Billing and Books
I've seen repeated book reference to certain shorts and cartoons that were advertised more prominently than features in theatre ads, or displayed above same on marquees. Less common is evidence of this by way of surviving ads or photos that show single or two-reelers getting favored treatment. In fact, I've not seen one ad or marquee from the sound era where the short was positioned over a feature for promotion purpose. The biggest push I recall for a cartoon short was Popeye Meets Sindbad The Sailor, which many venues actually sold as a "feature," despite its actual length equivalent to two standard animated subjects, meaning sixteen or so minutes. But even this Popeye special took a lower ad berth to whatever feature theatres were offering. I'd dearly love seeing a 1936 ad where Popeye/Sindbad took advertised lead, but it's not (so far) come my way.
Now in the silent era, particularly early on in the feature era, it was not at all uncommon for short subjects to be billed first. In fact, they were tendered as feature attractions of respective shows in a day when the term had as much to do with merit as length. Two reels of Charlie Chaplin's newest could be a whole reason for going to the show, as here with The Immigrant in first-run. It was unusual for a bill to last three days at most theatres; certainly a Chaplin or comparable was needed to sustain such extended run (but was there anyone comparable to CC?), especially in smaller towns where daily program turnover was expected. "A Great Metro Picture" The Soul of Magdalene places last among offerings here at the Palace, this the long-form attraction, and sole example that evening of a feature film as we would come to understand them. Together with five vaudeville acts, this was the Palace's offering for a dime and up admission. Original ads I've seen for Chaplin Mutual comedies during 1916-17 almost always placed them at the top of bills as lead attraction, this priority continuing after his move to First National, in fact, for as long as the comedian made short subjects.
Bumping Into Broadway was a 1919 Harold Lloyd short lasting under a half-hour, but it's clearly positioned by the Yale Theatre to head up their "Today Only" bill. Lloyd was a fast-risen comedy star by 1919, the "glass" character having vaulted him to position second only to Chaplin. In fact, I'd guess that during that year, he and Roscoe Arbuckle dueled for runner-up position. Ad art supplied by distributing Pathé refers to Bumping Into Broadway as "The Feature Comedy," another instance where quality qualifies two reels as something more. The Lurking Peril chapter-play gets second ad placement, this at a time when serials were at a peak and often regarded the headliner among theatre offerings. Again, the putative "feature," which we assume to be of multiple-reel duration, is at the bottom of the bill. I say "assume" because I can find no record at all of Across The Line, and precious little mention anywhere of John Lowell or Dakota Lawrence. Did such a film, or these people starring, even exist? They might just as well not have for all that remains of this title or Lowell/Lawrence.
Here is Buster Keaton lording it over Irene Castle with his 1922 two-reeler, The Blacksmith. No Trespassing is listed as 70 minutes at IMDB. There's apparently a print at the Library Of Congress, which means we could replicate this silent era program ninety-one years after the California Theatre presented it. Note the size of Keaton's name in the ad. There was obviously a following in place, and he'd only been doing solo shorts a couple of years by then. I'm all the more convinced for shuffling through vintage ads that comedies were indeed the main draw to movie houses; certainly in smaller towns, that seems to have been the case. They'd lure children for sure, and based on name-size comparison with Irene Castle, Keaton and The Blacksmith was what the
TWO BOOKS, the first I'll mention having been published in 1968. There was a paperback later, but I don't think it's been reprinted since.
B-WESTERN MOVIE REVIEWS: VOLUME 1, by Boyd Magers: It's well known that Boyd Magers is our leading authority on series westerns, having maintained a terrific website dedicated to them, plus a monthly print publication, Western Clippings, among very few subscriptions I still maintain and will not give up so long as it continues to print. Magers has for years penned reviews of virtually every B western extant, and now he has compiled them in a reference book that makes cowboy viewing an interactive gallop between DVD's and his expert coverage. This first of a proposed three-volume set has 825 evaluations representing 43 different stars and series. There is Tom Mix, John Wayne, Tom Tyler, Ken Maynard, Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, the list goes on. Magers says he's been watching B westerns for over 65 years. Based on erudition here, I can well believe it. I like his straightforward style and way with wordage, plus there's backstories on casts and crews who rode in support of lead saddle aces. If you watch these cowboys, you'll want Mager's guide, and the two volumes to come. I'll not be without it for so long as westerns unspool at Greenbriar.