From Small-Town Exhibitor to Hollywood Cameraman

Dan L. Sharits was an enterprising and ambitious manager of the Star theater (1911-1918) in Medford, Oregon, who leveraged his movie theater experience into a career making pictures in Hollywood.

He recounts his Horatio Alger story in a 1916 piece in Motography, “From Usher to Exhibitor.” In 1906, he started as a humble usher in Memphis, Tennessee, but in no time he became “chief operator.” After touring the country as a vaudeville performer, he landed in southern Oregon to manage the Star. The Star had plenty of competition during Medford’s boom time in the 1910s, so Sharits used several inventive strategies for attracting audiences, including attaching an electric sign on the top of his car and playing orchestra bells while driving around town.

Motography, April 29, 1916, p. 973
Motography, April 29, 1916, p. 973

The “Live Wire Exhibitors” column in Motion Picture News carried the following item about his novel gimmick to promote The Battle Cry of Peace in 1916 by draping all of the city’s streetcars with banners, along with a giant flag across Main Street.

Motion Picture News, April 1, 1916, p. 1885
Motion Picture News, April 1, 1916, p. 1885

Sharits started making local movies as another draw for audiences, who would flock to theaters to see themselves on screen. Among these was a feature length film called “The Stolen Pie,” which he seems to have started making in 1914 in Louisiana and Kansas

Newspapers.com screenshot

Newspapers.com screenshot

Sharits brought the formula to Eugene in the summer of 1915, where it was pitched as an advertising film featuring prominent local citizens. “The Stolen Pie” screened at the Oregon theatre.

Eugene Guard, July 20, 1915, p. 3
Eugene Guard, July 20, 1915, p. 3
Eugene Guard, July 29, 1915, p. 5
Eugene Guard, July 29, 1915, p. 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next summer in 1916 Sharits replicated his success in Klamath Falls and Medford.

Medford Morning Tribune, June 24, 1916, p. 2
Medford Mail Tribune, June 24, 1916, p. 2
Evening Herald, July 20, 1916, p. 1
Evening Herald, July 20, 1916, p. 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He continued his program of self-promotion with an ad for himself in Camera! magazine.

Camera! August 22, 1922, p. 15.
Camera! August 22, 1922, p. 15

By 1922 he was working as a cameraman in Hollywood, and continued as a film editor on several films in the 1920s.

Camera! December 16, 1922, p. 11
Camera! December 16, 1922, p. 11

“A Pippin of an Exhibitor” in Ontario, Oregon

Dorothy Jaquish was a movie theater prodigy, as this article in the exhibitors’ trade journal Motion Picture World explains. When she was still a teenager, she took over running the Dreamland Theatre in remote Ontario, Oregon, after her father died in 1918.

Motion Picture World, January 10, 1920, p. 286

The Dreamland opened in the small (pop. 1,248 in 1910) eastern Oregon town of Ontario in September 1912, and was the sole movie theater in town through the 1910s.

Ontario Argus, January 2, 1913, p. 4

Under Dorothy’s management the theater continued operating even when the rival Majestic Theatre opened in 1920. A full page of ads for both theaters in the Ontario Argus newspaper show the robust level of competition for audiences. Ads for the Dreamland continued to run in the local paper through 1922 (online coverage of the paper ends in 1922), so it’s unclear how long the theater stayed open, and its fate requires more in-depth research.

Oregon had several theaters run by women during the silent era, including the Dreamland, Electric, and Folly in Eugene, the Elite in La Grande, and the Sparks in Klamath Falls, but the full extent of women’s participation in theaters in Oregon and elsewhere in the United States hasn’t been fully documented, as the Motion Picture World article suggests.

The (Re)Discovery of the Craterian Theatre and the Rialto Theatre

In my research so far for the Oregon Theater Project, I have run into several struggles and triumphs. After we were introduced to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, I found myself beginning an exhaustive, online scavenger hunt. The Sanborn Maps website itself presents numerous challenges in that the website is not very user friendly. For instance, the window in which the map is featured only presents the map in a small square box and provides and zoom-in feature that only zooms in so far that the feature seems almost useless. Additionally, navigating once you are in the zoomed in version is quite complex with the navigation arrows jumping around the map of the town. Another struggle with finding theaters within the towns is that the website only provides certain dates for years that the fire insurance maps were published. Thankfully, the Sanborn Maps have a set of maps published from 1927, which falls directly in the middle of the time period that I am researching for, 1924-1929. Thus, a victory I’ve had, whereas others are not so lucky, is that Sanborn Maps have provided me with a primary source that I can reference throughout my research. Once beginning my scavenger hunt on the website, I was able to locate two (potential) theaters within Medford, Oregon.

