cinema told us, a little surprised no doubt that one so young could be all that interested.

Comment: Verne Morgan lived in Kent, and became a writer of pantomimes and theatre sketches. Palais de Luxe cinemas were a chain, run by Electric Theatres (1908) Ltd. Jury’s Imperial Pictures was a producer and distributor, but did not manage cinemas. The period described is the early to mid-1910s: the Italian film Quo Vadis was made in 1913 and Chaplin’s first films were released in 1914. The mention of a piano player being introduced suggests that the earlier screenings had been watched without musical accompaniment.

Yesterday’s Sunshine

Source: Verne Morgan, Yesterday’s Sunshine: Reminiscences of an Edwardian Childhood (Folkestone: Bailey Brothers and Swinfen, 1974), pp. 122-126

Text: The Moving Pictures, as we called them, first came to Bromley when I was about seven. They made their début at the Central Hall, and the performances took place on Friday nights. There were two houses, one at five o’clock for the children and one at seven for the grown-ups. The programmes lasted approximately one hour, and consisted of a succession of short films. Indeed some of them would last no longer than three or four minutes and there would be an appreciable wait in between while the man in the box got busy threading the next reel.

The Central Hall was a vast place with a huge gallery encircling it. It was used mostly for political meetings and the like, and quite often a band concert would be held there too. But it also had a pronounced ecclesiastical leaning and the man who owned it belonged in some way to the church and was avidly religious. He was an elderly man and wore pince-nez spectacles to which were attached a long black cord. He was a man of extremely good intentions and loved to stand upon the platform making long speeches spouting about them. Unfortunately, he had the most dreadful impediment and it was quite impossible to understand a word he said. But I well remember the enthusiastic claps he got when he eventually sat down, not because we had appreciated what he said so much as the fact that he had at last finished. The film programme could then begin.

The operating box was a temporary affair, and was perched up at the rear of the gallery. I used to get a seat as close to it as possible so that I could see how it was all done. The lighting was effected by a stick of black carbon, about the size of a piece of chalk, which lit up the small box with a brilliant blueish-white light and had a blinding effect if you looked right at it. Occasionally it would burn low and the operator would push it up a bit; this would be reflected by the density of light on the screen. The screen itself was also of a temporary nature, it was in fact little more than a large white sheet weighted at the bottom to keep it taut. Any movement close to it would cause it to wobble, and the picture would go a little peculiar. We were not critical of such minor details. The very fact that the picture moved was enough to satisfy us.

As each small reel was finished the operator would place it outside for re-winding, his box being of limited dimensions. On account of this I was able to study the technique as to how the pictures appeared to move. It was so simple I could hardly believe it. I told my Brother about it; I told my Mother about it; I told lots of people about it. But no one believed me. So, to prove myself right, I set about editing a film on my own account. I drew a succession of pictures in pencil on the bottom of a hymn book in church. Each one was just that little bit different, so that when the pages were flicked over the overall picture appeared to move. This technique, in ‘flicker’ form, has, of course, been used in many ways since then, but at the time it was entirely my own idea, and I was middling proud of it. I can’t say that anybody was particularly impressed, but at the time it thrilled me beyond description. In due course I pictorialised all the hymn books I could lay my hands on, during the sermon and other breaks in the church service. They consisted mostly of football matches with someone scoring a goal. Or it might be a boxing match with someone getting knocked out. Or an exciting race with a hectically close finish. Anything that inspired my sporting instincts was in course of time recorded in the hymn books of St. Luke’s Church, Bromley. I have often wondered since what the effect must have been on the boy who eventually took my seat in the choir pew when he found what he had inherited. I can only hope that he had as much enjoyment out of watching animated pictures as I had got out of drawing them.

The Central Hall was situated close to the top of Bromley Hill, nearly three miles from where we lived. It was a long walk for small legs, and there was no public transport at that time. Yet, whatever the weather, we never missed. Every Friday, shortly after school hours, a swarm of happy-faced youngsters were to be seen all heading in the same direction. The Central Hall had become the centre of a new culture. But, as yet, only the school kids had caught on to it.

