Sign in to follow this  
scsu1975

NOW PLAYING (100 YEARS AGO)

13 posts in this topic

This thread will take a look at what was playing in the theaters 100 years ago. To narrow the scope, I chose one theater, Poli’s, in the city where I was born, Bridgeport, CT. In 1919, the theater was managed by Matt Saunders (more on him later).

I will post the theater listings (from publicly available sources), and whenever possible, see what I can discover about the film(s) being shown. I encourage anyone who knows anything about the films to chime in.

First up, a brief look at the theater:

Poli’s Theater (which no longer exists) was located on Main Street in downtown Bridgeport. The movie house was part of the chain owned by S.Z. Poli, and was considered the finest theater on the circuit, boasting a seating capacity of 3,300.

The “first lobby,” or entrance, seen below, featured a great mirror on either side, framed between marble columns. Three sets of double doors led to the “second lobby,” which was the ticket lobby.

 RGPOR0K.png

The ticket lobby, shown below, contained two marble ticket windows, and three more sets of double doors leading to the “third lobby,” or foyer.

 mz3v8me.png

The foyer, shown below, sported four sets of triple doors on the left, leading to the seats. The doors on the right led to the exits and manager’s office. The columns were all made of marble, as was the staircase in the center.

vC0yYU7.png

The last photo shows the auditorium, with the stage, and box seats on either side. A beautiful painting adorned the arch.

XMz0iuy.png

Next up: a look at Matt Saunders.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Manager Matt Saunders had been placed in charge of the Poli in 1913. Born in Chicago around 1883, Saunders had early experience in show business, having toured the country with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show as Cody’s prop man, office boy, and finally general purchasing agent. He then spent four years in the circus in Europe. Saunders had previously managed theaters for Poli in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and New Haven, Connecticut, scheduling both vaudeville shows and films.

Saunders was quite the promoter. When his theater ran College Rhythm in 1934, a flock of ducks mysteriously appeared on the lawn of a local high school. It was no coincidence that the film featured radio personality Joe Penner, whose trademark line was “Wanna buy a duck?” In 1936, Saunders was awarded the Quigley Bronze Award, a plaque given to theater managers/exhibitors for promoting films. In Saunder’s case, it was for promoting the film Rose Marie. Among his creations was a “Rose Marie Indian Village” in the heart of Bridgeport, which featured an eight-foot wigwam bordered with hatchets, beads, and other artifacts. Songs from the film were played through a phonograph hooked up to a loud speaker. Local music stores all featured hit songs from the film, and Nelson Eddy photos were sold at the “five and ten” stores. Pictured below is Saunders at left, receiving his award. It is being presented to him by, of all people, J. Edgar Hoover!

iz9fNPB.png 

When Saunders advertised the film Sitting Bull in October of 1954, he published a photograph of himself with the famous Indian leader, taken in New York City in 1906, when both were part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. To promote The Tall Men, the 1955 western with Clark Gable and Jane Russell, Saunders offered free admission for the first ten customers (male or female) who were at least six feet four inches tall.    

Saunders managed several other theaters before retiring in 1960. On March 10th, 1967, at the age of 83, a pajama-clad Saunders walked through his kitchen while his wife was cooking, went into the bathroom, pushed out a window screen, and inexplicably jumped to his death from his fifth-floor apartment in Bridgeport. His body landed just a stone’s throw from where Poli’s theater once stood.

Next up: Now playing at the Poli, 1919

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

2mo3wKf.png

On New Year’s Day, 1919, Poli’s featured The Cavell Case, originally released as The Woman the Germans Shot. Stage actress Julia Arthur, who only made a handful of films, played the role of Edith Cavell, a British nurse for the Red Cross. Although some newspapers claimed this was Arthur’s film debut, she had already appeared in a few shorts. The film was advertised as six reels, so it was probably about 60-70 minutes long.

Plot: Edith Cavell has a sweetheart named George Brooks, whom she leaves for her calling. When later they meet, George is a blind, middle-aged man, with a son Frank (played by Creighton Hale). Cavell becomes George’s nurse, and his eyesight is restored through an operation. When World War I breaks out, Cavell goes to Belgium to teach other nurses. The Germans take possession of her hospital, but she still manages to attend to the wounded British soldiers. There she discovers Frank and helps him escape. For this, she is arrested, tried, and executed by firing squad, despite entreaties from other nations to spare her. (In reality, Cavell managed to help a few hundred Allied soldiers to escape from Belgium, before she was caught and executed by a firing squad.)

