Succeeding Like Success: Irish Cinema at Christmas 1915

Carlton Cinema, c. 1920. Source: Art Deco in Dublin.

Carlton Cinema, c. 1920. Source: Art Deco in Dublin.

Christmas 1915 was worth celebrating for those involved in the cinema in Ireland. Despite the war and attempts by religious groups to limit its expansion, cinema had continued to grow in 1915, and several new picture houses opened in time for end-of-year holiday season. In many ways, then, a short item in the trade journal Bioscope in December 1915 on the recent opening of an Irish cinema well characterizes the state of the industry as a whole at the end of 1915. “They say,” it began, “nothing succeeds like success” (“Trade Topics”).

However, the success of cinema in 1915 needs to be qualified as well as acknowledged. For a start the short Bioscope item appears to be a promotional piece with little substance. It continues: “but what Mr. Andy Wright said a few nights ago when, in opening the doors for the first time of his new theatre at Waterford, he was knocked down in the rush of an eager populace anxious to secure their seats, is not recorded.” Not recorder either – by this item or other contemporary sources – is what the name of this new theatre was. Not that Wright was unused to the openings of Irish picture houses. Best known as the managing director of the Liverpool-based distribution company Films, Limited and of Wright’s Enterprises, he was also heavily involved in a number of exhibition companies in Ireland. He was a director of Irish Empire Palaces, of the company that built and ran Dublin’s Phoenix Picture Palace, and of Southern Coliseums (“World of Finance”; Paddy, 7 Nov.). Following successes in Wexford and Kinsale during summer 1915, he had opened the Cinema in Carlow in September (Paddy, 9 Sep.). However, this item – if it has any basis in reality – must refer to the opening two months earlier of Waterford’s Coliseum, following its conversion from the Waterford Rink (Paddy, 28 Oct.).

Opening of Enniscorthy's Cinema Theatre, Echo Enniscorthy 4 Dec. 1915: 6, and 11 Dec. 1915: 6.

Ads for the opening weeks of Enniscorthy’s Cinema Theatre, Echo Enniscorthy 4 Dec. 1915: 6, and 11 Dec. 1915: 6.

Among the actual openings for the 1915 Christmas season were picture houses in Enniscorthy, Belfast and Dublin. Enniscorthy’s new Cinema Theatre opened on Wednesday, 8 December, at the Ancient Order of Hibernian’s hall on New Street, which on the occasion, “was crowded, and many people were turned away. The hall was cosily fitted up. The screen proved to be large and the pictures to be clear and bright” (“New Cinema”). All the machinery, fittings and films for the new Cinema Theatre had been provided by Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply, which was also fitting out the picture house in Waterville, Co. Kerry, (Paddy, 9 Dec.). With a population of just 5,500, Enniscorthy could sustain this new picture house alongside the existing Abbey Picture House. Nevertheless, the Abbey put on a rival programme of comedies for 8 December designed to maximize its own audience. Competing with the Cinema Theatre’s naval drama On Secret Service (US: American, 1915) and Chaplin two-reel comedy Laughing Gas (US: Keystone, 1914), the Abbey topped its bill with the Chaplin six-reel feature comedy Tillie’s Punctured Romance (US: Keystone, 1914).

Dublin picture houses advertising the first showings of Chaplin's latest film Charlie at Work. Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1915: 1.

Dublin picture houses advertising the first showings of Chaplin’s latest film Charlie at Work. Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1915: 1.

Enniscorthy did not have a monopoly on Chaplin. He was still everywhere, with the films he made with Keystone in 1914 still in circulation while his newer Essanay films received special advertising. When Dublin’s Pillar Picture House, Mary Street Picture House and Electric Theatre, Talbot Street premiered the new Charlie at Work on 6 December, Getting Acquainted (US: Keystone, 1914) maintained the audience of the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street “in continuous roars of laughter,” while at the Masterpiece Theatre, one of the Keystones in which Chaplin played alongside Ford Sterling “kept the house in an uproarious mood” (“Picture House,” “Masterpiece”). Of the many other stars, perhaps Mary Pickford was the only one to approach Chaplin. On 2 December, Cork’s Coliseum showed Mistress Nell, which featured Pickford, “who has become such a prime favourite in many Irish picture theatres” (Paddy, 2 Dec.).