Then quite suddenly, the Grand Theatre in Bromley High Street, which up till then had housed nothing more spectacular than stage dramas of the “Maria Marten” and “Sweeney Todd” kind, put up the shutters and announced that in future Moving Pictures would take over. They would be put on once nightly with a full programme of films. A new firm moved in calling itself Jury’s. The old Grand was given a face-lift and transformed into a picture house.

This was revolutionary indeed.

The grown-ups were sceptical. But the programmes were of a higher standard than those at the Central Hall, and would sometimes have a two-reeler as the star attraction. The films began to take on a more realistic angle, with interesting stories, love scenes, cowboys and Indians, exciting battles and lots of gooey pathos.

People began to go.

When they announced a showing of the famous story “Quo Vadis” in seven reels, all Bromley turned out to see it. Even my father condescended, and grumbled volubly because he had to “line up” to get it (the word “queue” had not yet come into circulation).

It was the beginning of a new era. Very soon a place was built in the High Street, calling itself a cinema. Moving pictures were firmly on the map, and shortly to be called films. We watched with astonishment as the new building reached completion and gave itself the high-flown title of “The Palaise [sic] de luxe”.

Most of us pronounced it as it was spelt, “The Palace de lux”, but my cousin Daisy, who was seventeen and having French lessons twice a week, pronounced it the “Palyay dee Loo”. And she twisted her mouth into all sorts of shapes when she said it.

That being as it may, the Palaise de Luxe put on programmes that pulled in the crowds from far and near, and it wasn’t long before they engaged a pianist to play the piano while the films were in progress. I remember him well. A portly gentleman who hitherto had earned a precarious living playing in local pubs. He soon got into his stride and began to adapt his choice of music to the particular film that was being shown. If it was a comedy he would play something like “The Irish Washerwoman”; if it was something sad, he would rattle off a popular number of the day like, “If your heart should ache awhile never mind”, and if it was a military scene, he would strike up a well-known march. The classic example came when a religious film was presented and we saw Christ walking on the water. He immediately struck up a few bards of “A life on the ocean wave”.

Later on, all cinemas worthy of the name included a small orchestra to accompany the films, and in due course, a complete score of suitable music would be sent with the main feature film so as to give the right effect at the right moment.

The Palaise de Luxe was indeed a palace as far as we were concerned. We sat in plush tip-up seats and there were two programmes a night. Further, you could walk in any old time and leave when you felt like it. Which meant, of course, that you could, if you so desired, be in at the start and watch the programme twice through (which many of us did and suffered a tanning for getting home late). It was warm and cosy, and there was a small upper circle for those who didn’t wish to mix!

The projector was discreetly hidden away behind the back wall up in the circle, and no longer could you see the man turning the handle. We became conscious for the first time of the strong beam of light that extended from the operating box to the screen. It was all so fascinating and mysterious. The screen, too, was no longer a piece of white material hanging from the ceiling, it was built into the wall, or so it appeared, and it was solid, so that no amount of movement could make it wobble.

It quickly became the custom to visit the cinema once a week. It was the “in” thing, or as we said in those days, it was “all the rage”.

We learnt to discriminate. My Brother and I became infatuated with a funny little man who was just that bit different from the others. His tomfoolery had a “soul” we decided, and whereas we smiled and tittered at the others comics, we roared our heads off with laughter whenever this one came on the screen. We went to a great deal of trouble to find out who he was, for names were not very often given in the early days.

“He’s called Charlie Chaplin”, the manager of the cinema told us, a little surprised no doubt that one so young could be all that interested.

Comment: Verne Morgan lived in Kent, and became a writer of pantomimes and theatre sketches. Palais de Luxe cinemas were a chain, run by Electric Theatres (1908) Ltd. Jury’s Imperial Pictures was a producer and distributor, must did not manage cinemas. The period described is the early to mid-1910s: the Italian film Quo Vadis was made in 1913 and Chaplin’s first films were released in 1914. The mention of a piano player being introduced suggests that the earlier screenings had been watched without musical accompaniment.

