Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's Worse than Immoral - Motion Picture Shows, that's what.


Mary Pickford and Mack Sennett in An Arcadian Maid, 1910.


 Both Pickford and Sennett are both Canadian.

Sennett is from Richmond, Quebec, or thereabouts, depending on who tells the story.

He changed his name from Sinnott and I have documents showing that Norman Nicholson of Threshold Girl did business with Sennett's father.

 I also have a document from 1900 that shows that Sinnott was a voted for the Conservatives!

The Sinnott family moved away from Quebec in 1902.

In 1909, Marion Nicholson, my husband's grandmother, was working as a teacher in the city of Montreal.

She delighted in going to the theatre, but that year she went to see Man in the Box at the Nickle, a  movie house in Montreal that promoted itself as respectable and worthy of middle-class patronage.

It is possible she went with Edith, her older sister, also a teacher. (Read Furies Cross the Mersey on Amazon Kindle.)

Furies Cross the Mersey: A Story of 1912 (School Marms and Suffragettes Book 6)

They didn't use the term 'movie' back then in 1910.

In fact, I have a 1917 letter where Flora's sister Edith writes that she went to the 'movies' and she puts the word in parentheses, which seems to indicate it is a new term.

By 1917 there is a movie house in their town of Richmond, Quebec. The Casino. The better to watch WWI newsreels. (Read Not Bonne Over Here: The Nicholson letters from WWI)

Man in the Box, according to IMDB, was a silent short that happened to star local boy Mack Sennett.

Whether Marion (or Edith) recognized Sennett as a boy she had seen around town (he would have been a contemporary) I don't know.

I did read somewhere that it wasn't until the 1960's that Richmondites realized the famous Mack Sennett was 'that Sinnott boy.'

 Sennett, who was the King of Comedy in Hollywood, wrote an autobiography in 1954 and he talks about his early life in Richmond, about how he spent most of his time going to funerals and how he felt closer to French Quebeckers than English Quebeckers, because they were Catholic like he was.

There were hundreds of Nickelodeons  in Canada in the 1910 era.  They were considered rather seedy places, if not downright dangerous.

That didn't stop most middle class citizens, including the very proper Nicholson women, from attending shows, should-to-shoulder with immigrants and the working class.



The Valentine's Issue of the Ladies' Home Journal 1911 with a number of scathing editorials: 4 against the woman suffrage movement and one against the Motion Pictures and yet another against athletic women. Yikes!

The Nicholsons read the Ladies' Home Journal, although I got the one above off e-Bay.

 Remember, this was a day and age when many -if not most- children around the ages of 10 to 16 worked, sometimes in factories, so this argument, below, seems especially lame.

 I imagine parents sent their kids to the the motion pictures to get them both out of the house and 'off the street'.



Editorial about the Evils of the Motion Picture Shows- 1911. Ladies' Home Journal

Are some parents asleep that they allow their children to go to the prevalent five-cent moving-picture shows in our cities or 'nickelodeons' as they are called? Have they any conception of what their children see at these places? Immoral pictures? someone asks. No, not immoral in the sense we generally mean it, but just as bad, if not worse.

 Here is the program of one show: a beautiful lady, with dress of lace, bedecked with jewels, comes in an opening picture, then men with swords and long, waving plumes in their hats, swords flash out, a duel ensues, the hero kills his rival! So we have murder for a beginning. Next comes a haunted house with beds sliding down inclined floors.

This is followed by the Devil jumping out of the moon! Next is a series of pictures of the plates, pots, the oven, the bread and pies and the stove, all of which was so exhilarating on one occasion recently a little girl in the audience went into hysterics and ever since cannot be persuaded by her mother to go into the kitchen.

The next treat was a huge frog in a fountain, which suddenly stuck out a large red tongue at the audience, frightening almost out of their senses no fewer than a dozen little girls present. So reposeful for delicate nervous systems of children, is it not? Then came the final prize series: a man-monkey steals a woman out of a house and keeps her a year: the succeeding pictures show their love and affection for each other, and when in the last picture the husband finds his wife, she refuses to go back because she has fallen in love with the monkey! Hundreds of parents actually furnish their children with money to go to these pictures...."They should be illegal" some say. But why the law? Isn't it more to the point that we should not furnish our children with the money to go to these places. They would close soon enough."