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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Ads That Sell The Shorts!

My hat is off to Chief Artist William Elliot and Managing Director Paul Short of the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, Texas. Chances are they’re no longer here to take a bow, since these ads date back over seventy years, but each one is a work of art by Greenbriar standards, and deserve to live in our Hall Of Fame. Exhibitors in those days knew how to prop a "weak sister" (as they referred to indifferent features) with a stellar shorts program. Patrons would very often attend a show just to see the cartoon or comedy extras, and with Popeye, Betty Boop, and Laurel and Hardy on the bill, who could blame them? That Diamond Jim ad promises a full plate of delightful miniatures. The Dionne Quintuplets were the absolute rage in 1935. Any footage of them was as much gold dust for exhibitors. Fox actually made several features with the baby phenomenon --- it was enough for audiences just to watch them gurgling and crawling around the floor. See Popeye Throw Bluto For A 20 Yard Loss! Well, didn’t he do that every time? No matter, the folks couldn’t get enough of it. By now, there were Saturday morning Popeye clubs across the nation, and they were packed. I knew a collecting old-timer who was a member of one. He’s stay all day and watch an avalanche of cartoons, serial chapters, westerns, horror pics --- plus contests and prizes on the stage. Must have been heaven. Maybe there was a depression outside those theatre doors, but life couldn’t have been much better on the inside.
Romance In Manhattan may not have been much of a lure, but Dallas’ own Spanky (McFarland) in his new Hal Roach Our Gang comedy, Mama’s Little Pirate? Now that’s something else again! Seeing one of those brand new with (at least) a thousand people --- well, it’s just hard to imagine --- and then Betty Boop on top of that! Sure, the Code had de-fanged her by this time, but I wouldn’t have asked for a refund.



You gotta have a strong constitution to get through 99 minutes of Katherine Hepburn’s preening as Alice Adams, but look at those extras! Laurel and Hardy in their last ever short subject, Thicker Than Water, plus Mickey Mouse in "gorgeous third-dimension technicolor" --- and as cartoons go, Pluto’s Judgment Day is what Charley Chase
would call a "darb." Finally, that short in its "2nd sensational week" (with The Richest Girl In The World) was the first live-action three-color Technicolor subject, La Cucaracha. "No featurette has ever caused as much comment and excitement." I can believe that. Must have been a stunner. One of the news sites this week quoted a scientist who predicted that there would be time travel "within this century." I hope they’ll let me know whenever they get that project off the ground, because I have an idea of what my first destination is going to be …

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm ready to go time traveling, too! Just take me to a movie palace in 1928 to hear Jesse Crawford at the mighty Wurlitzer and Doug Fairbanks or Harold Lloyd on screen....

11:56 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

Fascinating stuff, John! I notice that the Majestic played a lot of RKO features... but not their shorts! Cartoons came from Paramount and United Artists (Disney), and most of the live action-ers from MGM. Apparently block-booking wasn't quite as dominant as we've been led to believe.

At my own blog, I posted an entry on the Van Beuren classic cartoon "The Sunshine Makers," which would have been released through RKO right around this time. I wonder just how many theaters even booked Van Beuren 'toons by 1935?

1:48 PM  
Anonymous dave 7 said...

We lived in Dallas in the very late 1940s & early '50s and always loved the Majestic being the crown in the string of Elm St theatres--heading down the street toward the much-later-infamous-triple underpass there were the Tower, the Melba, the Palace and others. All the top MGM movies opened at the Majestic and the front of the theatre was covered with spangled posters.
Much later I learned that the Majestic had been an all-vaudeville house back in the day.
And then on a visit in the '80s it had become one of those prestigious civic venues for touring plays and other events--and maybe it's still that. The others are sadly all gone, just as is the case in most cities..

2:21 AM  

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