Growing up with Southall

Source: R.J. Meads, Growing-up With Southall From 1904 (Southall, 1979), pp. 6-7

Text: 1910, Southall’s first cinema, the “Gem” was built in the Green opposite Osterley Park Road (seating about 150 on knifeboard seats; manager, Mr Murch). 1911, the “empire” Cinema was opened. This was in the Uxbridge Road, corner of Northcote Avenue. It quickly got a bad reputation by the films shown, and closed after 6 years. I was told that the last film shown, “The Exploits of Elaine” was very daring, the ladies revealing about 4 inches of leg and very low cleavage. Yet another cinema opened in 1912, the “Paragon Palace” built in the South Road; this was on some of the frontage of Townsend House. It was a very up-to-date building and very comfortable, showing in those days only silent films and the action on the screen being accompanied by a pianist playing the appropriate music. One of the ladies whose job that was a Mrs. Creech. It seated 300 with tip-up seats, with 1 penny matinee Saturday afternoons and thrilling serials. It is still going today, very much altered and named the “Liberty”.

Comment: The Empire Picture Theatre was in Uxbridge Road. The Liberty Cinema closed in 1982, reopened at the Himalaya Palace Cinema in 2001, showing ‘Bollywood’ films, but closed again in 2010.

My Childhood in Hoxton

Source: Ted Harrison, ‘My Childhood in Hoxton from 1902-1918’, in When We Were Kids on the Corner of the Street (London: Hoxton Hall and Hackney Adult Education Institute, n.d.), p. 20

Text: Later on you had the cinema. There was a picture palace, nicknamed the ‘Fleapit’, on the corner of Forest Road in Dalston, where you could get in for a half penny. There were different coloured tickets for each performance, and a man would come round and check to make sure you didn’t stay for two performances. They were silent films and there was an old lady of about seventy who used to play the piano with appropriate music for the different scenes.

Comment: The cinema may have been the Dalston Picture Theatre, Dalston Lane, Hackney.

Not Expecting Miracles

Source: Alice Linton, Not Expecting Miracles (London: Centerprise Trust, 1982), p. 13

Text: On Saturday mornings when we would get a penny from mother, we went to the cinema in East Road. There was a serial called ‘Pearl White’. Poor Pearl White was always experiencing terrible dangers in those silent films and although I was terrified watching it and always felt that it was me going through all those awful dangers, yet it so fascinated me that I couldn’t keep away.

Comment: Alice Linton was born in Hoxton, London, in 1908. Pearl White was the name of the actress, of course; she was the star of the serial The Perils of Pauline (USA 1914).

Mother Knew Best

Source: Dorothy Scannell, Mother Knew Best: An East End Childhood (London: Macmillan, 1974), pp. 46-47

Text: We went to the ‘pictures’ on Saturday mornings. The Picture Palace was like a huge garage with dirty red doors opposite Mrs Crutchington’s shop and it cost a ha’penny. It was called the Star Picture Palace and we would all cheer when the pictures finally started for the screen was a long time flickering and shaking and tearing itself in two with brief glimpses of the previous week’s serial before it settled down, and whenever it broke down during the performance, which was often, we would all boo loudly. A lady played the piano, sad music, frightening music, and happy music according to how the film was progressing and what was taking place. Because we had so few ‘arrants’ to do, we were nearly always the first ones there and so sat in the front row where the cowboys were nine feet tall, the horses hunched up in the middle and the heroine had a ‘Dish ran away with the spoon’ face.

Marjorie was the most terrible person to accompany to the pictures … We all left the world mentally, but she left it physically as well in a sense. When the heroine was tied to the railway line, and tried to fight her captors, Marjorie would fight in her seat. When the poor mother was pleading with the wicked landlord for her starving children, Marjorie was on her knees pleading too. Her screams of terror when the heroine was about to be tortured seemed louder to me than the frightening music being played by the lady pianist and I would thump Marjorie to bring her back to the world. All in vain, she never felt or heard me, and I ceased going to the pictures on Saturdays long before Marjorie did, for she could wait patiently until the next episode of an exciting serial. Rather than wait and wonder, I decided not to go. I hated serials, I just had to see a complete picture, and most of the films shown to the children had been cut and made into serials, for by chopping the films into little bits they would last the Picture Palace for weeks and weeks. I always thought it had been raining on the screen and it wasn’t until years later I realised it was the poor quality of the film. The black streaks moved everlastingly up and down.

