Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Renaissance of the Masher and Swashbuckler

As life tamped down in 1921 under Prohibition, people sought to live vicariously through the uninhibited characters of stage and screen, characters this New York Times Magazine article called “the masher and swashbuckler.”

“The leaden lid of ‘Thou Shalt Not’ has been hammered down on us so tightly that the explosion of our suppressed healthy animality may become a classic example of Dr. Freud’s dictum: the way to revitalize an instinct is to suppress it.

Don Juan, d’Artagnan, and Bluebeard have invaded New York from beyond the artistic three-mile limit. [Those first two are references to the 1921 Broadway productions of Don Juan and The Three Musketeers, though I couldn’t ascertain the Bluebeard reference with certainty.] In film circles… there is talk of screening the life of that philanthropic highwayman, Robin Hood. [1922’s Robin Hood would star Douglas Fairbanks.]

The columnist Benjamin de Casseres then added this kicker:

If there is anybody missing, I haven’t heard of him. Satan?

One wonders if something of the opposite has happened these days. Part of the reason The Jerry Springer Show was cancelled in 2018 after 27 years was because audiences no longer felt the same need to turn towards the entertainment world to see deubachery like cheating on your spouse with an adult film star or vile language, when the president was doing the same. As Springer himself said, Donald Trump “took my show and brought it to the White House.”

And one of the most popular television shows to emerge in 2020 was the wholesome Ted Lasso.

 

Renaissance of the Masher and Swashbuckler (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 9, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

October 10th, 2021 at 8:01 am

Heavens a Hippodrome and All the Actors Airplanes

In 1919, some predicted that the future realm of acting would be not the stage nor the screen, but the sky with airplanes.

This is the key to the great Futurist drama. The Sardous, Gus Thomases, Ibsens, Sam Shipmans and Barries of the future will write for a stage whose wings will be Arcturus and Halley’s comet, whose footlights will be the electirc bulbs and lamp-posts of all the earth — even unto Philadelphia; whose roof will be heaven itself, whose actors will be airplanes cut and painted to resemble the characters of the play, driven and manipulated by hooded and goggled drivers. Instead of a prompter, a wig-wag aviator sitting on the edge of the moon. The stage manager will thunder his directions for rehearsals from a giant super-megaphone-telephone from the top of the Matterhorn or in a giant Caproni anchored to Mars.

What of the naysayers?

Do you believe it? No? Well, there were once those who believed the earth was flat, that the heavens were a series of blue-china saucers glued together, that Bryan was a radical and that booze was immortal.

Well, after Prohibition was repealed a few years later, it turns out booze was immortal. And similarly, the skeptics of “the theater of the sky” were right in their predictions, too.

That being said, it sounds super fun. Maybe it should take off. I’d watch it.

 

Heavens a Hippodrome and All the Actors Airplanes: Drama of the Futurists Where the Gestures Are Tail Spins, and the Waiting World Lies Flat on Its Back and Looks Up at the Busy Sky (PDF)

Published: Sunday, November 30, 1919

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

November 29th, 2019 at 1:01 pm

Lo, the Movies Have Achieved “Revivals”!

Tired of sequels, remakes, and reboots at the movies? By 1919, the movie business was already old enough that they were bringing back “classic” movies.

Hugo Riesenfeld, managing director of the Rivoli and Rialto Theatres, has started to show a series of the first Chaplin comedies, and Mr. Griffith [D.W. Griffith who most famously directed 1915’s The Birth of a Nation] will soon open a theatre in New York with a repertory of the films which made him famous.

The Chaplin pictures and the Griffith productions, in this sense, are revivals, and practically the first since the photoplay established itself. When [1915’s] “A Night in the Show,” the first of the old newcomers, was put on at the Rialto two weeks ago, the box office began to have one of the busiest periods of its existence.

So it’s not quite Chaplin and Griffith Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Yet it was nonetheless something of a century-old precursor to the franchise system that has come to dominate Hollywood in the 2010s. Both developments relied on the essential idea that audiences want more of what they already know they love.