Discovering these two theaters was like finding a needle in a haystack. By searching through the Sanborn website, I finally came across these two theaters on separate sheets and each felt like a victory. What is interesting is that they are labeled differently with the one on sheet 14 labeled “THEATRE” while the one on sheet 15 is labeled “MOVIES.” Although they are labeled differently, both theaters have a sectioned part labeled “BALCONY” that helped me deduce that these two locations were potential theaters to look into in Medford, Oregon. Once locating these potential theaters, I decided to use the Cinema Treasures website in order to try and deduce which theaters these two might be from the listed theaters on the website. The theater on sheet 14 is located near S. Central Ave and E. Main St. By looking at each theater in Medford on the website, I have been able to determine that the theater on sheet 14 is the Craterian Theater.

When looking at the photo of the Craterian Theater in an advertisement from the Medford Mail Tribune, we can see the rounded shape of the exterior and entrance of the Craterian Theater which is reflected in the Sanborn Map. Surprisingly, the Craterian Theater is still open and running today and was renamed to Craterian Theater at The Collier Center for the Performing Arts in 2013 (Cinema Treasures). Being able to identify and locate this theater was a special accomplishment and felt like a personal victory in terms of making a difference when it comes to this project and this class. Similar to the research performed by Ben Singer, “Using every contemporary resource and surviving scrap of evidence a diligent film historian is likely to uncover,” I began my research with the Sanborn Maps and worked my way back from the location on sheet 14 to the list of theaters on the Cinema Treasures website and finally discovered that the Craterian Theater is still operating today (Allen, 76).

With the other theater that I found on sheet 15, I performed the same search formula; beginning with the streets listed (W. 6th St., W. Main St., Fir St. and Grape St.), I returned to the Cinema Treasures website to locate the potential theater located on these streets. When looking at the map on sheet 15, I noticed that they labeled “Ent.”, which I deduced to meaning ‘entrance.’ By taking this into consideration, we can deduce that the theater’s location and address will likely be listed under W. Main St. Once eliminating the other theaters located on E. Main St. and W. 6th St., I discovered that Rialto Theater was located on W. Main Street. As all historians do, I wanted to double check this theory and decided to fact check. By using Google Maps, I went to the location of sheet 15 in the Street View in Medford, Oregon. Returning once more to the Cinema Treasures website, I looked at the photos provided of the Rialto Theater. When comparing the photos from the Google Maps Street view and the photos from Cinema Treasures, I noticed the distinct architectural triangle present on the building, referred to as Rialto Theatre on Cinema Treasures website, in both photos. Through this research, I would conclude that this location was the home to the Rialto Theater back in 1927.

To conclude, while searching for these theaters took several hours alone, finally being able to determine each theater that went with each location was extremely satisfying. By discovering and identifying these theaters’ locations, the hours of work I spent researching through the primary and secondary sources of the town of Medford was paid off and I can truly respect the time and effort that Robert Allen and Ben Singer put into researching the nickelodeons and theaters in Manhattan. Through this experience, I have been able to truly understand the work that we will do this term and realize the patience and determination that will be required to find and noted all the theaters within Oregon during the period of 1904-1929. [by splatt]

Works Cited

Allen, Robert C. “Manhattan Myopia; Or, Oh! Iowa! Robert C. Allen on Ben Singer’s ‘Manhattan Nickelodeons: New Data on Audiences and Exhibitors’, ‘Cinema Journal’ 34, No. 3 (Spring 1995).” Cinema Journal, vol. 35, no. 3, 1996, pp. 75–103. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1225767.

“Craterian Theater at The Collier Center for the Performing Arts.” Cinema Treasures, cinematreasures.org/theaters/4427.

Google Maps

“Hunt’s Craterian Theatre in Christmas Dress.” Medford Mail Tribune, 1 Jan. 1928, p. 34.

