“An Objectionable Class from the City”

“One aspect of the strike which has probably not been brought home to the public,” begins a tantalizing article in the Evening Herald on 18 October 1913, “is the effect which it has had upon the amusements of Dublin, such as theatres, music halls, and cinematograph shows” (“Dublin Theatres and the Strike”). Despite offering the views of prominent – albeit unnamed and paraphrased – theatre, music hall and cinema managers, the almost 700-words that follow are, if intriguing, also finally frustratingly unspecific. This is not because as a newspaper owned by employers’ leader William Martin Murphy, the Herald missed few opportunities to point out the folly of Dublin’s striking workers, who had been, it often argued, criminally led astray by union leader Jim Larkin. There are traces of that editorial line here, but the real disappointment is that the writer appears misleadingly to conceive each of these entertainments as being entirely identified with a single class. This, then, looks gratifyingly like a suitable case for analysis and supplement.

The article starts soundly enough by observing that the Lockout affected the city’s entertainments in general in two ways:

firstly, that inasmuch as the earning capacity of some thousands of men has been stopped, therefore their spending capacity has likewise been curtailed.

Secondly, that where the earnings have not been interfered with, among those who are not directly concerned with the strike, yet who live some considerable way from the city, they have been unable to patronise the various entertainments provided for their amusement owing to the difficulties of travel consequent upon the curtailment of the tramway programme (ibid).

A large number of workers with severely reduced income and restrictions on public transport were undoubtedly key factors affecting audience numbers, but the article is less convincing in the argument it makes about the identification of entertainments with particular classes.

It implies that theatre provided entertainment for the social elite, music halls catered for the middle class, and cinema was for the working class. This is done by showing that not all types of entertainment were equally affected by the Lockout. The theatres “have done comparatively well, and the manager of one important theatre stated that had it not been for the strike he would have eclipsed all records” (ibid). Music halls, by contrast,

had suffered considerably, the seats of these houses, whilst altogether more expensive than those of cinematograph shows were cheaper than those of the theatres, so that whereas the man who would pay three or four shillings for a seat at the theatre would and could afford the cost of a conveyance to and from his residence[, t]he man who came from the outlying parts could not, and it is too far to walk a couple of miles each way (ibid).

The difference in ticket prices here seems to create a rigidly stratified system. Stratification based on price, class and type of entertainment certainly existed but not in the way implied here. It is too much of a simplification to state that theatregoers were substantially of a class that could in the absence of trams due to the strike, afford private transport or a cab, while music hall patrons were from a class that lived in the suburbs (to a degree that severely impacted on the business of music halls) but could not afford to pay both for admission and transport home. But the argument become particularly problematic in relation to cinema.

Although the article seems to suggest that the cinematograph shows were competing with music halls for audience, it only discusses picture houses as working-class venues:

In the poorer parts of the city where the cheaper cinematograph shows abound, these have been directly affected by the loss of custom consequent upon those who patronise them being strikers, and therefore, not earning any money. Some of these have suffered severely, and their owners and managers will be very pleased when the strike is settled (ibid).

Certainly the business of picture houses located in working-class areas was affected by the Lockout, but which ones the writer had visited or was thinking of is unclear.

Map Oct 1913

Map of Dublin in 1913 with pins indicating locations of picture houses, music halls and theatres.

The controversy over the Sunday opening of picture houses suggested that going to the pictures was not just a working class entertainment. On 24 October 1913, the Recorder of Dublin – the city’s chief magistrate – considered an application for a Sunday music licence for the Dame Street Picture House, without which it could not open. From their previous applications in April and July 1913, the proprietors of the Dame Street Picture House knew the authorities’ views that the Grafton and O’Connell Street picture houses “were frequented by persons of the better class, and there was no necessity that they should be opened on Sundays for their benefit” (CSORP/1915/2211). As a result, the proprietors argued that the “people who frequented the Grafton street house were generally people who went shopping. The Dame street house was frequently largely by the working classes, and the object of the application was to give facilities to the working classes to attend performances on Sundays” (ibid). They classed themselves among the picture houses that were allowed to open on Sunday: the Phoenix Picture Palace, the Irish Cinema in Capel Street, the Dorset Picture Hall, the Camden Picture House, the Theatre de Luxe in Camden Street, the Picturedrome in Harcourt Road, the Brunswick Street Cinema, the Princess Cinema in Rathmines, the Mary Street Picture House, the Volta in Mary Street, the World’s Fair Varieties in Henry Street and the Electric Theatre in Talbot Street (ibid).

