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.

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.

The Grand Theatre – Salem, Oregon

The Capital Journal, August 12, 1920, pg 8

On August 12, 1920, an article appeared in the Capital Journal, a paper of Salem, Oregon, revealing significant news for the theater-going community of that city. The Grand Opera House, it was announced, had been leased by a Mr. A. E. Lafler and the new proprietor was expending significant resources to re-furnish and re-brand the venue as “a first class combination house,” the Grand Theatre. Quoting Mr. Lafler’s aspirations to bring in “approved legitimate road shows and vaudeville, with super-quality pictures,” the article states the projected opening date of the Grand Theatre as September 1 of that year. On September 4, of the same year, the same journal ran an advertisement for Jesse L. Lasky’s Paramount film Everywoman playing at the Grand Theatre for four days. It is possible that this was the first significant film played at the Grand Theatre.

The Capital Journal, September 14, 1920, p.2

A perfunctory examination of issues of the Capital Journal from 1919 does not reveal advertising of motion pictures being shown in the Grand Opera House during that year, while it does reveal quite a few live acts performing at the venue. Without collecting any more data on the Grand Opera House, the immediate conclusion is that the Grand in its incarnation as the opera house did not show motion pictures, and thus its transformation into the Grand Theatre marked the very beginning of its movie-theater career. The August 12 article touts the Grand Opera House as “an established landmark in this city” and “comparing in [stage capacity] to Seattle and Portland show houses.” One may imagine that the transformation of this venue from strictly live performances to a combination motion picture and vaudeville house was a momentous event in the entertainment life of 1920 Salem. As of this writing, Salem’s Historic Grand Theatre still exists and is a multi-purpose venue available for a variety of events including film showings.

“Resurrection” at Star Theater, Corvallis, 1909

Tolstoi’s Master Piece at the Star”.Corvallis Daily Gazette, 26 June 1909.

This article appeared in the Corvallis Daily Gazette in June 1909. The article discusses the recent motion picture to arrive in Corvallis, Resurrection. As the article describes the motion picture was adapted from Tolstoi’s novel which the article describes as “melancholy.” Resurrection was a free adaption directed D.W. Griffith and produced by Biograph.

The article goes on to pronounce how it is interesting to see the story acted out in front of viewers rather than just on paper. Seeing as motion pictures were still a relatively new and developing technology by 1909 seeing stories that audiences have only read would have been an exciting and new concept.

The article continues on to quote the Motion Picture World and its review of the film and its original impact on audiences in New York. The film seems to have sparked interest in New York audiences. It is noteworthy that this article chooses to incorporate this ambiguous quote about the showing of the film in New York. During this time New York still had a very prominent role in the motion picture industry therefore one would imagine it being just as important as quoting how the release of a film in Hollywood went today. The quoted passage adds how Biograph did a great job of depicting the story and the characters as compared to the “original play” as well as a great admiration for an actress’s emotions towards the camera.

This article appeared in the Gazette on June 261906, and as it states the film had premiered the night before at the Star Theater in Corvallis. According to the American Film Institute CatalogResurrection premiered May 201909, meaning that this film reached Corvallis only about a month after its original release. This indicated that Corvallis would have been a prominent town for viewing films. Around 1909 there is only mention of one other theater in Corvallis which is the Palace theater which does not seem to have shown Biograph’s Resurrection.

 

“The Man Who Knows” at Antlers Theatre, Roseburg, Oregon

I chose this article/advertisement on a vaudeville event happening at the Antlers Theatre in Roseburg, Oregon, because it stood out for me from the rest of the other newspaper ads. The picture of this ad is not only interesting to look at but also a huge segment in the second page of the The News-Review, one of the main newspapers of Roseburg during 1917. Under the picture is an article about the coming of the Great Alexander who, from what it looks like, is a very famous magician in the west coast area. The article states that he’s done shows everywhere from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington.

The News-Review, 9 Apr. 1917, p. 1–2.

The ad then shares that this “great” magician, who is commonly named “the man who knows,” will be having a showing at the Antlers Theatre for three days only. Something that is interesting to mention is that this article shares no date as to when these events are happening nor how much the admission cost is in order to get in the event. This could mean that there’s other advertisements elsewhere for this information or that Roseburg was such a close-knit town and they could have used word of mouth to share this information. The short article mainly describes in great detail the show that you will experience if you choose to come to this event. The article states that, “Alexander’s performance is divided into two parts. The first being a series of the most mystifying, astounding and puzzling feats of magic…[and] the second part is portrayed in an oriental setting with oriental dancing and scenic effects.” From looking at other advertisement and articles on the Antlers Theatre, it is understood that they have a great variety of performances and entertainment. This article shows that moving pictures were not the only marvel at the time. Even Alexander, a “man who is heralded by people in the west as the greatest brain marvel in the world today,” people found entertaining at theaters in Roseburg, Oregon.

A Big Year for the Arcade Theatre

            

As I continue to do research on theatres in La Grande, Oregon from 1914-1921, I ran across an article in the La Grande Evening Observer which states that in the spring of 1916, the Arcade Theatre was going to remodel. The news came from the newest manager of the Arcade Theatre, Mrs. H. B. Leiter. So far this is also the only theatre I have come across with a female manager. Mrs. Leiter was going to remove the vaudeville shows entirely from the theatre. She claims that the movies are becoming higher in quality, and that is what audiences really want to watch, not vaudeville. Mrs. Leiter also reminds the readers/audience that they are seeing the same quality pictures for 10 cents, that others are seeing in Portland for 15 cents, as a way to entice them to continue coming to the Arcade.

I have no real explanation as to why Mrs. Leiter would remove vaudeville from the theatre, except that around that time, there were traveling movie showings. Calvin Pryluck talks more about these traveling movie showings, explaining that they had a circuit they would travel, stopping in towns large and small, and showing their movies. While Pryluck couldn’t find evidence, there are stories of some of these itinerant movie showings traveling around Eastern Oregon up until the 1950’s.

For Mrs. Leiter, these itinerant movies could have been a problem for her business if they were able to show a wider variety of movies, while she was showing vaudeville and movies. The second article, which was found directly underneath the first, talks about how Mrs. Leiter is also going to redecorate the theatre to make it new and attractive. She states that she wants everyone to feel at home while at the Arcade, as well as how well taken care of the children will be, especially since from time to time, the Arcade will play specific movies directed towards the children. The remodel, as well as the language directed at the family, could possibly be another way in which Mrs. Leiter is competing against the itinerant shows. While we may never know exactly why Mrs. Leiter was remodeling the theatre and removing vaudeville shows, she was at least making her mark on the Arcade Theatre.

La Grande Evening Observer, 4 Jan. 1916, p.8

“The Itinerant Movie Show and the Development of The Film Industry” Hollywood In The Neighborhood (Calvin Pryluck): 37-52

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.

 

Medford’s Page Theatre Orientalization/Frontier Program

For my post, I chose an ad promoting a program at the Page Theatre in Medford that was published by the Medford Mail Tribune in 1913. It is an interesting artifact for several reasons: one of which is its design. Rather than putting the date, choosing to just have “TONIGHT” could make the reader feel as though it is an event they don’t want to miss out on.

The Three Part program with Kathleen Mavourneen is interesting for its description as a “SURPRISE FRONTIER COMEDY;” in learning on Tuesday about how the frontier in Oregon was of special attraction to women for the freedom and independence it offered, having the combination of these three genres (assuming that SURPRISE is slapstick humor with visual gags) would draw in not only men but also women to the programming.

Medford Mail Tribune, 1913

Additionally, presenting “THE ARAB DERVISHES” reveals the interest in entertainment at the time in orientalization and presenting this Arab culture as other and exotic. The wording of “Original Oriental,” is curious, seeming to imply that this Ben Abdies performer was one of the first imitators (one which the Medford theater-goers would be aware of) of this certain style of entertainment.

Both billings feature comedy and this ad is interesting for its double-duty in appealing to Oregonians proud of their frontier legacy in following Manifest Destiny and settling in the new haven of the west as well as presenting Arabic culture as Oriental and a source of spectacle. This ad communicates that should the newspaper-reader spend the night at the movies, they would get a taste of both homegrown Americana and exotic non-Americanness. The ad reflects the importance of newspapers in the 1910s as beacons and mainstays of daily culture in American life, especially in consideration that they do not even mention the date of the show, just “TONIGHT.” It also reflects typical advertising of movie houses at the times in emphasizing its architectural features and comforts with “Steam Heated––Well Ventilated.” Certainly when this ad was published in November of 1913, the steam heat might be an equivalent draw to the programming.

Theaters, Newspaper, and Prizes

The Morning Astorian in Astoria, Oregon ran this ad for the Automatic Theater September 13, 1908. This short article gives the reader all the information they would need to go see a movie as well as incentivizes them to go. Right below the headline and name of the theater, there is the address or location of the theater, then it tells the reader that it is a “first class moving picture show”. Below that, in bold letters to get the reader attention, the article lists which movies it is playing that night, as well as an illustrated song. Then it gives the admission prices for adults and children and the time that it will be starting. To let the readers know when to look again for something new, the article tells them that there is a change in program Wednesday and Sunday. Finally the ad incentivizes them to go to the theater, by stating that they are giving away a “ladies gold watch” and that every person who goes to the theater will receive a numbered ticket. It finishes off the ad by stating that the drawing will be held October 1st.

Newspapers played an important part for theaters around the country at the time. The theaters needed the newspapers as a way to draw in large audiences, and the newspapers needed theaters to advertise in the paper as a way for the paper to make money. Abel explaines it as, “Sunday editions looked and functioned some-what like department stores, and a version of the ‘display’ ads that lured customers into the stores soon filled whole newspaper pages, becoming a major source of revenue.” (Abel, 10). So it makes sense that the Automatic Theater would inform the readers that next Sunday, it would release it’s change in program to fit along side all the other advertisements in the Sunday paper. It is also interesting to note that many of these advertisements were aimed at women. Abel also says, “85 per cent of the advertising in newspapers and magazines, with the exception of the classified and financial, is dedicated to women and articles women purchase.” (Abel, 10). Which might explain why the Automatic Theater included the prize of a ladies gold watch.

It’s easy to see why theaters and newspapers were such a good match.

Morning Astorian, 13 Sep. 1908, p. 8

“The Newspaper, a Cultural Partner of the Movies,” ​Menus for Movieland,
​ Richard Abel, p. 6-20