Exhibiting Tanks to Irish Cinema Fans, February 1917

A tank goes into battle in The Battle Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (Britain: British Topical Committee for War Films, 1917) from the Imperial War Museums.

A tank goes into battle in The Battle Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (Britain: British Topical Committee for War Films, 1917); Imperial War Museums.

Cinema was so popular in Ireland in February 1917 that the press had to search for a name for its adherents, and they found it in American vernacular. “This morning there is a heart-cry from a cinema fan,” the “Gossip of the Day” columnist in the Evening Telegraph noted on 21 February 1917:

He doesn’t know that he is a cinema fan, and that is the crux of the trouble – he is ignorant of the great American language. I gather from his pathetic note that he is a regular patron of the “silent drama,” yet he finds a difficulty in understanding the explanatory inscriptions with which American producers seek to help the intellects of those who sit in the outer darkness.

Although cinema was primarily a visual medium and as such offered the promise of an international language, it still required words to specify the meaning of what might otherwise be ambiguous images. The silent film’s intertitles carried those words, but they were often in a dialect not universally understood. The columnist was surprised at this because s/he believed that “regular patrons of this form of amusement were able to understand any announcement on the screen from the ‘slick’ slang of East Side New York to the weird attempts at English of the Italian, French and Danish producers.”

Most of the films that Irish cinemagoers saw were indeed American, but it was a British film that sought to attract as many Irish cinema fans as possible in February 1917. Monday, 19 February saw the Irish opening of The Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (Britain: British Topical Committee for War Films, 1917), a War Office-sponsored propaganda film more often called simply The Tanks. Despite this foreshortened title, tanks featured only occasionally in the film. “Throughout the five scenes,” the Evening Herald’s Man About Town complained, “the Tanks are seen about four times altogether, each time only for a very brief passing moment.”

Whatever about the coming disappointment, anticipation for the film could build on tantalizing glimpses of this new war machine that had been accumulating for several months. In autumn 1916, Irish people had read about the first battlefield deployment of tanks, and in November 1916, Dubliners had even had the opportunity of seeing a tank film, albeit it the animated Tank Cartoon (Britain: Kineto, 1916). The cinema trade press had also informed its Irish readers about the shooting of the War Office tank film (“About Those Tanks!”).

faugh-a-ballaghs-il-feb-1917

The Dublin Evening Mail appears not to have been exaggerating when it noted that the “coming of the “Tanks’ Film’ to Dublin has been eagerly anticipated.” Publicity for the film could draw on what appears to have been a widespread fascination with this new weapon, in a similar way to which the earlier propaganda films had focused on artillery or aircraft. Previewing the coming shows at Dublin’s Theatre Royal, the city’s largest entertainment venue, the Mail writer observed that the “film portrays the most interesting happenings during the Battle of the Ancre, when the Tanks were first heard of, and promises to prove one of the most successful of the many interesting war films already seen in Dublin. The Battle of the Ancre stands out as one of the most striking phases of ‘The Big Push’” (“‘The Tanks’ at ‘The Royal’”).

Indeed, the Royal starting advertising the film as early as 10 February, when a short item warned patrons to book the film to avoid disappointment: “Your remember the trouble you had getting a seat at the ‘Battle of the Somme’ films, but you say to yourself that there will be no difficulty with ‘The Tank’ films, and you delay booking only to find yourself in the same position as before” (“‘The Tanks’ Film at the Theatre Royal”). The added attraction of The Tanks was that it included footage of Irish soldiers: “There were no Irish regiments shown in the Somme film, but Lieut. Malins, who took the pictures, succeeded in getting some splendid films of our gallant Irish Brigade.” Despite such extensive publicity of the film, the Royal only showed it at matinees (beginning at 2.30pm), except on Wednesday, when the film replaced the Royal’s two evening variety shows (beginning at 6.45pm and 9pm). Nevertheless, the film was presented at the Royal with “special music and effects that […] should help one to realise ‘what it is like.’ The band of the famous Faugh-a-Ballaghs will play at every performance” (“‘The Tanks’ at ‘The Royal’”). Unfortunately no review of the Royal shows appears to exist that specifies what effects – presumably sound effects imitating exploding shells – were used during the shows and how the audiences responded.

tanks-grafton-dem-21-feb-1917

Dublin Evening Mail 19 Feb. 1917: 2.

The Royal was far from the only Dublin venue showing the film that week. Another large theatre, the Empire, showed the film all week alongside a somewhat reduced variety programme. Several of the most prestigious picture houses also screened it, with the Bohemian, Carlton, Masterpiece and Town Hall, Rathmines showing it for the first three days of the week, and the Grafton retaining it into the second half of the week. The Bohemian managed to show the film four times daily at 3, 5, 7 and 9, but this was eclipsed by the six shows that the Grafton managed to squeeze in at 1.45, 3.15, 4.45, 6.15, 7.45 and 9.15, “so that business men and others can all have an opportunity of making acquaintance with these new machines of war, of which Sir Douglas Haig says he cannot speak too highly” (“Grafton Picture House”).

While Dublin’s newspapers reviewed the film positively – even the Herald‘s Man About Town, despite his disappointment about the little screen time devoted to the tanks themselves – the Irish Times printed the longest review, and it was most forthright in clarifying the film’s ideological intent. Its “exhibition creates many thrills, and gives a very vivid conception of the war in all its phases,” the writer argued. S/he admitted that this had been done before, most notably by the very popular Battle of the Somme (Britain: British Topical Committee for War Films, 1916), but it had been criticized for showing British soldiers being killed. “[I]n the Tank films one is spared the somewhat gruesome side of the fighting. The tanks are awesome but not gruesome” (“‘Tanks in Action’”). In the face of so much evidence to the contrary, the film therefore helped recruiting by propagating a myth of British military invulnerability. “Should they stimulate our young men to help those Irishmen whom they see manning the trenches,” the Times writer concluded a lengthy review, “‘The Tanks in Action’ will be doing good work in Dublin.”

ultus-sydney-master-dem-24-feb-1917p2

Dublin Evening Mail 24 Feb. 1917: 2.

The Times did not usually offer extensive reviews of films, but other newspapers were taking cinema increasingly seriously. On 19 February, the Evening Telegraph – the evening edition of the Freeman’s Journal – resumed publication after a hiatus caused by the destruction of its premises during the Easter Rising. Among its innovations was a Saturday column entitled “Kinematograph Notes and News.” The first series of notes on 24 February included both international items and some of particular Irish relevance. The latter included a notice that Aurele Sydney, star of Ultus series, would attend the Masterpiece Cinema during the following week’s screenings of Ultus and the Secret of the Night (Britain: Gaumont, 1917). Another note concerned the views of John Bunny, a film star who had visited Ireland five years previously and discussed the possibilities for film production in the country. Given that it made no mention of the Film Company of Ireland’s recent filmmaking efforts, the reason for the inclusion of the note on Bunny is unclear, unless it was to quietly contradict the claim made in the Masterpiece’s ad that Sydney was the first cinema star to visit Ireland.

This column was praised by a writer in the Irish Limelight, the cinema magazine that had begun publication in January 1917. “Readers of the Saturday Evening Telegraph got an agreeable surprise recently when they found that cinema notes were introduced,” “Movie Musings” columnist Senix observed. The surprise that the staff at the Limelight got on seeing the column may not have been all that agreeable, given that a weekly newspaper column might steal much of the thunder of the monthly journal. Nevertheless, Senix took it to be a positive development, commenting that “[t]his recognition of the people’s amusement proves pleasant reading after the many bitter attacks which have been made in the local Press. And the fact that it comes so soon after the appearance of the Irish Limelight sets us thinking.”