Willowfield PH Belfast

Willowfield Picture House and Unionist Club. Cinema Treasures.

Neither Chaplin nor Pickford topped the bill when Belfast’s newest cinema the Willowfield Picture House opened on 20 December. There was nothing at all unusual about the military mien of the featured drama The Commanding Officer (US: Famous Players, 1915), even when it was complemented by a local topical film of The Inspection of the Ulster Division (1915). The latter film was, however, unusually appropriate for a venue that was also the social club for the Ulster Unionist Party.

Evening Telegraph, 24-25 Dec. 1915: 4.

Evening Telegraph, 24-25 Dec. 1915: 4.

Dublin’s newest cinema was less out of the ordinary. When the Carlton Cinema Theatre opened its doors on 27 December, it was the last new Irish picture house of 1915. Located at 52 Upper Sackville/O’Connell Street, it had been designed by architect Thomas F. McNamara for Frank W. Chambers, who also ran a tobacconist and billiard hall on the same street. “There is a magnificent entrance and lounge – the latter also being a tea room,” the Bioscope’s Paddy noted, “which lend an imposing appearance to the whole theatre” (6 Jan.). Inside, “[t]he hall is very spacious and well proportioned; the slope in the floor is a distinct improvement, whilst the scheme of decoration and lighting is very effective (“New Carlton Cinema Theatre”). The main opening film was His Wife’s Story (US: Biograph, 1915), which was accompanied, Paddy revealed, by an “orchestra, which consisted of two violins, a piano and a ‘cello.” He predicted that “with the improvement which is bound to come in the course of time, [it] should prove one of the best orchestras in Dublin.” All reviewers commented on the lack of expense spared by Chambers in fitting out the cinema, including in the generator and projectors chosen. “There is, indeed,” the Irish Times declared confidently, “little likelihood of spectators having to suffer the delay of a breakdown, in the Carlton” (“New Picture House”).This was just tempting fate because the same paper reported on 20 January 1916, that a breakdown in the generator had been repaired and that “the light on the picture screen is now perfect” – suggesting previous imperfections – for upcoming screenings of the adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (“Carlton Picture Theatre”).

Despite such initial technical difficulties, the Carlton would become one of the city’s most popular cinemas. Partly this was because of its favourable location opposite the Gresham Hotel, but it was also because of the musical attractions it would soon offer. In doing so, it would have to compete with two well-established rivals, the nearby Rotunda and the suburban Bohemian. At the Rotunda, “[t]he music, which is now an important feature of a Picture Entertainment, is supplied by the first-class Orchestra, under the baton of Miss Murphy, R.I.A.M.” (“Rotunda Pictures”). However, the state of the art in film accompaniment in Dublin was to be heard at the Bohemian, and in December 1915, it was about to popularize the cinema solo. “The success attendant on the violin solos given by Miss M. Burke, a member of the Bohemian orchestra, during the performances of last week,” an Evening Telegraph reviewer revealed, “doubtless influenced the management to engage for the present week the services of Mr. Patrick Delaney, the celebrated violinist, who rendered at the 7 and 9 performances some delightful selections, which were warmly applauded by large audiences” (“Bohemian”). Although the Bohemian management decided to engage a male soloist, this development was started by one of the city’s skilled women musicians. This Miss M. Burke is likely Mary Burke, who in the 1911 Census is listed as a Galway-born music teacher living in the nearby suburb of Drumcondra.

Victoria Boh Orch 25 Dec 1915p4

Dublin’s Bohemian Orchestra helped reopen Galway’s Victoria Cinema. Connacht Tribune 25 Dec. 1915: 4.