Dame Phoenix Sunday 1913

Ads for Sunday shows at Phoenix and, despite the Recorder’s ban, the Dame; Evening Telegraph 25 Oct. 1913: 4.

The Recorder did not accept this, contending that Dame Street was one of the city’s principal streets – “near the residence of the King’s representative” in Dublin Castle – and not located in a working-class district (“Picture Houses”). He therefore treated the picture house there as he did the ones in Grafton Street and O’Connell Street by refusing them a Sunday licence. “He would give every facility to Sunday entertainments for the working classes, but he would not, so far as he could prevent it, give up the principal streets to these syndicates on Sundays” (“Sunday Cinemas”).

The Recorder’s licensing session also considered local objections to Sunday shows at Clontarf Town Hall, one of the city’s latest picture houses to open – and so not listed above. When Clontarf was incorporated into an expanded Dublin at the turn of the century, the administrative powers of its local council were assumed by Dublin Corporation, and its town hall had no function. Beginning on 18 July 1913, the hall’s leasee George Humphreys ran it as a picture house, with the proviso that he give it up when the Corporation needed it. “Mr. Robertson, (who represented the police) said that he went to the petty Sessions at Clontarf the other day, and they were held in this picture show (laughter)” (“Clontarf Cinema”). Reverend John L. Morrow, chairman of the Clontarf Citizens’ Association objected to the renewal of the picture house’s licence on the basis that local people had not been consulted on its use for this purpose. He complained in particular that its Sunday shows “brought out an objectionable class from the city” (ibid). Humphreys dismissed this claim, observing that “the hall was patronised by people like Ald. Maguire, of Clontarf; Mr. Brady (solicitor), and many other representative and legal gentlemen” (ibid). By 1913, the picture house no longer provided entertainment only for the working class.

References

“Clontarf Cinema: Citizens’ Association: Raise an Objection.” Evening Telegraph 24 Oct. 1913: 3.

CSORP/1915/2211, National Archives of Ireland.

“Dublin Theatres and the Strike.” Evening Herald 18 Oct. 1913: 4.

“Picture Houses: And Licence for Sunday Shows.” Evening Herald 24 Oct. 1913: 2.

“Sunday Cinemas: In Leading Streets.” Evening Telegraph 24 Oct. 1913: 6.

The Flictoflicker Girl

Irish Worker

he masthead of the Irish Worker incorporated idealized depictions of Irish men and women at their labours.

We are often told that labour leader Jim Larkin was against drinking, one of the main leisure pursuits of working-class Irish people, but little is said about his attitude or that of the wider labour movement to cinema. At least in terms of sheer chronology, the rise of the Irish labour movement paralleled the rise of cinema, with a burst of activity in the late 1890s, followed by a major resurgence in the early 1910s. What did labour leaders think about the cinema, this developing cultural institution that seemed so attractive to workers?

During the 1913 Lockout, labour leaders did not see cinema as a medium of agitation, an accessible way of disseminating their ideas. They did, of course, use popular media to agitate, educate and organize, but the popular agitational medium of choice was the press. Nevertheless, the references to cinema in the Irish Worker, the newspaper edited by Larkin from 1911 to early 1914, indicate that people in the labour movement were thinking about the new visual medium. Most of these references suggest that they thought about cinema in fairly straightforward ways. It was a source of income in the guise of the advertisements for the Irish Cinema in Dublin’s Capel Street, the only ads for an entertainment venue that appeared in the paper on a regular basis. It was the occasion of a parody of prominent opponents of radical labour – including Independent newspaper proprietor William Martin Murphy and picture-house owners who were also members of Dublin Corporation, J. J. Farrell and Lorcan Sherlock, the then Lord Mayor – who were said to have attended a special screening of Dante’s Inferno at the Camden Picture House on 10 February 1913 (“Farrell’s Inferno”). Beginning on 22 September, the film would have another week’s run at the Camden, accompanied by a special orchestra. And it was a new type of workplace where the more equitable worker-employer relations being demanded elsewhere also had to be fought for, as they would be when the Theatre de Luxe – another Camden Street picture house – was picketed in late September 1913 following a worker’s dismissal for union activity.

Camden PH Irish Life Dec 1912

An ad for the Camden Picture House in December 1912, showing both its streetfront – with doormen, plants, and cashbox – and auditorium.