Dublin Evening Mail 17 Feb. 1917: 2

Dublin Evening Mail 17 Feb. 1917: 2

Despite Senix’s optimistic reading of the appearance of the Telegraph‘s column, bitter attacks on cinema were still very much evident in February 1917, both in the press and in the auditorium. When the “Gossip of the Day” columnist had attempted to define “cinema fan” for his/her readers, s/he speculated that “‘fan’ must be American for ‘fanatic,’ as it is used to designate people who are peculiarly addicted to any pastime.” However, there may be reasons for distinguishing between cinema fans and cinema fanatics. Certainly serial protestor William Larkin was a fanatic often to be encountered in cinemas but not a cinema fan. Since 1914, Larkin had mounted periodic protests in Dublin’s picture houses against films that he and the Catholic Irish Vigilance Association (IVA) considered to be morally dubious. These protests occurred in the auditorium during the screening of the films and involved Larkin shouting about the need for a Catholic-influenced Irish censorship and/or throwing ink at the screen. Larkin sought arrest to magnify the reach of the protest through the newspaper reports of the disturbance and subsequent trial. He had usually found that the magistrates treated him leniently – even indulgently – but in December 1915, he had been jailed when he refused to pay a fine imposed for a cinema protest.

After a period of apparent inactivity during 1916, Larkin’s latest – and last for some years – cinema protest took place on 21 February 1917 during a screening of The Soul of New York (US: Fox, 1915; released in the US as The Soul of Broadway) at the Pillar Picture House in Dublin city centre (“City Cinema”). It followed a well-established pattern. At about 10.25pm, the picture-house porter heard a commotion in the auditorium, found that Larkin had thrown “a blue liquid” at the screen and went to get manager J. D. Hozier. Larkin made no attempt to escape and admitted to having thrown the liquid, which not only caused damage estimated at £30 to the screen but also “bespattered” the instruments and clothes of musicians Herbert O’Brien, Joseph Schofield and Samuel Golding in the orchestra (“City Cinema Scenes”). After several court appearances, the case seems to have been struck out at the end of March.

Evening Telegraph 22 Feb. 1917: 1.

Evening Telegraph 22 Feb. 1917: 1.

Although this “exciting episode” certainly garnered press coverage, how Larkin’s direct-action methods complemented the Irish Vigilance Association’s ongoing campaign for cinema censorship is not clear. Indeed, despite his previous affiliation with the IVA, Larkin may have been acting on his own in this instance. The IVA’s well organized political lobbying for the introduction and effective exercising of film censorship was well advanced by February 1917. In June 1916, Dublin Corporation had appointed Walter Butler and Patrick Lennon as film censors, and in January 1917, it had engaged two women as “lady inspectors” of picture houses (“Amusement Inspectors,” “Dublin Lady Censors”). The IVA found a ready welcome at Dublin Corporation. On the last day of February, its Public Health Committee (PHC) invited a seven-member IVA deputation to address them on Sunday opening (“Cinema on Sundays”). Answering the deputation’s complaint that many cinemas opened at 8 o’clock on Sunday evenings, thereby intruding on hours set aside for Catholic devotions, PHC chairman and former mayor Lorcan Sherlock assured the deputation that the Corporation would enforce a 8.30pm Sunday opening.

Therefore, Irish cinema was engaging both fans and fanatics in February 1917.

References

“About Those Tanks! Extraordinary Interest of the Latest ‘Big Push’ Films.” Bioscope 12 Oct. 1916: 121.

“Amusement Inspectors: Reports to Be Made on Dublin Performances.” Evening Herald 10 Jan. 1917: 3.

“Cinemas on Sundays: Vigilance Association and the Hours of Opening.” Evening Telegraph 1 Mar. 1917: 2.

City Cinema: Exciting Episode: Blue Liquid Thrown.” Evening Telegraph 22 Feb. 1917: 1.

“City Picture-House Scene.” Dublin Evening Mail 28 Feb. 1917: 2.

“Dublin Lady Censors: Names Submitted.” Freeman’s Journal 15 Jan. 1917: 4.

“Gossip of the Day: Comments on Current Events.” Evening Telegraph 21 Feb. 1917: 2

“Grafton Picture House.” Dublin Evening Mail 17 Feb. 1917: 5.

“Kinematograph Notes and News.” Evening Telegraph 24 Feb. 1917: 5.

The Man About Town. “Thing Seen and Heard.” Evening Herald 19 Feb. 1917: 2.

Senix. “Movie Musings.” Irish Limelight 1:3 (Mar. 1917): 3.

“‘The Tanks’ at ‘The Royal.’” Dublin Evening Mail 17 Feb. 1917: 4.

“‘The Tanks’ Film at the Theatre Royal.” Dublin Evening Mail 10 Feb. 1917: 5.

“‘Tanks in Action’: Cinema Pictures in Dublin.” Irish Times 20 Feb. 1917: 3.

Creating Great Trouble in a Most Laughable Manner: Chaplin in Dublin in 1914

Small ad calling for Chaplin imitators. Freeman's Journal 16 Sep. 1915: 8.

Small ad calling for Chaplin imitators. Freeman’s Journal 16 Sep. 1915: 8.

By October 1915, a Charlie Chaplin craze was in full swing in Dublin. Paddy, the Irish correspondent of the British cinema trade journal Bioscope, showed this when he reported on several simultaneous tributes to Chaplin less than two years after he made his first film. On 7 October, Paddy revealed that Captain Ahearne of the Dame Street Picture House had shown all-Chaplin programmes the previous week, while a live Chaplin revue at the Coliseum Theatre had distinguished itself from the Chaplin impersonation competition taking place at the Rotunda by featuring what Paddy claimed was “the only Chaplin girl extant” (Paddy, 7 Oct.). That such competitions were not wholly new was shown by the fact that Cathal MacGarvey manager of the Masterpiece Theatre, Talbot Street was exhibiting his film of a Chaplin impersonation competition that had taken place at his picture house in September (Paddy, 14 Oct.). Chaplin seemed to be everywhere you looked by the autumn of 1915. But this adulation had taken some time to grow.

The Bohemian Picture Theatre showed Mabel's Married Life in the first three days of the week beginning 30 Nov. 1914 and Her Friend the Bandit for the last three days of that week. Evening Telegraph 30 Nov. and 3 Dec. 1914.

The Bohemian Picture Theatre showed Mabel’s Married Life in the first three days of the week beginning 30 Nov. 1914 and Her Friend the Bandit for the last three days of that week. Evening Telegraph 30 Nov. and 3 Dec. 1914.

Irish audiences’ decades-long love affair with Charlie Chaplin, the biggest film star of the first half of the 20th century, began modestly a century ago. Cinema audiences in Ireland, like those around the world, knew the slapstick comedies for which Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company was already famous when Chaplin joined in December 1913. When he began shooting his first films in January 1914, Chaplin played supporting roles to such better-established comics as Mabel Normand, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Ford Sterling. However, he rapidly became the star player in films that he directed himself. Nevertheless, he did not renew his Keystone contract in December 1914, choosing instead to join George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson’s Essanay Film Manufacturing Company.

As the best remembered of the stars who emerged in the 1910s, Chaplin has already been discussed briefly here and here. Now that the centenaries of his year at Keystone have passed, it may be worth looking in more detail at the Irish reception of this initial stage of his career. Almost all the Keystone films he appeared in have survived, and thanks to the Chaplin Keystone Project, these have been restored to as watchable a condition as possible and are available in the DVD collection Chaplin at Keystone, accompanied by an informative booklet. Despite the films’ flashes of brilliance, however, it is hard not to agree with David Robinson that “[w]e can only look back at the first few Keystone films and see a crude, unfinished form, and the earliest tentative search for a screen character” (130). But as Robinson goes on to argue this is our problem in retrospect: “To the audiences of the time they were new and astonishing. From the very start, Chaplin had created a new relationship with the audience, provoking a response that no one had elicited before in film or in any other medium” (ibid).

Irish audiences’ first sight of Chaplin on screen was not as a tramp but as a “sharper” in Making a Living (US: Keystone, 1914).