Some stills exist, from newspapers and trade journals.

uodm6vq.png

Below, Cavell is indicted:

MeLSF41.png

Finally, she is ready to meet her fate:

QWQGq2U.png

On her role, Arthur said “Edith Cavell is one of the most beautiful, most heroic persons in all history, and it is an honor to transmit her story to the screen. I found that the work was more interesting and more inspiring, because I was going through scenes representing actual events, than anything I have hitherto done.”

Some reviewers suggested that this film would launch Arthur’s film career, but it did not. Her first love must have been the stage.

An anonymous film critic for The New York Tribune wrote that the audience “hissed, applauded and wept, unashamed, and the young woman who sat behind us, after being admonished by her escort, said: ‘Well, I’m not ashamed to cry. If you don’t like it, go out. If I were a man I shouldn’t be sitting here watching the picture anyway. I’d be over there fighting.’”

This film is presumed lost. There is a 1939 version of the story entitled Nurse Edith Cavell, which is available on YouTube, along with several documentaries.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks very much,Mr. SCSU,  for the post on the film about Edith Cavell. I first read of her story several years ago in a small collection of biographies on heroes of the Christian faith.  Her story is pretty amazing. I am sure the film was part fiction and part fact, but it is great to hear that it was so moving to the people who viewed it back in the day.  PS: what a great idea for a thread. I've enjoyed viewing so far. I am sure there will be some pretty fine gems uncovered here as the year progresses. Will look forward to reading about them. Thanks for your hard work putting it together.  :) 

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

2Gy5xDf.png

Branding Broadway, a western/comedy starring William S. Hart, was the feature attraction at Poli's in the first week of January, 1919. The film had been released a month earlier by Artcraft (although some sources say Paramount-Artcraft). It was filmed on location in New York. A complete 5-reel 16mm print of the film exists in the Library of Congress. A few people have also reviewed it on IMDb, so somebody somewhere saw it sometime.

Partial Plot: Hart plays cowboy Bob Sands, who along with his cohorts, tear open the town of Whetstone, Arizona. But the Law and Order League rout the cowboys, capture Sands, and put him on a train heading east. Sands reads an advertisement by a railroad tycoon named Harrington, who is looking to hire someone to keep his son Larry out of trouble. Sands arrives in New York and gets the job. Meanwhile, Larry has written several love letters to restaurant owner Mary Lee, so Larry’s father hires a detective to retrieve the letters. Sands, who is falling for Mary, rents a room next door to the restaurant. The detective enters Mary’s room and ransacks the place. He finds the letters just as Mary walks in. As the two struggle, Sands hears the commotion and goes to her rescue.

Seena Owen, some thirty years younger than Hart, plays the love interest Mary. That may have been a stretch.

A reviewer for Photoplay took issue with some of the incongruities in the film. For instance, he describes how the Whetstone citizens toss Sands into the baggage car of an outgoing train, then asks “how Sands arrived in New York with all his rancho baggage?” (Well, maybe he stole it from the baggage car. It’s only a movie.)

Describing one scene which I could not identify (but is probably pictured below), the reviewer continues “Notwithstanding New York’s serious depletion of policemen by the army’s demands, I hardly think such a flagrant piece of housebreaking and kidnapping as Sands effects could be gotten away with unless the cops were at a general riot call down town.”

aleRyVn.png

Still, the reviewer did find some amusement in the film, citing “Mr. Hart’s stuffing himself with six orders of wheatcakes while trying to get up spunk to propose to the little hash queen.”

WYyKuTo.png

Some reviewers found it interesting that Hart appears in a dress suit. I’m not too sure about the top hat, though.

ERkdj66.png

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

CzAyS5l.png

Closing out the first week in January, 1919, the Poli featured Alla Nazimova in Eye for Eye. Nazimova also produced and co-directed the film, which was released in late December, 1918. The film was based on the play “L’Occident.”

Plot: A Bedouin girl named Hassouna (guess who) is cast aside by her tribe as punishment for helping a captured French officer escape. She is picked up by another tribe and sold to a circus manager, as a dancer. The French officer attends the circus and recognizes the girl, and takes her to his home. There, Nazimova discovers that her relatives were killed by French forces under the command of the officer. Although she wants revenge for what has happened, she eventually falls in love with the officer, whose wife, conveniently, is found to be having an affair with another man.