Lo, the Movies Have Achieved “Revivals”! (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 9, 1919

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 9th, 2019 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Entertainment,Movies

Troublous Times for the Theatre Business

 

“In fact, the last week has been about the worst week in the history of the American theater.” That was the worry gripping Broadway in December 1917. What was causing this?

“Pro Bono Publico writes to his favorite paper that it is because the plays presented nowadays are so inferior that intelligent people won’t tolerate them.” This is similar to the main explanation for why movie box office in summer 2017 had its lowest-selling summer since 1997: that almost every summer release besides Wonder Woman and Dunkirk was terrible. (It wasn’t competition from Netflix and the like; Netflix was almost as massive in 2016 and 2015, which were comparatively stronger box office years.)

Other explanations offered included a wartime tax on theater tickets, and the fact that war started to become more “real” for Americans outside of combat round October due to several factors such as a sugar shortage, even though America had entered the conflict in April.

Troublous Times for the Theatre Business: All Sorts of Suggestions for Remedying War Slump Are Being Considered by the Managers — The Question of Prices and Ticket Speculators (PDF)

From Sunday, December 16, 1917

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December 16th, 2017 at 12:20 pm

American Song Makers Seek War Tune of the ‘Tipperary’ Kind

No particularly notable or well-recognized patriotic songs had been composed in the months America’s involvement in World War I, lamented this June 1917 article. That problem was clearly rectified by 1918, when Irving Berlin composed God Bless America, even if the song did not truly take off until World War II a few decade later. Today, it is known by almost every schoolchild, was sung by members of Congress on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on the afternoon of 9/11, and a snippet was even performed by Lady Gaga at this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

American Song Makers Seek War Tune of the ‘Tipperary’ Kind (PDF)

From Sunday, June 3, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

May 31st, 2017 at 4:48 pm

Three Film Stars Get $1,000,000 a Year Each

Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks were earning a then- staggering $1 million per year in 1917. $1 million in May 1917 would be worth $17.5 million today. How does that compare to the highest-grossing movie stars now? That would only make Chaplin the 24th-highest paid movie star in the world last year.

Forbes ranked Dwayne Johnson as the highest-paid actor of 2016 at $67.5 million. Chaplin would be sandwiched between Matthew McConaughey at #23 with $18 million and Chinese film star Chan Bingbing with $17 million.

What’s fascinating look at the last is how many of the top 25 highest-paid actors may not be worth the salary. Many just in the past year alone have starred in box office domestic underperformers, relative to studios’ pre-release hopes: #3 Matt Damon with The Great Wall, #5 Johnny Depp with Alice Through the Looking Glass, #7 Ben Affleck with Live By Night, #8 Vin Diesel with xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, #13 Brad Pitt with Allied, #19 Scarlett Johansson with Ghost in the Shell, #20 Will Smith with Collateral Beauty, #23 Matthew McConaughey with Gold,

 

 

Three Film Stars Get $1,000,000 a Year Each: Motion Picture Business, at Pinnacle of Success, Sees No Sign of Waning Popularity — Tax Talk Stops Boasting of Profits (PDF)

From Sunday, May 27, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

May 26th, 2017 at 4:06 pm

What It Costs in Money and Effort to Devise a Circus Spectacle

You might recognize the name of the man featured in the above photo: Alfred T. Ringling, more famous as half of the Ringling Brothers. It took a lot of work for him to run the circus:

“The working basis of a spectacle is 1,000 people, 100 to 150 horses, 10 to 25 elephants, about as many camels, sacred cows, zebras, and other exotic animals as needed, and about 30 minutes by the clock. When the spectacle is being given in Madison Square Garden a couple of hundred “supers” are hired; but when the show gets on “the road” under canvas and the Barnum & Bailey army is recruited up to its full marching strength by the addition of its corps of canvasmen and its corps of cook-house men, etc. every actor in the spectacle is a circus person and, conversely, practically every circus person is a spectacle actor.”

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus stopped using elephants in May 2016, and in January 2017 announced their circus would end completely in May after 146 years. Check here to see if their farewell tour will be stopping by you in the next month.