Surviving accounts from Irish audience members are rare, but newspapers do offer some clues about how that relationship began in Ireland. These clues have to sifted out of ads and articles that are largely the product of the marketing needs of film production companies, distributors, picture houses and the newspapers that carried the material. Most of the cinema display ads, preview and reviews in Dublin newsaper were for the few picture houses that paid for advertising. The most regular picture-house advertising was from the Rotunda Pictures in Dublin’s O’Connell/Sackville Street, which had long used extensive advertising to construct its reputation as the city’s premier picture house. In roughly descending order of regularity of advertising, the Rotunda was followed in late 1914 and early 1915 by the Bohemian Picture Theatre in Phibsboro; the Masterpiece Theatre in Talbot Street; the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres pictures houses in Grafton and O’Connell/Sackville Streets; the Phoenix on Ellis Quay; the Dorset Picture Hall; the Volta in Mary Street; the Electric Theatre in Talbot Street; Dame Street Picture House; and the Pillar Picture House in O’Connell/Sackville Street. This represents just two-fifths of Dublin city’s cinemas, and many of those named often did not mention the titles of the short comedies that supported the main dramatic feature. Nevertheless, the display ads, previews notices and reviews of these picture houses allow us to track the release dates and something of the reception of Chaplin during his year at Keystone.

This review of the programme at the Rotunda Pictures gives a good indication of where comedies featured in the priorities of newspaper reviewers. Evening Telegraph 23 Jun. 1914: 2.

This review of the programme at the Rotunda Pictures gives a good indication of where comedies featured in the priorities of newspaper reviewers. Evening Telegraph 23 Jun. 1914: 2.

It was at the Rotunda that Chaplin first appeared on a screen in Dublin in the comedy Making a Living (US: Keystone 1914), which had a three-day run beginning on Monday, 21 June 1914. The Evening Telegraph’s review suggests that contemporary observers did not share the importance we would likely attribute to the beginning of Chaplin’s career. The highlight of the bill on which Making a Living appeared was for at least the nationalist members of the audience – as it was for the reviewer in the nationalist Evening Telegraph – “a splendid film showing the pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave, at Bodenstown, on Sunday” (“Rotunda Pictures,” 23 Jun.). This local topical (news film) “was received with possibly the greatest of applause yet extended to any film previously shown at this house,” and its exhibition was enhanced by the Irish Ladies’ String Orchestra playing “The Volunteers’ March”: “The opening bars of the martial music were drowned by the tumultuous cheering of the crowded audience” (ibid.). By contrast, Making a Living was merely mentioned in passing along with two other comedies that were also part of the programme.

Western Import Co. ad for Chaplin's early Keystone film hails him as the hit of the season and reminds readers of his stage career. Bioscope 9 Jul. 1914: xx.

Western Import Co. ad for Chaplin’s early Keystone films hails him as the hit of the season and reminds readers of his stage career. Bioscope 9 Jul. 1914: xx.

Making a Living was almost five months old by the time it reached Irish screens. It had been shot on 5-9 January 1914 and first released is the United States on 2 February 1914 (Chaplin at Keystone). From 21 June on, however, Chaplin’s films were released in Ireland in quick succession but not always in the same order as they had appeared in the US. This release pattern and much of the publicity material available to picture house managers came from the Western Import Company, the British and Irish distributor of all Keystone films. All the films released by Western Import up to the end of January 1915 were shown in Dublin. Western Import was based in London, and its ads in the trade papers reflected the fact that Chaplin’s films had been a particular hit in the US and were likely to be at least as popular in Britain where he had recently been a music-hall comedian.

In Mabel's Strange Predicament, Dublin audiences saw Chaplin's tramp costume for the first time in a film whose comedy comes largely after Mabel locks herself out of her hotel room in her pajamas.

In Mabel’s Strange Predicament, Dublin audiences saw Chaplin in his tramp costume for the first time, harassing Mabel Normand in her pyjamas.

Despite the information available from the distributor, the names of Mabel Normand or Ford Sterling were more likely to have caught the attention of comedy audiences that week. When Mabel Strange Predicament – the film in which Chaplin first appeared as the tramp – began its three-day run at the Rotunda on 2 July, the Dublin Evening Mail did not mention Chaplin but commented of Normand that “this little lady is now the leading comedienne in filmland” (“Rotunda Pictures,” 27 Jun.). And when Chaplin’s next film, Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal., was appreciatively reviewed during its Rotunda run (6-8 July), the reviewer misidentified Chaplin as Keystone’s more established Fatty Arbuckle, observing that the “famous ‘Fatty’ of the Keystone company, will be seen in a screamingly funny picture, ‘Kid Auto Races’” (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 7 Jul.). This pattern was not confined to the first few of Chaplin’s films screened in Dublin but continued up to November, when Mabel’s Busy Day was described as “one of the funniest adventures of Mabel Normand, Keystone Company” (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 21 Nov.). Although “[a]mongst the humorous contributions” to the bill at the Masterpiece on 22 December “Chaplin, of the Keystone Co., in ‘A Busy Day,’ was very amusing,” this did not distinguish him from Ford Sterling who had left Keystone for a time and was starring “in a highly diverting Sterling Comedy, ‘Three O’clock’” (“Masterpiece”).

As this suggests, Keystone was itself a brand that newspaper advertisers and reviewers expected readers to recognize. This was emphasized on 10 October, when a preview of the Rotunda’s programme recommended When Reuben Fooled the Bandits – featuring the lesser known Keystone player Charles Murray – on the sole basis that it was a Keystone, “which means the last word in comedy” (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 10 Oct.). The company brand and the star brand were also frequently combined. On 17 October, the preview of the Masterpiece Theatre did not specify the title of the comedy films that would be on show in the following week, but one of them “is a highly diverting Keystone, featuring the inimitable [C]haplin” (“Masterpiece Theatre”).

All the Keystone films featuring Chaplin released onto the British market between late June 1914 and the end of January 1915 were shown in Dublin, and many of them had their first Dublin exhibition on or close to the day Western Import released the film. Some films, however, appear to have been screened weeks or months after the release date, but it is possible that they were screened earlier and in the period before the attractiveness of Chaplin’s name was fully realized, their titles were not mentioned in the press. In any case, Making a Living’s appearance at the Rotunda on 22 June was four days after its London release. Mabel’s Strange Predicament appeared at the Rotunda on 2 July, a week and a half after its 22 June release (“Rotunda Pictures,” DEM 27 Jun.). Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. was release on 2 July and shown at the Rotunda on 6 July (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 7 Jul.). Released on 6 July, A Thief Catcher – staring Ford Sterling but featuring Chaplin – ran at the Picture House, Grafton Street (9-11 July; ad, ET 9 Jul.), before the Rotunda (13-15 July; “Rotund Pictures,” ET 11 Jul., II 13 Jul.), and this seems also to have been the case with Between Showers, which was released on 9 July and exhibited first at the Grafton on 13-15 July (“Grafton Street Pictures”). A Film Johnnie was released on 13 July and shown at the Rotunda beginning on 20 July (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 21 Jul), and His Favourite Pastime seems to have screen first at the Picture House, O’Connell/Sackville Street a week after its 20 July release (ad, ET 25 Jul.).

Chaplin's character in A Film Johnnie begins in a picture house and travels to the Keystone studios in pursuit of the Keystone Girl.

Chaplin’s character in A Film Johnnie begins in a picture house and travels to the Keystone studios in pursuit of the Keystone Girl.

No Chaplin film appears to have been released in August 1914, but September was busy. Tango Tangles – featuring Chaplin, Arbuckle and Sterling – was released on 10 September and shown at the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street from 14 September (“O’Connell Street Pictures”). Cruel, Cruel Love’s 17 September release was followed by a 21 September Dublin opening at the Rotunda (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 19 Sep.). Caught in the Rain was released on 21 September but does not seem to have had a Dublin screening until it was exhibited at the Volta’s well-advertised Sunday shows on 13 December (“Volta,”). Similarly, “Keystone screamer” Twenty Minutes of Love awaited a 17 January 1915 showing at the Volta despite a 28 September 1914 release (“Volta,” 16 Jan.).

Ad for the Masterpiece programme for the week, including The Fatal Mallet; Evening Telegraph 12 Dec. 1914: 1.

Ad for the Masterpiece programme for the week, including The Fatal Mallet; Evening Telegraph 12 Dec. 1914: 1.

