December 4, 2010

"Wild Orgie Parties" (!!!)

Custom exhibitor slide from Sam Lustig Film Laboratory, Cleveland, Ohio (c. 1921)

Theater owners routinely created custom slides for purposes such as advertising, special promotions, and general announcements.  The slides could be ordered from large national vendors commissioned from smaller local manufacturers, or created in-house using one of the many Do It Yourself kits offered in the trade press (as discussed in DIY Coming Attractions). 

I recently came across an interesting locally manufactured slide which appears to have been commissioned as an exhibitor's response the infamous 1921 Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle scandal.  Readers of this column are likely familiar with this shameful episode in Hollywood history in which the innocent Arbuckle's career was destroyed by a self-rightous journalistic lynch mob led by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.  [For those of you unfamiliar with the details, I suggest Wanda Felix's nicely done online synopsis, or Andy Edmonds excellent book Frame-Up!: The Untold Story of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.]

Roscoe Arbuckle in happier times.  The Garage (1920)
Though Arbuckle's name is not specifically mentioned in this slide the reference is obvious.  Newspaper headlines from the period indignantly "exposed" Hollywood's scandalous immorality typified by drug use, drunkenness,  and sexual depravity.  The "wild orgie" (sic) that formed the centerpiece of the Arbuckle scandal became a national symbol of what was wrong with the movies and predictably led to calls for censorship and government oversight.

This slide was manufactured by a local concern, the Sam Lustig Film Laboratory in Cleveland Ohio, and though there is no indication of the venue in which it was presented, the slide was most likely created on behalf of a local Ohio exhibitor.  Apparently this theater owner felt that it was the scandal was present enough in his audience's mind that he needed to address it directly it with his five thousand dollar challenge.

Interestingly, the text of the slide can be interpreted in two ways.  One (admittedly unlikely) interpretation could be that the exhibitor was defiantly defending the attacks on Hollywood movies and daring anyone to produce proof against the performers featured in his programs.  Most probably though, he hoped that this patriotically colored red, white, and blue slide would reassure his customers that he was maintaining strict vigilance and taking all necessary steps to ensure that his screen will not be soiled with pictures featuring players of questionable morality.

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