Monday, July 6, 2015

What Makes for a "Classic?"

Magazine-style cover of Polly of the Circus, Margaret Mayo, published 1908, the same year as Anne of Green Gables.

Mayo was a playwright and the Polly and the Circus play was very popular. The Nicholson women go to see it in 1912, at His Majesty's in Montreal. Flora Nicholson of Threshold Girl mentions it in a letter home from college.

The Montreal Gazette review said the lead actress, Edith Taliaferro (they write Taliagerro) was pert and pretty in the role. The audience liked the horses best though. I imagine the horses were two men in a bag style, not War Horse style!

Not so pert pic of Taliaferro, a Broadway Actress

What makes one story a classic, the other a flash in the pan? Both stories feature a spunky but homeless heroine who finds love and security at the end. (Like Pygmalion: 1912!)

As I said, Polly of the Circus was an extremely popular play. It was made into a 1917 movie, the movie that introduced the MGM Lion apparently. (So the play has been reduced to a trivia question.)

 And then there was a remake in 1932, starring Marion Davies and The Gable Guy. I can't find that movie anywhere. It never plays on Turner Classics.

In the story, Polly is a circus horse rider who falls and injures herself in a small town and spends time living with the local Minister, and they fall in love.

I found the Lux Radio play on YouTube, starring Loretta Young and Lionel Barrymore. In this version, the Reverend becomes the local doctor. ("Lux the soap all Hollywood uses." Lux Radio Theatre was directed by Cecile B. DeMille)

I used Google Ngrams to gauge the relative popularity over the Century of Polly of the Circus and the Iconic Anne of Green Gables.

ngram for Anne of Green Gables
Ngram for Polly and the Circus

Of course, Anne of Green Gables had a resurgence in the 1980's with the Coleen Dewhurst, Megan Fallows mini series and the fact Japanese women liked the story when Japan was doing very well. 

It doesn't hurt when an entire Province needs you for tourism purposes.

The Nicholson women, in the 1910 era, also went to see the Merry Widow Opera,  and Everywoman at the Princess Theatre and at His Majesty's on Guy Street. Everywoman was a morality play that warned against vanity but featured beautiful young women.

 If they went to the Nickel to see Motion Pictures, they didn't write about it until WWI at least when movies became totally respectable for the middle class.

Well, they went once to the very respectable Nickel in 1913 to see their fellow Richmondite Mack Sennett, who they likely didn't recognize, in Man in the Box.

1910, he Montreal nickelodeons were considered pretty lowbrow by the Presbyterians, somewhere the working class went. (That's why some movie houses, like the Nickel promoted itself as a respectable movie house. No riff raff allowed.)

Of course, motion pictures in the era were becoming more and more popular with all classes of people.

 The New York Dramatic Mirror said that theatres were losing customers to the nickelodeons.  Their 'cheap seats' were going unfilled.

From the Theatre Section New York Dramatic Mirror 1910

The present time presents its problems in business, but the greater problem relates to the time to come.

…Two influences that have unquestionably depressed the theatre business are the motion picture business and the automobile craze. The motion pictures have grown constantly in popularity with many classes of the public. The result is directly seen in the falling off of the patronage of the gallery and the cheaper priced theatres and it is even more obvious in the almost complete extinction of the public at the popular price theatres. Comedy, drama and diversion of various sorts seem to to be supplied sufficiently by the motion pictures to meet the requirements of a multitude of people. 

From the Movie, ah, Motion Picture Section

Boy, doesn't this sound familiar?

Also, what's this? Two small boys in New York are arrested for burglarizing another boy's toy bank containing 14 dollars, using a button hook for a jimmy, and not a word in the newspaper accounts about the boys going to demoralizing picture shows. Verily, the New York cub reporters are disgracefully neglecting their plain duty. How do they imagine those good souls, the motion picture knockers and universal regulators can keep up their crusade without ammunition from the newspapers? These cubs should be ashamed, they make New York look slow and stupid in comparison with Philadelphia, where a girl has just attempted suicide, having seen her young man walking with another man, and the cub reporters in that town did not forget to remark that the girl had just left a moving picture show. That's the way to do it.

What's in a Name?
Hurrah for the Essanay people. They have started a contest, with a prize of 100 dollars for the purpose of digging up a new name of one word for designating the motion picture show, something different from motion picture, moving picture or five or ten cent theatre, something distinctive, appropriate and easy of use. (It was only in a 1917 letter that Edith Nicholson mentioned going to the 'movies' with movies placed between quotations.) MORE ON THIS CLICK
The Birth of the Art Film
(What's in a name continued)
Josephine Clement, the resident manager of Keith's Bijou Theatre, Boston, states in a neat folder: "Although we show motion pictures we do not run a moving picture show which is another way of saying that the Bijou in Boston aims at a higher quality of entertainment than is afforded by the carelessly conducted five and ten cent houses. Examples like this and other Keith and Proctor picture shows in the East, as well as the many higher-class shows of the West are demonstrating the wisdom of intelligent and cultivated taste as applied to picture house management.

Bestsellers from the Illinois Edu site. Winston Churchill, then British Home Secretary, had a book out.  He was a big self-promoter. At this time he was getting into trouble jailing the suffragettes.