Although October 1914 also saw no Chaplins released, November and December made up for it. The 9 November release of Caught in a Cabaret coincided with the same-day opening at the Rotunda (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 7 Nov.). A Busy Day waited more than a month after its 12 November release until its Dublin premiere at the Masterpiece on 21 December (“Masterpiece”); the previous week (17-19 Dec.), the Masterpiece had shown The Fatal Mallet, which had been released on 19 November (ad, ET 12 Dec.). Mabel’s Busy Day had a release-day opening at the Rotunda on 23 November (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 21 Nov.), and Mabel’s Married Life also opened in Dublin the day it was released at both the Rotunda and Bohemian on 30 November (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 1 Dec.; “Bohemian”). On 3 December, the Bohemian gave Her Friend the Bandit an opening-day release (ad, ET 3 Dec.). And finally, Laughing Gas opened at the Picture House, O’Connell/Sackville Street on 7 January 1915, three days after its 4 January release (ad, ET 7 Jan.).

Chaplin prepares to deal with a difficult customer in Caught in a Cabaret.

Chaplin prepares to deal with a difficult customer in Caught in a Cabaret.

Very few of these 18 films were given more than a cursory mention. At the Rotunda in November, Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret was given unusual prominence for a comedy by being named as the first “of the principal films of the week” and as “a real live Keystone, one of the funniest yet” (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 7 Nov.). “‘Caught in a Cabaret’ is the title of one of the best comedy pieces in cinematography yet shown in Dublin, and which is to be seen at the Rotunda Picture House. In all its details it proved a most laughable piece and drew forth loud applause” (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 11 Nov.). Caught in a Cabaret was also popular at the Kelvin Palace in Bangor at Christmas:

Five performances were held on Christmas Day, and a like number of St Stephen’s [26 Dec.], at each show a complete change of pictures being screened – ten programmes in the two days. To be strictly accurate I should mention tha tone picture was retained in each programme. It was the screamingly-funny two-reel Keystone, “Caught in a Cabaret.” (“Jottings.”)

The most notice any Dublin newspaper reviewer gave to Chaplin in this initial period came at the end of July. “A splendidly long and most amusing comedy is ‘A Film Johnnie,” observed the Evening Telegraph’s columnist, noting the film’s reflexivity. “This picture features Charles Chaplin going to a cinema, where owing to an infatuation for a girl in the screen he creates great trouble in a most laughable manner” (“Rotunda Pictures” ET 21 Jul.). The Irish Times reviewer did not name Chaplin – referring merely to the “young man” in this “real good comedy series” – but commented that the “operations of the fire brigade in regard to that individual are the cause of much laughter” (“Rotunda Pictures,” IT 21 Jul).

Looked at week-to-week, Chaplin’s rise to fame looks more incremental than meteoric, but it would only be a few months before many members of the Dublin audience wanted to be Charlie.

References

“Bohemian Picture Theatre.” Evening Telegraph 1 Dec. 1914: 4.

Chaplin at Keystone. DVD Collection. London: BFI, 2010.

“Grafton Street Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 14 Jul. 1914: 2.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 14 Jan. 1915: 146.

“Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 22 Dec. 1914: 6.

“Masterpiece Theatre.” Evening Telegraph 17 Oct. 1914: 6.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 7 Oct. 1915: 57; 14 Oct. 1915: 217.

Robinson, David. Chaplin: His Life and Art. London: Penguin, 2013.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Dublin Evening Mail 27 Jun. 1914: 3.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 23 Jun. 1914: 2; 7 Jul. 1914: 2; 14 Jul. 1914: 2; 21 Jul. 1914: 2; 19 Sep. 1914: 6. 7 Nov. 1914: 6; 11 Nov. 1914: 4; 21 Nov. 1914: 5; 1 Dec. 1914: 4.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Irish Independent 13 Jul. 1914: 5.

“Rotunda Pictures,” Irish Times 21 Jul. 1914: 7.

“The ‘Volta’ Sunday Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 13 Dec. 1914: 6; 16 Jan. 1915: 2.

“Driven to See Pictures Instead of Plays”: Joseph Holloway Goes Out in 1914 Dublin

Joseph Holloway's "My Reflection in Mirror at Barbers," 21 Sep. 1914.

Joseph Holloway’s self-portrait “My Reflection in Mirror at Barbers,” 21 Sep. 1914. National Library of Ireland.

On Friday, 31 July 1914, Joseph Holloway – the sometimes architect but more often theatregoer – recorded a moment of cultural angst: “Was at two picture Houses during the day – the Grafton & Rotunda, where a few good films were on view,” he noted in his diary before adding: “It’s terrible to be driven to see pictures instead of plays! I fear the theatres in Dublin are dead for the present.” The death of theatre in Dublin was a cause of serious concern for Holloway, whose diary records the minute attention he paid to shows at Dublin’s “legitimate” theatres – the Theatre Royal and Gaiety – at its melodrama house – the Queen’s Royal Theatre – and at its music halls – the Empire and Tivoli. Despite his unhappiness with theatrical offerings at this time, he nevertheless attended as many plays and shows as he could fit in a life largely filled with the leisure that a small inheritance allowed him. The diary in which he records the details of these shows – as well as his conversations and correspondence with the luminaries and ordinary people of the time – is an incredible work of life writing that has been estimated as running to more than 25 million words (Ferriter). This is not because of the great critical insights he offers; his diary has been described by Irish author Frank O’Connor as “that donkey’s detritus” and by Sean O’Casey as “an impossible pile of rubbish” (ibid). Nevertheless, despite the limited perspective of a middle-class conservative Catholic nationalist, it offers fascinating glimpses into life and leisure as they were experienced in Dublin in the 1910s, including the city’s emerging cinema culture.

Holloway’s viewing of the two film shows in late July 1914 was not unprecedented, nor was it the first time he had expressed his dissatisfaction with picture houses while being a regular cinemagoer. Since the Picture House in Sackville/O’Connell Street had opened in April 1910, Holloway had often visited it and the other picture houses that opened with increasing regularity in its wake. Although he sometimes visited picture houses alone, he also accompanied his mother Anne Holloway and his niece Eileen O’Malley, with whom he lived, demonstrating the popularity of the picture house across three generations (Condon 143). By September 1914, Holloway’s life was changing along with the city’s entertainment offerings, not to mention the political upheavals of the period. The death of his mother in May 1912, and the marriage of Eileen on 16 September 1914 left him living alone and without a cinema-going companion.

As well as this, the breakdown of the longstanding distinctions between Dublin’s legitimate theatre, melodrama house and music hall was particularly visible just as the war began in the autumn of 1914. This was part of an international process by which entertainment companies were buying up and building theatres of all kinds to create chains that sought large popular audiences by providing a modified form of variety entertainment that could accommodate popular music hall artistes and dramatic actors, as well as film. Dublin’s Theatre Royal had long been experimenting with this modified variety, which it called by a name already popular in many British cities: hippodrome. Marvelling at the popularity of the Royal’s hippodrome seasons during the summer period when the theatres usually closed, the theatrical columnist of Irish Life dubbed hippodrome “the Chief Priest and Apostle of the Music Hall in Dublin” (“Between the Acts”). “[I]ts hold over the public is simply amazing. The “two-nightly house” show can apparently thrive under any circumstances. In Dublin it has captured all classes, and has proved itself a most profitable undertaking to those engaged in it” (ibid). Film featured not only as part of the evening programme in the guise of the Royal Bioscope but also at a separate film matinee.

Ad for the Theatre Royal Hippodrome and Winter Gardens, Sep. 1914, featuring film matinees of Nature's Zoo. National Library of Ireland.

Poster for the Theatre Royal Hippodrome and Winter Gardens, Sep. 1914, featuring film matinees of Nature’s Zoo (Britain: Cherry Kearton, 1913), a film that the Royal also exhibited a year earlier. National Library of Ireland.