The purpose of “The Flictoflicker Girl,” however, is much less straightforward. This short story was written by “Mac,” a pseudonym of Andrew Patrick Wilson, who also frequently contributed to the Irish Worker as “Euchan.” Scottish-born Wilson was active in Delia Larkin’s Irish Workers’ Dramatic Group, and he later managed the Abbey before returning to make significant contributions to Scottish theatre and film (“Who Fears to Wear the Blood Red Badge?”). “The Flictoflicker Girl” appeared on page one of the Worker on 23 August, just a few days before the tram strike that precipitated the Lockout, sharing the front page with articles reviewing George Edwardes’ Gipsy Love, a musical comedy playing at the Gaiety Theatre (Euchan), and analyzing the use of the term “respectability” as a way denigrating trade unionists (Shellback). Both of these articles drew out the immediate political implications of popular culture and language for Dublin workers. The extraordinary focus on culture in this issue suggests that the union was offering workers a Horse Show Week special in all but name. 

“The Flictoflicker Girl” was more oblique in its cultural critique than the accompanying articles. It tells the story of Charlie Payne, who falls in love with the screen image of Daphne Wildrew, the (fictional) Flictoflicker company’s leading lady. When he sees a film in which she gets married and is then abused by her husband, he is first consumed by jealousy and then so overcome by a range of emotions that he has to leave the picture house before the film is over and catch an early tram home. He is flabbergasted to find that the only other occupant of the carriage is Daphne who is “over for local scenes,” but he s traumatized again when she takes his declaration of love as a joke and is met at her stop with a kiss by the dastard from the film.

The story is fascinating for many reasons, but it is particularly intriguing as a unique source of information about the reception of cinema in Ireland at this early point in its institutional development. It addresses its readers – working-class trade unionists – as more sophisticated picture-house patrons than Charlie Payne, whose flight from the city-centre picture house to the suburbs marks him out as middle class and whose foolish fascination with the screen is not excused by youth; an opening paragraph carefully ages him to “that hazy period when men cease to be regarded as eligible and have not yet secured the comfort and dignity of being described as old bachelors.” However, like Charlie, who “never went to theatres, and music halls were places he detested,” readers are assumed to share his “distinct liking for picture palaces,” at least to the extent that they must have a good knowledge of what goes on there to understand the story. Perhaps his connoisseurship, his love of Westerns produced by the Flictoflicker Company, is laughable, yet it was doubtless more so for readers who know that films were already highly codified into genres – of which the Western was the most popular; “no picture programme nowadays is considered complete if it does not include a cowboy film,” as a reviewer in the Dublin Evening Mail commented (“Rotunda Pictures” 9 Sep. 1913) – and that branding by production companies was well established.

Similarly, Charlie’s infatuation with the Flictoflicker Girl would have been topical for readers familiar with the crazes for the Biograph Girl and the Vitagraph Girl, actresses only later famous under their own names Florence Lawrence and Florence Turner, respectively. Indeed, a month after “The Flictoflicker Girl” was published, the Rotunda Pictures broke “new ground as far as Dublin picture houses are concerned” by beginning to show the city’s first film serial, the 12-part Edison serial What Happened to Mary, starring Mary Fuller (“Rotunda Pictures” 23 Sep. 1913). “[A]ll who have seen the opening scenes of Mary’s adventures,” the Dublin Evening Mail reviewer commented, “will be eager to know more about this fascinating actress” (“Rotunda Pictures” 27 Sep. 1913). It is likely, however, that many of the workers who had read Mac’s story in August would have been unable to afford to sit fascinated by Mary Fuller at the Rotunda screen in late September 1913.

References

Euchan. “The Love of Ronance.” Irish Worker 23 Aug. 1913: 1.

“Farrell’s Inferno.” Irish Worker 15 Feb. 1913: 3.

Mac. “The Flictoflicker Girl.” Irish Worker 23 Aug. 1913: 1.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Dublin Evening Mail 9 Sep. 1913: 5.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Dublin Evening Mail 27 Sep. 1913: 3.

Shellback. “The Value of Respectability.” Irish Worker 23 Aug. 1913: 1.

“Who Fears to Wear the Blood Red Badge?” Irish Times 11 Sep. 2013.

Screening the Lockout (?)

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.

Quo Vadis Phoenix ET 9 Aug 1913

For Horse Show Week 1913, Dublin’s Phoenix Picture Palace revived Quo Vadis? Evening Telegraph 9 Aug. 1913: 2.

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.