The Bohemian and Galway would have other connections at Christmas 1915. Galway saw the reopening of two of its picture houses – the Cinema Theatre and the Victoria Cinema – on St. Stephen’s Day, 26 December. The main Christmas pictures at the other cinemas – the Court Theatre and the Town Hall Pictures – were serials, the firth episode of The Black Box (US: Universal, 1915) in the case of the Court and the eighth episode The Exploits of Elaine The Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1914) at the Town Hall. This sense of business as usual was not adopted by the reopening venues, which offered special musical features. The Cinema Theatre under new manager George Gutherie, engaged two singers, “Australian Prima Donna” Marie Elster, who sang “Ave Maria,” and juvenile Irish vocalist Ruth Conway. Among its main alterations, the Victoria Cinema had erected a veranda to protect queuing patrons from the rain, replaced its screen and installed a new projector “to prevent delays between the parts of one picture.” These infrastructural enhancements were launched by a three-day visit from Percy Carver’s Bohemian Orchestra, “acknowledged by press and public as the finest in Ireland” (“Notes & News”). Whether or not Mary Burke was among the visiting musicians is not recorded.

Christmas was celebrated in picture houses around the country with such traditional fare as pantomime films but also with more recent innovations. The Cork Examiner’s review of Robinson Crusoe at Cork’s Coliseum asserted the superiority of the cinema version over the theatrical. “There must be more than ‘Crusoe’s’ own adventures in the modern [theatrical] pantomime. Topical songs are introduced, and this distracts the attention from the mariner’s adventures. It is here the cinema producer scores, for he can keep the main story before the mind all the time” (“Coliseum”). Christmas provided the opportunity for showmen and -women to mount extra film entertainments and for travelling picture shows to visit smaller towns that did not have a regular cinema. James Barrett was granted a licence for a film show in Castlebar’s Town Hall (“Castlebar Urban Council”). With a population of just over 1,500, Granard, Co. Longford, hosted a “highly attractive cinema and gramophone entertainment” at the Town Hall on 29-30 December, “organised for the comforts’ fund of the various battalions of the Leinster Regiments” (“Granard Notes”).

Cinema’s role not only as entertainment but also as a recruiting tool was an important way in which its social usefulness was measured in Christmas 1915. Those men who had not yet enlisted were encouraged to do so by recruitment meetings that included films in Macroom, Charleville and other Co. Cork towns (“Macroom Notes,” “Recruiting Rally”). By contrast, the Freeman’s Journal indicated that some popular films and plays were attempting to prevent recruiting. Praising recruiting efforts around the country, an editorial item observed that the “Irish capital has certainly done magnificently, and perhaps the greatest incentive to recruiting in our midst has been the idiotic pin pricks of the pro-German humbugs, passing as melodramatic Emmets and cinematograph Wolfe Tones” ([Editorial item]). Although it is unlikely that the writer had yet seen it, Sidney Olcott’s Irish-shot Bold Emmett, Ireland’s Martyr (US: Sid Olcott Feature Players, 1915) – steeped in the Irish melodramas of Dion Boucicault – could have been so described.

Dec 4 1915 Nationality PHs ad

Picture house advertising helped fund some of the radical nationalist press; Nationality, 4 Dec. 1915: 3. Available online from the National Archives of Ireland.

Cinema was not expanding everywhere, in part due to the war but also because it had opponents, some of whom were even more active and influential than the Freeman’s editorial writer. Kells Picture House closed for one of its regular hiatuses when its tenancy terminated on 7 December, but it would reopen again in January ([Small ad]). The Ormonde Cinema Company informed Nenagh Town that

[i]n reference to the opinions of well-known advocates of economy during the continuance of the war, and to encourage their propaganda so far as amusements are concerned, [we] have decided to hold exhibitions of pictures only twice weekly in future, viz., on Sunday and Wednesday nights instead of four nights, as was their practice hitherto. (“Nenagh Town Council.”)

Other kinds of cultural nationalist propaganda also rejected cinema. Minnie McAllister of Magherafelt, Co. Derry, the recipient of the third prize in the Columban League of Irish Youth essay competition, included going to the pictures among the foreign manners and customs that Irish boys and girls should avoid. “There is nothing in these performances that appeals to the real Irish imagination,” she wrote, “and frequently enough they are of a description that should not be tolerated in any self respecting country” (“Columban League of Irish Youth”).