In early August, Ireland’s Attorney-General and Solicitor-General heard application for patents that would allow legitimate drama from the Star Theatre of Varieties, Ltd., the company that ran the Empire, and from the Premier Picture Palace (Dublin), which proposed to build a large theatre in the city centre on a site off Henry Street and close to the GPO. As the latter’s name suggests, this company had initially planned to open a large picture house but had decided that a variety theatre with the flexibility of mounting plays and showing films would be more profitable. The company would eventually open in April 1915 what was then known as the Coliseum Theatre, a short lived venue that would not be rebuilt following its destruction a year after its opening during the 1916 Rising. The proprietors of the Coliseum included Lord Mayor Lorcan Sherlock, two directors of Dublin’s Tivoli Theatre and theatrical agent Fred Willmott (ibid.). Holloway attended the hearing and spoke as an expert witness – “as an old theatre-goer with 40 years experience” – in support of the Star Theatre of Varieties’ application, arguing that the granting of a dramatic patent would benefit the city by providing the opportunity for more play to be performed (“What Is a Revue?”).

Handbill for opening of the Masterpiece Theatre (Holloway 27 Jul.)

Handbill for opening of the Masterpiece Theatre preserved in Holloway’s diary (Holloway 27 Jul.)

While lobbying in support of more plays and continuing to attend theatrical shows of all kinds, Holloway also visited picture houses regularly. During July and the first half of August 1914, he records twenty visits to Dublin picture houses, fourteen of them alone in July. On the evening of Thursday, 2 July, he went to what he insisted on calling the O’Connell Picture House (but the proprietors persisted in calling the Picture House, Sackville Street) where he saw the “beautiful touching film ‘Child o’ My Heart’” (Britain: London, 1914); on the afternoon of Monday, 6 July, he saw The Afghan Raiders and When Lions Escape (US: Columbus, 1914) at the Rotunda, and “both were full of thrills!”; on the evening of Wednesday, 8 July, he saw the Western Love Triumphant and a newsreel of Joseph Chamberlain’s funeral at the Grafton; on the evening of Friday, 10 July, he saw From the Lion’s Paw and “a thrilling abduction story, both well acted” at the Rotunda; on the evening of Monday, 13 July, he saw The Game of Life (US: Selig, 1914) at the Rotunda, which he found “a particularly exciting one & also an Indian story of the new medical man” [The New Medicine Man (US: Kalem, 1914)]; on the evening of Saturday, 18 July, the films he saw at the Grafton included Lost at Sea (France: Eclair, 1913), Nan Good-for-Nothing (Britain: London, 1914) and a newsreel from Dublin’s Civic Exhibition featuring rival architect George O’Connor, “[a]s large as life & equally as massive!”; on the evening of Monday, 20 July, he admired at the Grafton both The Black Pearls (US: Geroges Méliès, 1914), “a real thriller enacted finely by French players,” and The War Bonnet (US: Kalem, 1914), “an Indian story [that] was fairly interesting chiefly because of its beautiful natural setting; on the afternoon of Tuesday, 21 July, he was amused by The Blood Test (US: IMP, 1914) and an unnamed comedy at the Rotunda; on Thursday, 23 July, he visited the Grafton, where he saw “a few good dramatic pictures & others I didn’t care for,” and later the Rotunda, where The Master Crook Turns Detective (Britain: British and Colonial Kinematograph, 1914) “was the most dramatic & best enacted”; on the evening of Friday, 24 July, His Reformation (Britain: London, 1914) at the O’Connell was the best of “the few more or less interesting pictures” he saw; on Monday, 27 July, he found Joan of Arc (Italy: Savoia, 1914) at the opening of the Masterpiece Theatre “dull and left after ending of part 3,” but enjoyed The Mansion of Sobs (US: Lubin, 1914), “a very good child picture & a funny [John] Bunny picture” later at the Grafton; on Friday, 31 July, he had the two visits to the Grafton and Rotunda that caused him such anxiety about the death of theatre.

Evening Telegraph review of programme at the Masterpiece, 22 Sep. 1914: 2.

Evening Telegraph review of programme at the Masterpiece, 22 Sep. 1914: 2.

The first half of August shows the same rate of picture house attendance, with Holloway visiting a cinema on average almost once every two days. On the evening of Saturday, 1 August, he went to the “exciting film drama” Devil’s Gap at the Dorset Picture House; on the evening of Monday, 3 August, he and Eileen found the programme at the Grafton poor, particularly the vulgar Across the Hall (US: Keystone, 1914), but the evening was somewhat redeemed by Bertie in the Ladies’ College (Britain: Eclair, 1914) and ’Fraid Cat (US: Vitagraph, 1914), “a clever child film”; at the Rotunda on the evening of Thursday, 6 August, he found A Life for a Life “quite pathetic” and was moved – unusually – to write a synopsis of it; Ivy’s Elopement (Britain: Ivy Close Films, 1914) at the O’Connell on 8 August was “set in exquisite surroundings & was really beautiful”; on Wednesday, 12 August, he saw England’s Menace (Britain: London, 1914) with Eileen at the Grafton, “where we saw some fine films, and were entertained by a man with a most aggressive sneeze”; on Friday, 14 August, he attended the 6:30 show at the Rotunda with just a handful of others, attributing the small attendance to “the unruly elements” of thunder showers, roving soldiers “and the unfortunate girls [who] had come out to meet them.”

Over this period, he attended the Rotunda and Grafton almost equally with eight and seven visits respectively. The O’Connell was his next most favoured picture house with three visits; and the Masterpiece and Dorset received one visit each. After the visit to the Masterpiece on 27 July, he appears not to have visited it again until two months later, on Saturday, 26 September, when the well-known comedian Cathal MacGarvey took over its management. Holloway “met Mr M’Garvey at the door – he has only taken up the reins a week ago & scarcely feels his feet yet – he hopes to work it into a big success – The programme was first rate & I told him so as I came out.” Holloway did not mention what was on the programme, but MacGarvey’s appointment drew some welcome publicity to the Masterpiece, and as a result, notices show that Holloway would have seen the drama Etta of the Footlights (US: Vitagraph, 1914) with Maurice Costello and Mary Charleson – which was also showing at the O’Connell – “some daring feats of equestrianism by the 18th Hussars” in Our Cavalry’s Wonderful Horsemanship, the scenic film From Inverlaken to Shiedegg, and a Gaumont Graphic newsreel that included “a review of the National Volunteers at Enniscorthy by Mr. John Redmond and (“Masterpiece Theatre”). It is likely that the location of the last film is mistaken and that this was a film of the infamous speech at Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow, in which Irish nationalist leader Redmond called on the Volunteers to join the British Army.

Film lover Dr Knott. Holloway Diaries.Aug. 1914

Film lover Dr Knott. Holloway Diaries. National Library of Ireland.

Unlike his often very detailed accounts of theatre shows, Holloway wrote frustratingly little on the films he saw, often not even giving their names. He does, however, sometimes remark on the behaviour – and even mention the names – of members of the audience, some of whom he also occasionally sketched. On the evening of Monday, 1 June 1914, he reveals, the large audience at the Grafton included “AE (George Russell) & Prof. Maginnis.” The aggressively sneezing man at the Grafton on 12 August allowed him some interaction with other members of the audience:

Even the film drama – “England’s Message” – which was loudly applauded – he sneezed often. ”Though its subject wasn’t to be sneezed at!” I said to Eileen, & the man next her, who had been applauding his hands off almost when the foreign fleet in the picture story turned tail & went home, smiled at & approved of my turn of phrase.

However, the behaviour of other audience members could be annoying, as it was on 8 July at the Grafton during the newsreel of Chamberlain’s funeral: “a man behind me kept up a regular tattoo with his fingers on the crown of his straw hat, which was irritating to all save himself. I know he maddened me!” Some people he knew were regular picture house patrons. James Crawford Neil enjoyed natural history pictures (23 Jul. 1914). Dr John Knott, “haunts the picture houses” (16 Sep 1914) and seems to be constantly “seated rather close up to screen” (30 May 1914). Like Knott, Holloway also haunted Dublin’s picture houses, and despite his periodic fears about cinema displacing his beloved theatre, he appears, on balance, to have enjoyed his time in front of the screen.

References

“Between the Acts.” Irish Life 10:2 (24 Jul. 1914), p. 68.

Condon, Denis. “‘Temples to the Art of Cinematography’: Cinema on the Dublin Streetscape, 1895-1929.” Visualizing Dublin: Visual Culture, Modernity and the Representation of Urban Space. Ed. Justin Carville. Bern: Peter Lang, 2013. 132-54.