“Medford, Oregon (1927).” Digital Sanborn Maps — Splash Page, sanborn.umi.com/or/7405/dateid-000007.htm?CCSI=2197n.

“Rialto Theater.” Cinema Treasures, cinematreasures.org/theaters/36552.

Alta Theater Promotions

The Alta theater was located in Pendleton, Oregon. The theater was opened on September 6, 1913, and was made to accommodate the needs of viewers in response to those lacking said needs. It came equipped with extra space in the back so that late-comers would not be crowded together and a large number of people could sit comfortably and maneuver the theater with ease. The owner of the venue, C.E. Oliphant, was a civil engineer who had previously owned a successful theater and seemed to know the ins and outs of the business. When researching, I came across a funny, yet understandable move used to promote the theater. Across Pendleton, there were two water fountains that were placed for street dwellers and citizens to consume from. One of which, thanks to Mr. Oliphant, was placed directly in front of the new Alta theater.

Several strategies were used to promote such as the newspaper reviews and so on, but something so small as putting a water fountain in front of the venue seemed to create a bit more fluidity, no pun intended, when attracting viewers. A patron could simply want a cool drink of water and would see the fun and excitement happening at the new playground, as the indigenous citizens put it, and be compelled to enter.

East Oregonian, Sept. 8, 1913, p. 5

This is quite an interesting premise and can show how something so simple can create a greater impact on the popularity of the venue. Unfortunately, this researcher was not able to find specific numbers and statistics on how effective it was, but according to the newspapers, the venue was quite popular during its time of operation. It also goes to show the level of knowledge that the owner or manager had about the business and the small details that go into attracting people to his newly established theater.

Alta Theatre, Pendleton

The Alta theater was created on September 6, 1913. Two days after opening the Oregonian pasted an article about the luxury of the theater. The decor inside was mentioned because of its elegance. The interior of the theater was labeled “airy” and was known for its luxury. The ventilation system was considered modern and provided a more comfortable movie going experience. Not only were motion pictures shown here, but music was also performed through out the day. A baby grand piano was installed, to provide a classy aesthetic for movie goers when waiting for motion pictures or the next performance. They also had an The then managers wife Mrs. C. E. Oliphant had music that would be played as part of the daily program. Musical numbers were also played through out films, because this was an era where silent film was the prominent film at this time. Pianist were hired to play through out every performance. The stage was 47x17x32, which was a big stage and held many high scale performances for a capacity of 550 people. When built, this was considered one of the most up-to-date theaters in Oregon.

The rooms were fitted with plenty of scenery and were considered very spacious. The Oregonian goes on to call this theater attractive and has a lobby that is suitable for heavy volumes of movie posters.  The newspaper speaks of this place as an attraction that gives you more than just the movie experience. This was a place of “amusement” for people.

 

The Grand Objectification

The Grand Theatre in Salem, Oregon, was renowned in its size and capability to show a variety of entertainment. Advertised as having a likeness to Portland and Seattle show houses, no other venue could surely compare.

Still, a 1922 issue of the Capital Journal displays a page plastered with advertisements for many different theaters in the area, so how did the Grand stand out from the rest in a time where the Nickelodeon appeared everywhere?

One successful tactic used by the Grand was the proliferation of ads on the newsprint. For example, page ten of the Capital Journal features at least two very large ads for the Grand, while other theaters such as the Bligh and the Liberty theaters only feature one each- at a size much smaller than the Grand. 

Capital journal, December 16, 1922, p. 10

Interesting too, is the switch in advertising style. In this 1922 ad, the list of actors and their respective parts are displayed- a sign the industry was star-studded. Before, ads of the Grand featured its massive stage, plush seats, and its ability to show a multitude of entertainment, from vaudeville to moving pictures. 

The subject of the ads are also of interest. Both ads for the Grand theater feature women, either illustrated or mentioned, as the tactic to get audiences in. One ad reads, “Edna Wallace Hopper makes her final personal appearance tonight. Aged 63 and she looks and acts like she was 24 years old.” Another features a list of actresses that audiences won’t want to miss. While this overt objectification of women was probably prolific for the time, it may also help to determine the audiences these movie houses were trying to obtain. By the ads alone it may be apropos to assume these theaters were advertising to the working class male- able to fit in a show of beautiful women on a day off or between shifts with whatever extra money he may have earned.  