Comment: Dorothy Scannell lived in Poplar; her father was a plumber and she was one of ten siblings living in the East End of London.. Her memoir covers memories from before the Great War and after (when she was Dolly Chegwidden), with this section on section relating to the pre-war period.

Memories of Old Poplar

Source: John Blake, Memories of Old Poplar (London: Stepney Books Publications, 1977), pp. 34-36

Text: Round about 1908 there appeared something new in the field of entertainment. This was during our childhood days, when after school hours the streets were poorly lit. Fogs were everywhere in the winter months, and naturally the youngsters, and their parents, were eagerly seeking anything that would brighten up their outlook in the drab surroundings of those days. On the scene, then, came a wonderful idea. The Reverend Tyldesley [sic], the pastor at the Poplar and Bromley Tabernacle, in Brunswick Road, commenced showing pictures on Thursday evenings in the Chapel. These were Magic Lantern with still slides, or a very early model of a cinematograph show. Children were admitted to the first performance, and parents the second. A large sheet was hung on the rostrum, which could be pulled up and down, before and after the show. There was a gallery, running the length of the hall, and at the far end of the gallery, a projection box had been erected, which housed the cinematograph. During the summer months, the Reverend Gentleman had curtains installed in the windows, so that light could not penetrate, to spoil the view of the films. He always gave a speech before the show commenced, and went to great lengths to impress the children, of the tremendous expense that had been entailed to enable this to be done, so that they would still have their entertainment in the summer. He asked us not to kick the backs of the seats in front, in excitement at the adventures of Lt Rose, one of the prevailing heroes of the time. Their few coppers of admission would not allow for payments of any damage. For us children the excitement was intense and we were glad when the introductory prayers had been completed. For many years the Music Halls and Theatres enjoyed the popularity of the public with no opposition, but suddenly a rival entertainment appeared on the horizon. I refer to the silent films appearing at ‘Picture Palaces’. Some had a white sheet, suspended tightly, over which water was squirted before the show commenced, or even a white painted wall. The seating consisted of forms, and flooring all concrete. The first Picture Palace I remember was the ‘Empire’ in East India Dock Road, opposite Woolmore Street. Then there was ‘The Star’ in High Street Poplar. It was a case of lining up outside, where the attendant on duty was periodically shouting out at the top of his voice, ‘Standing only in the ha’pennies’. This form of entertainment was springing up everywhere such as ‘Grand Palace’, ‘Poplar Pavilion’, ‘The Gaiety’, all in East India Dock Road, and the interior decorations were improving rapidly. Better screens, improved fireproofed projection boxes, spring-backed covered seats, lady ushers with hand torch, to guide you to your seat, piano accompaniment to the silent film. Usually there were two feature films, and a News Reel and the performance was continuous. Chocolates and ices were sold by attendants from trays on wheels. The pianist had to operate in a curtained off enclosure. The music had to be adapted to the theme of the film, such as exciting, or sad and tearful passages, and the timing was important. As time went on, a violin was added, even a cello. In some of the sad moments of a film the musicians must have been crying their eyes out and too upset to eat or drink their lunch, during a break.

Comment: John Blake was born in 1899, one of seven children of a plumber’s mate. The Reverend Alfred Tildsley was Baptist pastor of the Poplar and Bromley Tabernacle. Tildsley came to the Tabernacle in 1898, and turned round a debt-ridden and neglected mission through an energetic programme of activities, which included what he called the Pleasant Thursday Evening series. These weekly meetings combined music, stories, lantern slides, and – from 1900 onwards – films. See Dean R. Rapp, ‘A Baptist Pioneer: The exhibition of film to London’s East End working classes 1900-1918,’ Baptist Quarterly vol. 40 (2003), pp. 6-10. Lieutenant Rose was a character who featured in a series of films made by British film company Clarendon.