“Drama in Dublin: Premier Picture Palace Application: Lord Mayor’s Views.” Evening Herald 7 Aug. 1914: 2.

Ferriter, Diarmaid. “Holloway, Joseph.” Dictionary of Irish Biography Online. Cambridge UP and Royal Irish Academy, 2009. Web. 30 Sep. 2014.

Holloway, Joseph. Holloway Diaries. National Library of Ireland.

“Masterpiece Theatre.” Evening Telegraph 22 Sep. 1914: 2.

“O’Connell Street Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 15 Sep. 1914: 2.

“What Is a Revue? Manager Tries to Explain It: Drama in Dublin.” Evening Herald 6 Aug. 1914: 3.

The Phibsboro Picture House Opens

Announcement of hte opening of the Phibsboro Picture House, Dublin Evening Mail, 23 May 1914.

Announcement of the opening of the Phibsboro Picture House, Dublin Evening Mail, 23 May 1914.

A century ago, on 23 May 1914, Dublin’s newspapers announced the opening of the Picture House in Phibsborough (or Phibsboro), on the northern edge of the city. The papers are a little vague on the exact day of the opening, but as the 23 May was a Saturday, some of the papers cover the opening in their weekly theatrical column. “The grand opening of the new Picture House situated at Blaquiere Bridge, Phibsborough,” declared the Dublin Evening Mail’s The Play’s the Thing column, “took place this week, with signal success” (“New Picture House in Phibsborough”). That morning’s Irish Times had carried the same article, and a shorter notice in the Evening Herald was clearly working from the same publicity material provided to the Mail and Times. “The promoters deserve every congratulation, not only as regards the excellent film presented, but also in as far as design, furnishing, lighting, ventilation, etc., are concerned,” commented the Herald. “The house is most comfortable, and great crowds have been enjoying both the comfort and excellent fare provided. The architect, Mr. Aubrey V. O’Rourke, C.E., was paid a very high compliment by the directors at the opening ceremony” (“New Phibsborough Picture Palace”).

Phibsboro Picture House

The only known photo of the Phibsboro Picture House was taken after it had closed for demolition in 1953 (http://archiseek.com/2012/1914-phibsborough-picture-house-north-circular-rd-dublin#.U38HxCjiiI8).

Certainly, the only still circulating photograph of the original facade – taken almost 40 years later – shows an attractive addition to the streetscape in this part of the city. Construction work had begun in summer 1913, but even after this had started, alterations were made to the design, probably in order to better compete with the Bohemian Picture Theatre, which was also under construction close by on Phibsborough Road. “It is intended to amend the design and planning generally of the new cinematograph theatre now in the course of construction at Madras Place, Phibsboro’,” revealed the Irish Builder.

The front of the building will be carried out in brickwork and terra cotta dressings, and will present a more handsome and bolder appearance than the original design. It is intended to erect a balcony, and to increase the seating capacity considerably. The emergency passage will be covered in, and the gentlemen’s sanitary accommodation approached from this passage. The machine enclosure, rewinding room, and office will be situated at the back of the balcony, and the generating chamber in the basement. The internal decorations, which are to be of a handsome character, are to be carried out in fibrous plaster.” (“Building News”)

The British cinema trade journal Bioscope offered the first indication of the capacity and ownership of the new picture house:

The theatre is specially designed, and will be an up-to-date hall, accommodating 600. Although a separate company from the Irish Kinematograph Company, Limited, the new company will be worked in conjunction with that Company’s Mary Street House. Messrs. Hibberts will have a controlling interest, and Alderman Farrell is to act as managing director. Mr. Bob O’Russ – the popular manager of the Mary Street house – will take over the duties connected with the secretaryship. (“Our View”)

City councillor and former mayor, John J. Farrell already had interests in the Electric Theatre, Talbot Street, the Mary Street Picture House and the soon-to-be announced Pillar Picture House in O’Connell Street. For the Phibsboro venture, however, Farrell registered the Phibsboro Picture House company on 2 September 1914, in partnership with William King, a farmer and horse breeder of Belcamp, Co. Dublin; and British cinema owners Henry Hibbert and T. Wood (“World of Finance”). Construction on the Phibsboro – and all other Dublin buildings – stopped in September 1913 because of the Lockout (Paddy, 30 Oct. and 11 Dec.), but it resumed with the end of the general strike in early 1914.

Advertisement for the newly opened Phibsboro Picture House, Dublin Evening Mail, 23 May 1914.

Advertisement for the newly opened Phibsboro Picture House, Dublin Evening Mail, 23 May 1914.

The first ads for the Phibsboro on 23 May reveal that the performances were continuous from 3 to 10:30 rather than at set times, that the programme changed on Monday and Thursday – initially with no Sunday show, that the pricing was 3d, 6d and 9d, and that there would be an “exclusive” film in every programme. However, they gave little indication of what exactly the first exclusives were. Helpfully, however, the Bioscope’s Paddy reported on 4 June that he

went round the other evening to see the picture theatre in Phibsboro’, and particularly did I admire the “sunrise and sunset” system of lighting, which was concealed round the walls of the building. The building holds, roughly, 600, and the tip-ups are in Rose Barri shade, the carpets being of a darker colour. The harmonizing effect is thus very beautiful. The balcony, to which admission is covered by the nimble shilling, runs in a wide curve, and has a splendid “rake.” (Paddy, 4 Jun.)

The main film Paddy saw that night was Lieutenant Rose and the Sealed Orders (Britain: Clarendon, 1914) “and it was followed with intense interest by a packed house,” as well as the John Bunny comedy Bunny’s Mistake (US: Vitagraph, 1914) and The Vanishing Cracksman (US: Ediston, 1913).

Dublin Evening Mail 30 May 1914: 4.

In the Shadow of the Throne at the Phibsboro; Dublin Evening Mail 30 May 1914: 4.

The first film that the Phibsboro actually advertised was the Danish film I Tronens Skygge, translated as In the Shadow of the Throne (I Tronens Skygge; Denmark: Kinografen, 1914). It was due to run for three days beginning on Monday, 1 June, but its opening had some unintended consequences, many – but not all – unpleasant for the management. The film caused a campaign by members of the Catholic Church’s Vigilance Committee, which had been formed in 1911 to campaign against “evil” literature but which had developed a campaign against theatre shows and films. Part of this campaign involved protests in theatres and cinemas carried out by William Larkin and his twin brother Francis.

The campaign began when P. Donnelly sent a letter to the Freeman’s Journal complaining about the film and asking “How long is Catholic Dublin going to stand this sort of thing?” (“A Cinematograph Show Objected To,” Condon 228). Donnelly objected to the fact that a nun said Mass and that a newly professed nun fell into the arms of a prince. The controversy caused a range of reactions. John J. Farrell responded by retaining the film for the second half of the week, writing a letter to the Freeman contradicting Donnelly’s claims (and perhaps, as alleged in court, threatening legal action if the paper did not print a retraction), and inviting a reporter from the newspaper to give an “objective” assessment of the film. The resulting publicity brought around 600 Dubliners, the seating capacity of the cinema, to subsequent showings of the film. Among these on Friday were William and Francis Larkin, who ended a shouted protest in the auditorium by throwing ink at the screen, splattering the blouse and music of Miss Eager in the orchestra. The Larkins were arrested, found guilty and fined a nominal 5 shillings, a punishment whose leniency suggested – not for the first time – the tacit support of the magistrate for Vigilance Committee activities.

To devote too much attention to the Larkins is to turn away from the story of the cinema, but the newspaper accounts of the case provide details of the working of the Phibsboro that do not survive otherwise. They reveal the name of the attendant Daniel McEvoy, whom William Larkin accused of handling him roughly while removing him, and also two women musicians from the orchestra who would otherwise be anonymous: Miss Eager, the musical director whose blouse was inked, and Miss Duffy, who testified in court. Daniel McEvoy and Miss Eager remain obscure, but Miss Duffy is likely to have been Evelyn Duffy who is listed in the 1911 Census as a 23-year-old professional vocalist living at 106 Phibsboro Road, close to the cinema.