Now I’m not sure how you can squeeze seven reels out of this. Nazimova performs the “Dance of the Veils.” Maybe this is it, although in the last still, she looks like she has about had it:

aDx1B6X.pngjHw9s2j.png

hZFaFKd.pngDW1t57V.png

Charles Bryant plays the French officer, Captain de Cadiere. Co-director Albert Capellani hired some 250 marines from a French battleship, as he filmed the them landing at a North African port to fight back an incursion by “hostile Arabian tribes.” The marines also engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The circus scenes were replete with actual performers, including a fat woman, two-headed man, and living skeleton. Of course, there were also lions, elephants, camels, and tigers.

Margaret MacDonald, reviewer for Moving Picture World, wrote that Nazimova “has chosen to portray the beautiful Bedouin girl in a writhing, grimacing manner, which, carried through the length of seven reels of film, becomes wearysome.”

A complete 7-reel copy exists in the Library of Congress. A few versions of the story were produced later in France.

The bill at the Poli also featured a musical revue entitled “Mimic World.” As the Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer described it, the revue showcased “twenty fascinating, happy, laughing chorus girls, and five stunning girl principals and stars … to say nothing of the three chaperones who accompany the troupe … never in all the history had this city seen such beauty, or so much of it in one place.” In describing the girls, the reviewer noted “none of them seem over sixteen, some of them have cute curls hanging down their backs, and all of them look as if they had just been fitted out by a Fifth Avenue tailor. It was an eye opener to the men who saw them arrive … these little girlies are destined to become very popular during the week in this city.” Also on the bill was a one-armed pianist. I think he ended up being chased by Dr. Richard Kimble.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

oxejhyS.png

From January 9-11, 1919, The Poli featured popular young actor Charles Ray in String Beans. The film was five reels, released in late December 1918, and is presumed lost. Some stills exist.

Plot: Toby Watkins (Ray) works on his uncle’s farm, and in his spare time, writes poems for the village newspaper, much to his uncle’s disgust.

8ymyloO.png

Toby and his uncle have a fight, and his uncle orders him to leave.

tq5hNC1.png

Toby arrives in the town of Sawbert, where he gets a six-dollars-a-week job at the Sawbert Weekly Clarion, run by Zachary Bartrum. There he meets Jean Morris, daughter of the town’s mayor, Lott Morris, and they fall for each other. Complicating the situation, Mayor Morris and Bartrum are political enemies. Kendall Reeves, a dastardly crook, comes to town to perpetrate a scam involving a fake bean cannery. He interests the mayor in the project but when Bartrum hears of the scheme, he determines to expose Reeves. Bartrum sends Toby to a meeting to speak against the project. But when Toby sees Jean in the audience, he loses his nerve and runs out of the meeting. After the meeting, Reeves tries to con Mayor Morris into paying him five thousand dollars for a majority interest in the fake cannery. Joe Farley, an employee at the Clarion, recognizes Reeves as a former cell mate and threatens to expose him unless Reeves splits some of his profits with him. Toby overhears part of this conversation, and does some investigating. He discovers that Reeves is actually a swindler named Harry Morgan. Toby directs Farley to print the story in the next edition of the Clarion. Farley warns Reeves, who goes to the mayor’s house to try to close the deal before he is exposed. Toby calls the mayor to tell him about Reeves’ past, but the mayor is unable to answer the phone since Reeves is holding him at gunpoint. Toby, suspecting something is wrong, rushes to the mayor’s home and arrives just as Jean is trying to help her father. All fight over the gun, and overcome Reeves.

RaSgHat.png

Bartrum arrives (with a sword!!) and reconciles with Morris. Toby and Jean live happily ever after.

rqcRZtx.png

Ray, who often played the All-American boy who rises to the top, had this to say about his role: “I can say frankly that I like this type of picture and best part of all – it is a typical country boy character and, I think the best I have ever had. Incidentally, people seem to have gained the idea that this so-called ‘boob’ or ‘rube’ type is natural with me, but that is untrue. It requires some of the hardest study I ever undertook to get the gestures and expressions down right.”

The Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer singled out supporting actor John P. Lockney, noting that “Lockney, in the role of Zachary Bartrum … is a splendid example of that peculiar species which has afforded so much material for colorful writing on the part of men like Mark Twain and others who painted the types as they saw them.” If that statement seems like an unusual write-up for a local newspaper, it’s probably because it was copied verbatim from the Paramount Exhibitor’s Press Book of 1918-1919. These books had pages and pages of “suggested” ways to promote the movie.

Note: If you search You Tube under “Charles Ray String Beans,” you will get a recording of Ray Charles singing “String Bean.”

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, scsu1975 said:

The Poli featured popular young actor Charles Ray in String Beans.

I just saw Charles Ray in Hollywood Boulevard (1936) the other day. It featured several silent film-era stars in cameo roles and bit parts. I have to admit to not being familiar with Ray when I watched, so I appreciate this write-up about one of his movies. Great work so far on this interesting thread, Rich.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

bQx7ZnP.png

From January 12-15, 1919, the Poli featured D. W. Griffith’s The Greatest Thing in Life. Released in late December, 1918, this World War I story featured Lillian Gish, Robert Harron as her American lover, and David Butler as her French lover. The film was seven reels. The Library of Congress lists it as lost, but notes that the British Film Institute has 400 feet surviving.

Plot: The opening title card reads “The story of a young girl and the most important thing in the world to a young girl – love.” Jeanette Peret, along with her father, runs a little tobacco shop in New York. Jeanette is a bit tomboyish, full of life and fun.

3Zt4tfS.png

 

Her best customer is Edward Livingston, a self-centered rich lad who is in love with her. One day he becomes jealous when Jeanette pays too much attention to another customer, so he tells her “I love you. I have loved you for a year. But you are only a simp, fit to marry a simp, and become the mother of Simpkins.” Jeanette is infuriated and decides to put Livingston out of her thoughts. A few days later, Livingston hears that Jeanette’s father is ailing and wishes to return to France. Livingston sends him $1000 by messenger, with a note saying that the money was from someone who had borrowed from Jeanette’s father years ago. As Jeanette’s father reads the note, the title card reads “He pretends to remember the incident well, though it never occurred.” When next we see Jeanette and her father, they are in France. Jeanette has a new love interest, a young farmer named Le Bebe.  

Ew4jBrC.png

Jeanette’s father has been recuperating, when he suddenly has a fall. When the news reaches Livingston, he goes to France to apologize to Jeanette for his rudeness. Jeanette’s heart is torn. She favors Le Bebe because he loves children, whereas Livingston showed anger when two children accidentally smudged him with dirty hands. World War I begins and Le Bebe is called to duty.

4ZKjhm3.png

The village is the scene of some fighting. A French officer shows Jeanette’s father a telephone hidden in a cellar, asking him to keep in communication with the retreating French troops. “When the Huns come,” the officer says, “you can serve France by using it.” When the Germans invade the village, Le Bebe is wounded, and is hidden in the cellar.

LN9UONw.png

To keep the Germans from discovering him, Jeanette and her aunt bury him in sand so that only his face is visible. When Jeanette’s father is wounded, the girl takes over the phone to notify the Allies that the Germans have entered the village. Through the gunshots and shelling, Jeanette recognizes the voice on the other end of the line; it is Livingston, who is now an officer in the army. American forces, led by Livingston, attack and repel the Germans. Unfortunately, Le Bebe dies from his wounds. But the war has made a man of Livingston. Jeanette opens a store selling doughnuts and pies to the troops. Livingston becomes her best customer.

V02aE9Z.png

 

I’ve seen Gish and Harron paired together in several films, and they always made an appealing couple. It’s sad this film appears to be lost. From what I’ve read, there were also some pretty impressive battle scenes.

The January 19, 1919 issue of Motion Picture News published the following tidbit in its “Hollywood Hokum” column: “Rudolfo Di Valentina continues the merry dance in Griffith’s prologue to “The Greatest Thing in Life,” and the big audience applauds him at every program.” While it’s not clear if Griffith filmed a prologue, or if there was a live stage prologue before the feature played, it is pretty clear who this Rudolfo Di Valentina guy turned out to be.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just out of curiosity, I checked the database to see if this was the same David Butler who transitioned from actor to director and it turns out to be the same one. This was apparently his first film as an actor. He went on to a long career as a director, including a number of Shirley Temple films in the 30's and a bunch of Doris Day films in the 40's and 50's, including Calamity Jane, Doris' personal favorite. His last film as a director was in 1967 with Bobby Vee and Jackie DeShannon, either a sad footnote or a triumph, depending on your point of view.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In 1919, MARION DAVIES starred in her first comedy, GETTING MARY MARRIED, a story about about an orphaned young woman who outsmarts her grasping Boston relatives who are after her money. Directed by Allan Dwan and co-starring Norman Kerry and Matt Moore.

getting-mary-married-still-e136581522430

Marion Davies with Norman Kerry

 

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In my write-up of The Greatest Thing in Life, I mentioned a prologue. I Just found the description from the January 4, 1919 edition of Motion Picture News:

ViaCbg5.png

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us