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.

Live Vaudeville Performances and Film: Linking Past with Future

“VAUDEVILLE AND MOVING PICTURE SHOW,” an advertisement in the November 27, 1909 edition of the La Grande Evening Observer describes a mixed-bill of upcoming entertainment to be viewed at the Scenic Theatre in all capital letters to grab readers’ attention. This cross-promotion of live and recorded entertainment is highly intentional.

In his article “Film Exhibition in Vaudeville: What We Learn From Keith-Albee Managers’ Reports”, scholar Michael Slowik argues that by “placing films within a vaudeville program, vaudeville lent film the early identity of a ‘vaudeville act’. As a vaudeville act, film was expected to be a culturally respectable entertainment that appealed to a diverse group of patrons.”

Slowik’s concept of promoting film alongside live vaudeville acts to increase audience recognition of film as a valid and celebrated form of entertainment in the early 1900s is made apparent in the La Grande Evening Observer Scenic Theatre advertisement. The advertisement reveals the double feature of vaudeville performances “O’NEAL AND MARION Burlesque on Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “THE KENMORES. Willie and the Dolls” alongside “two reels of moving pictures.” The vaudeville performances would likely draw the crowd in for the film to follow, with hopes of building a future audience for film-only events that would potentially cost less money and require less organized planning than live vaudeville performances.

In addition to the format of the Scenic Theatre’s bill of upcoming entertainment, the content itself is worth discussing. With O’Neal and Marion’s burlesque show’s titular reference to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an audience member would likely expect elements of blackface minstrelsy and other racially charged material. (Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’ became synonymously used a derogatory term describing a subservient black man.) As cited by historical records in Oregon Blue Book, “African-Americans were unequivocally not wanted.” Exclusionist and Free Soil beliefs solidified Oregon’s early attitude on race, declaring it both ‘anti-slave’ and ‘anti-black’. Material such as blackface minstrelsy would likely be unsurprising and well received in an Oregon community such as La Grande, even in the early 1900s.

Examination of the Scenic Theatre’s advertisement in the La Grande Evening Observer offers primary insight into both the movement to use live vaudeville performances to draw audiences to film, as well as to the frightening reality of Oregon’s roots in racism. In this way, it is clear that live vaudeville performances had the capacity to act as agents of change towards the future, as well as pieces of historic preservation highlighting a problematic past.

REFERENCES:

Beecher Stowe, Harriet. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. John P. Jewett and Company, 1852.

La Grande Evening Observer, 27 Nov. 1909.

Oregon Blue Book: Oregon History: Statehood to Present, bluebook.state.or.us/cultural/history/historypost.htm.

Slowik, Michael. “Film Exhibition in Vaudeville: What We Learn from Keith-Albee Managers Reports.” Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, vol. 39, no. 2, 2012, pp. 73–92. Manchester University Press, doi:10.7227/nctf.39.2.5.