“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.

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