Creating a “Must-See” Film Experience in 1916 Medford, Oregon

An advertisement for the Page Theater, published in the October 14, 1916 edition of the Medford Mail Tribune.

“Last Time Tonight…Thos. H. Ince’s $1,000,000 Mammoth Cinema Spectacle,” reads an October 14, 1916 advertisement for the Page Theater in the Medford Mail Tribune. This advertisement would have likely been quite successful in attracting a crowd for several reasons.

The first major draw is illustrated in that opening excerpt, “Last Time Tonight.” The Oregon Blue Book describes that despite the state of Oregon’s 1913 creation of the State Highway Commission, “the ‘good roads’ campaign took on real life in 1919.” In 1916, traveling outside of Medford would have required quite some effort. Since the planning of drivable roads was still in its infancy, Medford residents would have to embark on a long journey to catch the next showing of Civilization elsewhere. The advertised warning of the show’s final run would instill a sense of immediacy and importance for anybody wishing to see the film.

Another advertising ploy that likely would have been successful is the description of the film’s prior success, calling it “Thos. H. Ince’s $1,000,000 Mammoth Cinema Spectacle.” Adjusted for inflation, that would make Ince’s film a $22,084,424.78 success in 2018. While this is would not place the film in the highest grossing film rank, it would certainly suggest a certain level of popularity.

The Page Theater advertisement also states that the film was “brought direct in its entirety from a four weeks’ engagement at the Heilig, Portland.” According to Shawna Gandy of Archives West, the Heilig Theatre accommodated nearly 1,500 patrons. The fact that the film attracted enough buzz for four entire weeks in Portland was one thing. Another was that the Page would be showing the film “in its entirety,” so Medford residents could expect to see the whole film; this contrasted a showing of short clips.

A final method of drawing in a large crowd comes with the endorsements at the bottom of the advertisement. In large print, the theater boasts, “Splendid Orchestra, Feature Chorus, Wonderful Effects, A Revelation.” Not only would the production feature live musical accompaniment, but it would also provide some sort of “revelation” to viewers. Language like this would likely entice viewers to seek what type of mysterious revelation awaited them. Below these claims, the advertisement quotes the Evening Journal in describing Civilization as the “greatest of all films. Nothing so stupendous ever conceived by the brain of man.”

In compiling each of these pieces of praise and positive descriptions, the Page Theater created an advertisement that would very likely appeal to a large population of residents of Medford, Oregon in 1916.

 

Sources:

Gandy, Shawna. “Heilig Theatre Photographs Collection, 1888-1929.” Archives West: Heilig Theatre Photographs Collection, 1888-1929, Archives West, 2006, archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv49603.

“Oregon History: Mixed Blessings.” Oregon Blue Book, Oregon Secretary of State, 2017, bluebook.state.or.us/cultural/history/history24.htm.

Advertisement in Albany: The Globe Theatre

Located in Albany, Oregon, the Globe Theatre was a movie theatre that operated during the early 20th century. A popular attraction, it maintained a prominent presence throughout various issues of the Albany Daily Democrat. An example of its popularity is shown in an article which highlights the theatre’s ability to attract a variety of well-known films as well as background information regarding the theatre’s manager. Dated January 29, 1922, the article states that the Globe Theatre has acquired four films, The Three Musketeers, Way Down East, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and Theodora.

Albany Daily Democrat, January 29, 1922.

Such a feat was viewed as important due to the films being labeled as some of the biggest motion picture features of the previous year, with some not yet premiering in the pacific region. Though the acquisition of these films seems to be the articles main purpose, the decision to focus on the theatre’s manager serves as a unique tactic. Ed. I. Hudson is credited for much of the Globe Theatre’s success due to experience in the motion picture industry as well as dedication to providing the Albany audience with the best possible viewing experience. I believe focusing on the films provided as well as the personnel responsible for the theatre proves to be an interesting story technique, though its execution creates a facade that portrays the article as an advertisement. In order to be viewed as a feature, the article must look past the limited information regarding Hudson and answer questions of substance such as how Ed. I. Hudson came to become the manager of the Globe Theatre? How has the Globe Theatre changed under Hudson’s management? In a way it is as if the article makes a small attempt at offering a behind the scenes glimpse through the mention of Ed. I. Hudson though it quickly diverts back to its original intention of acting as a promotional tool for the Globe Theatre.