Just three weeks after it opened, the Phibsboro had become a part of the city in several ways. It had become a significant part of the streetscape of north Dublin, a successful business for Farrell and his partners, and a place of employment for McEvoy, Eager and Duffy. Beyond that, it had become central, if only briefly, in one of Ireland’s cultural controversies.

References

“A Cinematograph Show Objected To.” Freeman’s Journal 2 Jun. 1914: 5.

“Building News.” Irish Builder 30 Aug. 1913: 563.

Condon, Denis. Early Irish Cinema, 1895-1921. Dublin: Irish Academic, 2008.

“New Phibsborough Picture Palace.” Evening Herald 23 May 1914: 4.

“New Picture House in Phibsboroough.” Dublin Evening Mail 23 May 1914: 3.

“Opening of the New Picture House in Phibsborough.” Irish Times 23 May1914: 9.

“Our View.” Bioscope 24 Jul.1913: 238.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 30 Oct. 1913: 395; 11 Dec. 1913: 1077; 4 Jun. 1914: 1069.

“World of Finance.” Bioscope 18 Sep. 1913: 933.

“An Immense Power in the Refinement of the World”: Women Musicians in Irish Picture Houses

As the emergence of cinema in the early 1910s changed the nature of Irish popular entertainment, it offered certain women new career opportunities. Although there were some women picture-house managers and jobs in ticket and refreshment sales were generally reserved for women, the largest number of skilled picture-house jobs available to women were as musicians. Every new picture house had at least one musician, and as the 1910s progressed, the prestige of a picture house could be measured by the number of musicians in its orchestra, including known concert musicians whose solos could be advertised as discrete attractions. The boom in picture houses was also a boom in musical employment. For both men and women, these increasingly professionalized jobs required the kind of extended education available only to the middle class. The growing prestige of cinema opened up possibilities for suitably trained women of this class who needed or desired an income but who were restricted from much paid work by barriers to the professions and by such nebulous controls as the discourse on respectability, which, for example, put the menial work undertaken of necessity by many working-class women beyond consideration – or at least, acknowledgement. As such, the increasing number of women cinema musicians is also an index of the increasing acceptability and even respectability of cinema itself, which these women were helping to foster by taking these jobs.

Dorset Picture Hall’s advertisement for staff. Irish Times 20 March 1911: 1.

“Eva Hickie, late pianiste at the Dorset Picture Hall, Dublin, has accepted a similar position at Waterford,” reported Paddy, the Ireland correspondent for the British film trade journal the Bioscope,in mid-April 1914 (Paddy, 16 Apr. 1914). Three years previously, the 1911 Census of Ireland had listed just one Eva Hickie: the 25-year-old head of a household of five siblings and an aged servant, who were living in the north-city suburb of Phibsboro, not far from the Dorset. This Eva Hickie’s occupation is not mentioned, but by Census night, 2 April 1911, she may already have responded to Dorset manager William Shanly’s recent advertisement for “a Lady pianist […] who can play for pictures.” Whether or not she had applied for the job, she was not counted among the 979 Irish women who used the word “music” in the description of their occupation in the Census – the vast majority of them music teachers – and the further 94 who described themselves as musicians.

Despite this lack of self-definition as a musician, Hickie in many ways resembles May Murphy, the most prominent woman musician in Irish cinemas of the early 1910s. The Census puts both women in their mid-twenties and heading households of siblings belonging to the Catholic middle class, for whom music constituted one of the limited choices for respectable employment for women. However, Murphy appears to have been the more socially secure of the two, describing herself in the Census – as did 75 other women – as a professor of music. Although her previous career is obscure, by March 1912 she was leading the Irish Ladies’ Orchestras at James T. Jameson’s most prominent venues: Dublin’s Rotunda and the Pavilion in Kingstown, Co. Dublin:

A potent factor in the success with attends the pictures in the Dublin Rotunda Rooms and the Kingstown Pavilion is the Irish Ladies’ Orchestra, under the direction of Miss Murphy. In the Rotunda there are seven instrumentalists; in Kingstown three. Combined with the crimson and white colour scheme of their dresses, their little Zouave jackets complete a picture of dainty Bohemianism. Mr Jameson is to be congratulated on securing such a permanent attraction. (Paddy, 14 Mar. 1912)

Women’s orchestras were rare but by no means completely novel, and Dublin theatrical audiences might have been familiar with such acts as Les Militaires, a 12-piece women’s orchestra led by Mrs. Hunt and wearing Hussar uniforms and tricorn hats that had visited the city in 1889 (Watters and Murtagh 109-10). Neverthless, the visual spectacle of the Irish Ladies’ Orchestra’s dainty Bohemianism, which would be perfectly understandable in a theatre, seems out of place in a picture house, where the audience should surely be focusing on the screen. However, these musicians were expected to be noticed, a fact that indicates how the live musical portion of the programme was not just invisible accompaniment but was also a visual attraction.

Even as Paddy was asserting the permanence of the attraction, it was changing to offer an opportunity for another woman musician. Just a month after his announcement that Murphy was leading the two orchestras, he revealed that she had found it impossible to manage both the Rotunda and the Pavilion, located in a suburb 12km south of the city. Murphy focused on the Irish Ladies’ Orchestra at the Rotunda, and Jameson – “in no way minded to cut off the musical treat which the people of the Premier Township always expected” – employed a Miss D’Arcy to lead the newly renamed Pavilion Ladies’ Orchestra:

To fill up the place of one who has gone in such a manner that those left behind scarcely feel the vacancy is always a laudable ambition. That Miss D’Arcy has succeeded in maintaining the high state of excellence for which the Pavilion has been famous in the past speaks well for her directorship and ability. (Paddy, 25 Apr. 1912)

 

Publicity photograph of John Bunny, signed and dated 5 June 1914 (http://theloudestvoice.tumblr.com/page/328); and Vitagraph ad including Bunny Blarneyed (with title misspelled). Bioscope 12 Jun. 1913.

Vitagraph’s comic star John Bunny praised the Irish Ladies’ Orchestra and outlined the kind of benefits women musicians brought to the cinema. Bunny made his remarks on a working trip to Britain in 1912, during which he visited Ireland to shoot the short comedy Bunny Blarneyed, or The Blarney Stone (US: Vitagraph, 1913) at Cork’s most famous tourist attraction. Taking in a show at the Rotunda, he remarked that

“Women are always an immense power in the refinement of the world. The manager who, seeking to make his show suitable for all – from the little mites up – neglects this truth is only cheating himself of ultimate end. An orchestra composed of women is an undeniable asset to every hall in the world.” (Paddy, 12 Sep. 1912)

For Bunny – and for Paddy who quoted him favourably – such initiatives as the Ladies’ Orchestra put cinema at the forefront of respectable entertainment by putting women at the forefront of the cinema entertainment. There, they were visible signs and guardians of a refined amusement suitable for all the family.

Although Jameson made a particular feature of his Ladies’ Orchestras, other women musicians were also well known to audiences, even when they were less visible during screenings. Miss Frazer, the pianist at the Pavilion’s rival Kingstown Picture House, garnered special praise for her beautiful singing during the run of The Badminton Hunt in January 1913 because “she did not sing from a platform, the film was not stopped at any time. Simply you heard her charming voice coming out of the darkened stillness at the piano” (Paddy, 30 Jan. 1913). Paddy also noted that May Louise O’Russ conducted a very able orchestra at Dublin’s Mary Street Picture House, which was managed by her husband, Bob O’Russ (ibid).

As summer 1914 approached, it appeared that women were taking a more proprietorial role in Irish cinema. On 30 April, the Bioscope published the registration details of the Blackrock Picture Theatre Company, which had been incorporated in Dublin on 20 March. The report listed four women – Mrs. R. Murphy, Mrs. L. Casey, Miss E. Lineham and Miss M. Lineham – among its five directors (“World of Finance”). Little is known of these women, but Lucy Casey was the postmistress and a shopkeeper in the seaside village of Blackrock, Co. Louth, where the company’s new picture house was to be located. Blackrock was south of Dundalk, the largest town in the region, with its population of 13,128 supporting two competing picture houses. Blackrock, by contrast, had a very small resident population of just 418 that was swelled at holiday time by a large influx of tourists. Regardless of the success of their venture, these women joined the few other female picture-house owners and musicians to whom the cinema offered career opportunities.