What It Costs in Money and Effort to Devise a Circus Spectacle: Just a Short Curtain-Raiser, But It Means Nearly as Much Work as All the Rest of the Performance (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 8, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

April 9th, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Posted in Entertainment

‘Movies’ and ‘War Game’ as Aids to Our Navy

From November 5, 1916

movies-and-war-game-as-aids-to-our-navy

‘Movies’ and ‘War Game’ as Aids to Our Navy: Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske Advocates Combining Former with Famed Kriegspiel to Develop American Naval Strategists (PDF)

Unlike any other century-old article that I’ve come across when running this website, this 1916 piece started off as though the writer figured it might be read a century subsequently:

“Historians of tomorrow may award the honor of having developed great American naval strategists to the “movies.” That sounds improbable now, but the improbability will be materially lessened if the shapers of our naval policies adopt suggestions contained in “The Navy as a Fighting Machine,” a new book by Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske…

Not ships, nor guns, nor men, but strategy is the prime requisite for successful naval warfare. Strategy must be worked out in peace times, long before the outbreak of war, in order to insure victory. The best way to develop naval strategists in peace times is through intense cultivation of the “Kriegspiel,” the famous “war game” played much in the manner of chess by German army officers ever since the days of von Moltke, and introduced a few years ago among the officers of the Germany Navy by Kaiser Wilhelm II. A good way to carry the method a step ahead is to “film” the various moves in a given “Kriegspiel” problem and project them on a screen, in order that they may be more easily understood by audiences composed of American naval officers.

Does anybody currently serving in the military know if this suggestion was ever adopted en masse by the U.S. military? I’d certainly never heard of it before. I just covered a talk given by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus at the National Press Club a few weeks ago — clearly I should have asked him then.

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

November 2nd, 2016 at 3:25 pm

What Can an Actor Do When He Retires?

From October 29, 1916

what-can-an-actor-do-when-he-retires

What Can an Actor Do When He Retires?: E.H. Sothern Answers in Humorous Vein the Question So Often Asked, Using as Interlocutor the Ghost of Gamaliel Ratsey (PDF)

The famed (at the time) actor E.H. Sothern had recently retired from the stage in 1916, which was of course the only real form of acting for anybody who spoke words, since the first film with sound The Jazz Singer wouldn’t come out until 1927. Sothern penned an essay in which he answered the title question of “What Can an Actor Do When He Retires?” through a fictional conversation he has with the ghost of Gamaliel Ratsey, a famous thief and criminal of the Shakespearean era who was hanged in 1605 but not before he famously once robbed a troupe of Shakespearean actors.

The article’s subtitle calling the piece “humorous” is definitely subject to interpretation. You can see that the photograph of the author certainly doesn’t make him look like the life of the party, although to be fair people smiling in photos was a rare if not nonexistent phenomenon back then. Perhaps the funniest line in the article describes Ratsey’s introduction:

The visitor produced out of the void two huge horse-pistols and leveled them at my head.

“Get up!” said he, “and play me a scene or I’ll blow your brains out.”

This kind of invitation is vastly persuasive.

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

October 26th, 2016 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Entertainment,Humor

City’s Summer Music Problem Solved at Last

From September 3, 1916

City's Summer Music

City’s Summer Music Problem Solved at Last: Success of Popular-Priced Concerts Which Filled Madison Square Garden Leads to Outdoor Opera at City College Stadium (PDF)

An article about the then-recent attempts in 1916 to have low-priced opera and orchestral concerts for the New York City public. This sentence in particular illustrates just how long ago this was: “When you get something like 8,000 persons at a concert in New York it means something!” Later today as of this writing, Bruce Springsteen is playing MetLife Stadium which has a seating capacity of 82,000.

The 1916 article also quotes Oscar Hammerstein, a major figure in orchestral composing at the time. You may better know his son Oscar Hammerstein II, who several decades later as a member of the famed duo Rodgers and Hammerstein composed such legendary Broadway musicals as The Sound of MusicThe King and I, and Oklahoma!

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

August 30th, 2016 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Entertainment,Music