Edward O’Dwyer, bishop of Limerick, was of a similar opinion. Just in time for the New Year, he wrote a letter on the exhibition of an immoral film in Limerick city to Fr J. A. O’Connor, administrator of St Michael’s parish that was published nationally in the Cork Examiner and Freeman’s Journal (“Indecent Picture Exhibitions,” “Immoral Pictures”). “On last Wednesday,” he revealed, “a picture was shown in one of these houses, and from the descriptions which has been give to me of it, I feel bound to take the strongest steps within my power as a Catholic Bishop, to prevent the continuance of such an agency of corruption” (ibid.). The description of which film so incensed the bishop is not clear, but he seemed disinclined to confirm its offensiveness by actually viewing the film before urging that swift steps be taken against the picture house in question. On the last day of the year, Limerick’s Vigilance Committee informed the Borough Council through the pages of the Limerick Leader that it could within days expect the Committee’s draft restrictions to be included in subsequent cinematograph licences (“Limerick Vigilance Association”). At a meeting earlier in the month in which the Dublin Vigilance Committee revealed that it had been granted representation at the Recorder annual hearings to grant – or deny – music licences to picture houses, the Committee had acknowledged the increasing national reach of the vigilance movement by changing its name to the Irish Vigilance Association (Dublin Committee) (“Dublin Vigilance Committee”).

As 1915 ended, cinema was certainly a more important cultural force in Ireland than it had ever been, seen as variously profitable, pleasurable and useful. However, it had formidable local opponents ranged against it that were more organized and determined to curb its influence or to destroy it.

References

“The Bohemian.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1915: 2.

“The Carlton Picture Theatre.” Irish Times 20 Jan. 1916: 8.

“Castlebar Urban Council.” Western People 18 Dec. 1915: 2.

“Coliseum: ‘Robinson Crusoe.’” Cork Examiner 28 Dec. 1915: 6.

“Columban League of Irish Youth: Occasional Chats with the Members.” Donegal News 18 Dec. 1915, p. 7; Ulster Herald 18 Dec. 1915: p. 3.

“Dublin Vigilance Committee.” Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1915: 3.

[Editorial Item.] Freeman’s Journal 18 Dec. 1915: 6.

“Granard Notes.” Longford Leader 25 Dec. 1915: 1.

“Immoral Pictures: Letter from Most Rev. Dr. O’Dwyer.” Freeman’s Journal 30 Dec. 1915: 6.

“Indecent Picture Exhibitions: Letter from Most Rev. Dr. O’Dwyer.” Cork Examiner 30 Dec. 1915: 4.

“Limerick Vigilance Association: And Local Picture Houses: Important Restrictions Proposed.” Limerick Leader 31 Dec. 1915, p. 10.

“Macroom Notes.” Southern Star 18 Dec. 1915: 5.

“The Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1915: 2.

“Nenagh Town Council and Retrenchment.” Nenagh News 25 Dec 1915: 2.

“The New Cinema.” Echo Enniscorthy 11 Dec. 1915: 7.

“A New Picture House.” Irish Times 30 Dec. 1915: 3.

“Notes & News.” Connacht Tribune 25 Dec. 1915: 4.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 7 Nov. 1912: 417; 9 Sep. 1915: 1176; 28 Oct. 1915: 468; 9 Dec. 1915: 1109; 30 Dec. 1915: 1472; 6 Jan. 1916: 53.

“The Picture House, O’Connell St.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1915: 2.

“Recruiting Rally in North Cork.” Cork Examiner 29 Dec. 1915: 8.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 24 Dec. 1915: 6.

[Small ad.] Meath Chronicle 4 Dec. 1915: 5.

“Trade Topics.” Bioscope 23 Dec. 1915: 1307.

“World of Finance.” Bioscope 7 Mar. 1912: 689; 13 Jun. 1912: 807.

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.