In reading The Newspaper, a Cultural Partner of Movies, written by Richard Abel, it becomes apparent that there is a shift in the way individuals viewed cinema during the early 20th century. Across numerous cities, newspapers become a source of information for moviegoers, providing details such as what particular films are being shown at the local theatre as well as what actors may be appearing in these motion pictures. This is shown throughout the Albany Daily Democrat’s article as it is revealed that Douglas Fairbanks will be portraying D’ Artagnan in The Three Musketeers while D.W. Griffith will be directing a film titled Way Down East. The idea that local newspapers sometimes acted as “menus”, sometimes ranging over a weekly or daily variety, highlights the demand for such information and provides reasoning as to why many articles are viewed as an advertisement.

Mrs. George A. Hunt

It’s not often that one can find the image of the “strong, independent woman” anytime before the 1960s. However, the film industry trade magazine Moving Picture World features a Medford woman in September 1921. The feature emphasizes how much work she does, and the fact that she doesn’t need help to do it. She “not only runs the publicity for five theaters in two towns but she does it all ‘on her own’.” The choice of placing the quotations around the phrase “on her own” seems curious and a bit degrading in modernity, but the implication this article held when it was published could easily be completely different. She ran publicity for theaters in both Medford and Grants Pass with those being The Page, Liberty, Rialto, Bedford, and Rivoli. The feature claims her focus is on newspaper advertising, with her preferred journalist being George Bleich.

“Woman Press Agent Rolls All Her Own.” Moving Picture World, vol. 52, Sept. 1921, p. 59. Media History Digital Library.

She is said to be, in some ways, the equal of men in her field, like Amike Vogel, a man featured in multiple newspapers in California at the time. One of the specific achievements noted is that she bartered a deal for the film Brewster’s Millions (1914) that  any male professional would be proud of. Upon researching the film, this story was a book-turned popular Broadway play before it was a film. Then it was remade into several films up until the 1980s, all this implies that the film she bartered for would have been very popular and therefore expensive.

In modernity she would be praised as an independent woman who “don’t need no man,” however that proved difficult as the feature never giver her name. She is known by her husband’s name. While we are not given her name we are given her face. Her photograph is the same size as the text of the feature. While the text builds her up as a hard-working self-taught publicity manager, the poised and styled woman in the photo contradicts that in a way. It seemingly acts as a reminder that this feature is about a woman, who is pretty and feminine.

“Brewster’s Millions (1914 Film).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Apr. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brewster%27s_Millions_(1914_film).

Local Films, Local Theaters: Oregon on Nitrate

Medford Mail Tribune, April 11, 1910, p. 1

In the April 11, 1910 edition of the Medford Mail Tribune, an article was written about the filmmaker H. Riemers and his tour of Oregon. He filmed several scenic views of Oregon, including landmarks such as Table Rock and Sterling Mine as well as local orchards and farmland. Riemers’ future plans were also added, saying that he was going to film Crater Lake and other natural features. The films were said to have cost upwards of $2000, and according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI inflation calculator today that would be $50,929. This is no insignificant amount of money to spend on films just featuring a state’s natural and man-made wonders, so there must have been a reason.

The last paragraph of the article states that Medford’s own E. C. Hubbard, owner of the Savoy Theater, was responsible (at least in part) for the creation of these local Oregon films. Theater owners and exhibitioners are responsible for providing their audiences with content that they want to see, and in supporting Riemers’ work Hubbard is providing what the moviegoers of Medford want. Much like the spectacle of the Lumière Brothers’ film La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon (1895), the people of Medford found it pleasurable to see places and possibly even people that they recognized on screen, if the large investment placed in these films is anything to go by.

Another interesting aspect of this article is that the films, after being compiled in San Francisco, were to be distributed to several thousand “picture houses” across the country and made available to millions of spectators. Oregon at that time was the mostly untamed frontier, an exotic place filled with wildlife and raw natural beauty. Through these films, people on the East Coast would be able to catch glimpses of a place that they would normally never get to see.

United States, Congress, Bureau of Labor Statistics. “CPI Inflation Calculator.” CPI Inflation Calculator, United States Government. www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm.