Monday, October 5, 2009

Now Playing at Springfield's Broadway Theater, 1916

Above is the program for the lineup at the Broadway Theater in Springfield, Massachusetts, probably about 1916. The theater was located on Bridge Street, and for more details on the theater, please have a look at this page on the Cinema Treasures website.For more on the evolution of Bridge Street, its theaters, businesses and residents, have a look at this essay posted on my New England Travels blog on Bridge Street in Springfield, Mass.

Photos of the old Broadway Theater, built in 1913, torn down in the 1950s are scarce, but we have this program to illustrate the evolution in the presentation of the performing arts. The bill is presented in a manner very similar to a vaudeville program. The Broadway also showed vaudeville acts until its gradual phasing out to all movies.

The first films on the bill are likely one or two-reelers, that is films that lasted ten or 20 minutes. Dorothy Bernard stars in “The Girl and Her Trust” produced at the Biograph studio, and “Breaking the Shackles” was an Edison studio film.

We note the Broadway Concert Orchestra was on hand to accompany these silent films.

“Adventure in the Woods” or “Adventure in the Autumn Woods” with Mae Marsh was from 1913, and the Francis Bushman, billed also as Francis X. Bushman (last seen here in "The Flag" - 1927)in “Blood Will Tell” was from 1914, so this movie house showed films from varying studios and the older films were more or less fillers, like lesser vaudeville acts.

The main features, both new films from 1916, were the two Paramount movies “The Spider” with Pauline Frederick, and “The Ragamuffin” with Blanche Sweet, both billed as “5-Act” films, which would have run about 50 minutes. Films were regarded as photo-plays then and it looks as if we were weaning ourselves off live entertainment by using the familiar vaudeville lineup and the suggestion that the multiple reels of film were “acts” in the drama.

We may sometimes indulge in the mistaken belief that technology changing our popular entertainment almost too fast for us to keep up is a modern phenomenon, but I wonder if anything could have seemed so fantastic and out of this world than the flickers flashed on a screen pulled down to cover the stage, leaving only the orchestra pit exposed (though only for another decade), and the astonished gaze of the downsized vaudevillian wondering how he could get in on the “act.”

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