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Americanizing the Movies and "Movie-Mad" Audiences, 1910-1914

Richard Abel

Publication Year: 2006

This engaging, deeply researched study provides the richest and most nuanced picture we have to date of cinema—both movies and movie-going—in the early 1910s. At the same time, it makes clear the profound relationship between early cinema and the construction of a national identity in this important transitional period in the United States. Richard Abel looks closely at sensational melodramas, including westerns (cowboy, cowboy-girl, and Indian pictures), Civil War films (especially girl-spy films), detective films, and animal pictures—all popular genres of the day that have received little critical attention. He simultaneously analyzes film distribution and exhibition practices in order to reconstruct a context for understanding moviegoing at a time when American cities were coming to grips with new groups of immigrants and women working outside the home. Drawing from a wealth of research in archive prints, the trade press, fan magazines, newspaper advertising, reviews, and syndicated columns—the latter of which highlight the importance of the emerging star system—Abel sheds new light on the history of the film industry, on working-class and immigrant culture at the turn of the century, and on the process of imaging a national community.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. xv-xviii

Several institutions provided crucial support for the research and writing of this book. Generous funding came from a number of sources: a 2000–2001 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, a sabbatical leave from Drake University, a Faculty Research Grant from Drake University, ...

“L’Envoi of Moving Pictures” Motion Picture Story Magazine (June 1912)

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pp. 1-2

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pp. 3-10

This book can be read as a companion to The Red Rooster Scare: Making Cinema American, 1900–1910 (University of California Press, 1999), since it takes up some of the latter’s claims and arguments and extends them into the early 1910s. It argues, for instance, that the Americanization process—specifically, the concerns about constructing a distinctive American national identity— ...

“Signs of the Times,” Motion Picture Story Magazine (February 1912)

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pp. 11-12

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Chapter 1. American Variety and/or Foreign Features: The Throes of Film Distribution

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pp. 13-42

Imagine that you are a young woman who has decided to join one of your store clerk or stenographer friends going to the movies after work in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, in the spring of 1913. On Sunday, May 4, you read the Des Moines News and know what programs will be playing in at least four moving picture theaters that next week.1 ...

“The Power of a Nickel,” Motion Picture Story Magazine (March 1912)

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pp. 43-44

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Entr’acte 1. Mapping the Local Terrain of Exhibition

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pp. 45-58

In May 1911, the drama critic of the Cleveland Leader, William Sage, felt compelled to write a special column on “moving-picture theaters.”1 He not only acknowledged that “the public [was] talking about the picture-plays it sees just as it talks of the flesh-and-blood ones”—and a much “bigger section” of the public at that— ...

“My Picture Girl,” Motion Picture Story Magazine (June 1912)

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pp. 59-60

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Chapter 2. The “Usable Past” of Westerns: Cowboy, Cowboy Girl, and Indian Pictures, Part 1

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pp. 61-82

In April and May 1911, Motion Picture News ran a page titled “Film Charts” in which the Independent films released weekly in New York City were categorized into four “tracks.”1 Two of those, dramatic and comedy, had long been used by the new industry to broadly distinguish certain types of film product; a third, educational, was a more recent invention, ...

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“Bein’ Usher in a Motion Picture Show,” Motion Picture Story Magazine (June 1912)

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pp. 83-84

There’s lots o’ things I like to do; go swimming, shoot, and camp,And show the people to their seats, and boss the crowd in style,I’d learn more than I do at school of all such things, I know,Fred White, he says, when he’s growed up, he’ll be a millionaire. And Tom says his ambition is to fill the Pres’dent’s chair....

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Entr’acte 2. Moviegoing Habits and Everyday Life

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pp. 85-102

Certain practices first established by nickelodeons may have carried over into the early 1910s, even as moving picture theaters increased in size and status: lengthy hours of operation, relatively cheap admission costs, and more or less short variety programs that often changed daily. Yet new patterns of standardization and differentiation emerged to modify those practices ...

“The Motion Picture Cowboy,” Motion Picture Story Magazine (August 1912)

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pp. 103-104

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Chapter 3. The “Usable Past” of Westerns: Cowboy, Cowboy Girl, and Indian Pictures, Part 2

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pp. 105-124

It was during this period that American companies first realized that they could successfully export films to Europe—and westerns turned out to be their most popular product. Perhaps this should not have come as such a surprise, given the extent to which images of the American West had long been familiar to Europeans, ...

“In a Minor Chord,” Motion Picture News (25 November 1911)

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pp. 125-126

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Entr’acte 3. A “Forgotten” Part of the Program: Illustrated Songs

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pp. 127-138

Several years ago, in the pages of Cinema Journal, Ben Singer and Bobby Allen engaged in a spirited debate over the relationship between vaudeville and moving pictures during the transition from nickelodeons to larger moving picture theaters.1 Sometimes, “Singer and Allen” even sounded like “dueling cavaliers” in a knockabout music hall routine. ...

“A Dixie Mother,” Motion Picture Story Magazine (July 1911)

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pp. 139-140

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Chapter 4. The “Usable Past” of Civil War Films: The Years of the “Golden Jubilee”

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pp. 141-168

On 21 April 1911, most US newspapers carried stories commemorating the beginning of “America’s Great Civil War” fifty years earlier. The editorial page of the Des Moines News, for instance, not only gave its readers a fact sheet of statistics on the men and money involved in the war but also excerpted accounts of the bombardment of Fort Sumter: ...

“He’s Seen a Lot,” New York Morning Telegraph (8 September 1912)

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pp. 169-170

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Entr’acte 4. Another “Forgotten” Part of the Program: Nonfiction

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pp. 171-182

In the recreation surveys across the country in the early 1910s, children usually ranked comedies, westerns, and war films as their preferences among moving pictures. Yet they also often gave surprisingly high marks to nonfiction films, whether described as educational, instructive, scenic, or travel.1 ...

“The Maid of the Movies,” New York Morning Telegraph (14 December 1913)

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pp. 183-184

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Chapter 5. The “Usable Present” of Thrillers: From the Jungle to the City

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pp. 185-212

The words are Herbert Blaché’s, from a prominently displayed interview in the New York Dramatic Mirror (February 1913), and his positions—vice president of the Gaumont Company in the United States, president of Film Supply, and soon to be cofounder of Exclusive Supply—made it easy to assume that, in his words, ...

“The Photoplayers,” Photoplay Magazine (July 1913)

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pp. 213-214

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Entr’acte 5. Trash Twins: Newspapers and Moving Pictures

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pp. 215-228

The fictional young woman who introduced chapter 1 could have been imagined reading a newspaper and deciding where to go to the movies in any number of cities other than Des Moines in the spring of 1913. In Lynn, she could have been a shoe factory worker perusing the frequent ads in the Daily Item for four major downtown moving picture theaters ...

“The M. P. Girl,” New York Dramatic Mirror (12 June 1912)

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pp. 229-230

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Chapter 6. “The Power of Personality in Pictures”: Movie Stars and “Matinee Girls”

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pp. 231-256

In early 1913, moviegoers from Des Moines or St. Paul to Toledo, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh could have paused, reading their local Scripps-McRae newspaper, and looked more closely at a story signed by Gertrude Price and headlined “Stunning Mary Pickford.” The story would have heartened those who agreed that Pickford had “probably the largest following among feminine moving picture players,” ..


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pp. 257-350


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pp. 351-356


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pp. 357-373

E-ISBN-13: 9780520939523
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520247420

Page Count: 391
Publication Year: 2006