References

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 14 Mar. 1912: 759; 25 Apr. 1912: 275; 12 Sep. 1912; 797; 30 Jan. 1913: 329; and 16 Apr. 1914: 313.

Watters ,Eugene, and Matthew Murtagh. Infinite Variety: Dan Lowrey’s Music Hall 1879-97. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1975.

“World of Finance: New Companies.” Bioscope 30 Apr. 1914: 411.

Screening the Lockout (?)

Image

Dublin tramway workers pass the Rotunda, one of the city’s most important picture houses. (“Dublin Tramwaymen’s Strike.” Dublin Evening Mail 27 Aug. 1913: 2.) A different view of this picture house can be found here.

A hundred years ago, on Tuesday, 26 August 1913, the labour dispute known as the Dublin Lockout began when just before 10am, some 200 motormen and conductors of the Dublin United Tramway Company abandoned their trams in the city centre. The tram strike would prompt the Dublin Employers’ Federation – led by the tram company’s chairman and owner of the Irish Independent and Evening Herald newspapers William Martin Murphy – to lock out workers affiliated with Jim Larkin’s Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. Riots, the arrests of union leaders, demonstrations and vicious police baton charges followed. Newspapers played an important part in this dispute – and in how we remember it a century later; see Century Ireland – but what about cinema?

As early as 1907, cinema was being called the art form of the working class (Patterson), an accessible and relatively cheap form of not just entertainment but also information about the world in moving pictures that did not require a high level of literacy. Although Dublin had just a few film venues before 1910, the new medium of cinema very quickly came to have a significant place in Irish society in the early 1910s. By August 1913, Dublin had three times more picture houses than it did theatres, and half of the theatres also showed fiction films and newsreels on a regular basis as part of their variety programmes. Picture houses were not only located in the city’s business core like the theatres but also in residential areas and in the suburbs and townships adjacent to the city. They often therefore relied to a greater extent than the theatres on the patronage of local audiences. However, these picture houses were also businesses, in which a dichotomy between worker and employer also existed.

As such, activity in Dublin’s picture houses during the last week of August into September 1913 demonstrates something of how the new cultural institution of cinema would mediate the momentous Irish events of the 1910s, and how the institution would be shaped by these events in turn. As regards programming, only the Rotunda in O’Connell/Sackville Street (both names were used at the time, with the preference usually based on whether ones politics were nationalist or unionist) appears to have allowed unfolding events to influence its choice of films. For the three days (the usual length of a cinema programme) from 1-3 September, the Rotunda showed the American film The Labour Struggle (1913), made by Kalem, a film production company particularly well known in Ireland because of the many films they had shot in the country. However, The Labour Struggle had nothing to do with Ireland. Although a reviewer of another timely choice of production that week, the play The Labour Leader at the Queen’s Theatre, commented that “visitors will not see much resemblance between the hero of the play and the local product” (“The Queen’s Theatre”), another writer took allegorical meaning from the conclusion of The Labour Struggle:

If its conclusion were to be interpreted in one sense the raging fire against which by mutual help the employer and employes in the end fought successfully may be taken to picture anarchy. When both sides to the struggle came to recognise the peril which threatened them, they ceased to quarrel, and, turning their strength against the common foe, they subdued it, and then taking a juster measure of one another it looked from the last film as if they were likely “to live happily together ever after” (“The Rotunda”).

How Dublin workers and employers might – Metropolis-like – identify a common foe, the writer does not speculate, and a happy ending to the dispute must have seemed remote to anyone walking the city’s streets. In any case, the film’s engagement with radical labour politics would likely have been diluted not just by its conclusion but also by its appearance on a bill with the live telephatic performer La Somna, a screen adaptation of Ivanhoe (IMP, 1913), and two film comedies featuring Vitagraph star John Bunny.

Sep 1 1913 DEM Rotunda Labour Struggle

Advertisement for the Round Room Rotunda showing Kalem’s The [Great] Labour Struggle and a local film of the Neptune Rowing Club. Dublin Evening Mail 1 Sep. 1913: 4.

Apart from fictional representations produced elsewhere, local film producers could have filmed the demonstration themselves to produce a local news film. Norman Whitten had set up a company in May – with an office at 76 Talbot Street (“Irish Enterprise”) – to take such films. James T. Jameson and his sons, including Ernest who managed the Rotunda – but Ernest had got married on Thursday 28 August, so perhaps he deserves congratulations and the benefit of the doubt – had been shooting such films for a decade. Tellingly perhaps, neither Whitten nor Jameson caught on film Jim Larkin’s famous address to the proclaimed demonstration of workers in O’Connell Street on 31 August or the notorious baton charge that followed it, despite the fact that both had business addresses on or just off that street. The bills at Jameson’s picture houses had long been known for their local films. During the week of 25-30 September, both the Rotunda and the Jameson-run Town Hall Rathmines had shown films of each day of the prestigious Dublin Horse Show. And in lieu of a local strike film, The Labour Struggle was accompanied at the Rotunda by a film of a social event at the Neptune Rowing Club, “a local event of direct personal interest to numbers of the citizens” (“The Rotunda”), but those citizens were likely to have been the middle-class audience Jameson had long courted.

Other exhibitors more reliant on a working-class audience do not seem to have modified their bills in response to the strikes even to the extent that Jameson did. The Phoenix Picture Palace on Ellis Quay widely advertised the fact that it was showing Quo Vadis? (Cines, 1912) for the whole of Horse Show Week; in April, the Phoenix had been the first Dublin picture house to show the Italian spectacular. A similar taste for a full week of spectacle to attract well-heeled Horse Show visitors inspired the Dame Street Picture House to book The Life and Works of Richard Wagner (Messter, 1913), which allowed the house orchestra to accompany the silent film with a different Wagner selection at each performance. Other programmes from picture houses that advertised in the newspapers at this time – the Town Hall, Rathmines, the World’s Fair Varieties, the Mary Street Picture House, the Picture House, Sackville Street (called the “O’Connell Picture House” by the nationalist press), the Grand, the Volta, the Theatre de Luxe, the Camden Picture House, the Clontarf Electric Theatre and the Assembly Picture Hall, Serpentine Avenue – show no immediate impact of the Lockout.

Although the picture houses largely failed to represent the early days of the Lockout on screen, the impact of the struggle for workers’ representation that was being fought out in the streets was also felt in the auditorium, projection booth and cash box. Dublin projectionists had organized themselves into the Irish Cinematograph Operators’ Association and initially affiliated themselves with the National Association of Cinematograph Operators (“N.A.C.O. Dublin Branch”). However, in order to represent themselves in solidarity with other picture house workers, the projectionists later affiliated instead with the National Association of Theatrical Employees (NATE). As a result, even the unskilled cinema workers were able to make strong demands for fixed wages to the cinema owners at a special meeting of the Irish Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association in early September: “In the case of the doormen this should be 26s. for the first doorman, 20s. for the second, and 18s. for the third. It was also proposed to give the inside attendants 12s. per week, the cash-box girl getting 15s” (“Pictures in Ireland”). The cinema owners were not altogether happy with these proposals, and by mid-September, NATE members would be picketing the Theatre de Luxe in Camden Street (Rockett 43). But that is a story for another day.

References

“Irish Enterprise.” Bioscope 12 June 1913: 781.

“N.A.C.O. Dublin Branch.” Bioscope 29 May 1913: 623.

Patterson, Joseph Medill. “The Nickelodeons: The Poor Man’s Elementary Course in the Drama.” Saturday Evening Post 23 November 1907: 10+.

“Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 4 September 1913:

“The Queen’s Theatre.” Evening Telegraph 2 Sep. 1913: 2.

Rockett, Kevin and Emer. Film Exhibition and Distribution in Ireland, 1909-2011. Dublin: Four Courts, 2011.

“The Rotunda.” Evening Telegraph 2 Sep. 1913: 2.