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Question and Answers page 5.

Glenn Ford.

Welcome to page 5 of the "Questions & Answers" section. Please feel free to submit any question you have concerning the first 70 years of the motion picture industry, and we will do our best to find the answer. Your comments concerning our answers are also welcome.

Ask The Picture Show Man a question by clicking on the following address:

InfoDesk@pictureshowman.com

NOTE: We will try to email an answer to every question concerning the history of motion pictures from 1890 to 1960 that we receive, and if we decide that the question is of general interest we will also publish the answer in this section. However, we will not answer questions that we suspect are actually school assignments, classroom quizzes, or part of a trivia contest.




 

Q & A
INDEX TO PAGE 5
#21
#22
#23
#24


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Q #21: Dear Picture Show Man:

When was Hollywood's "Classic Era"?

Bringing Up Baby.A: Although the term "classic" is sometimes applied to films made during one of the early decades of Hollywood's history, such as the 1920s or 1930s, there was no actual"classic era". There are indeed films that we call "classic", but the term is customarily applied to specific movies and refers to the fact that either they are fine examples or typical of a given genre (e.g. "Bringing Up Baby" is a classic screwball comedy); or they are famous, innovative, or considered to be superbly made (e.g. "Citizen Kane" is now considered a Hollywood Classic).

We commonly use the term "classic music" for music that emphasized formal composition and performance in the European tradition of the period between 1750 and 1830, and the term "classic architecture" for buildings that use architectural elements found in the structures built by the ancient Greeks and Romans. But there is no comparable "classic era" for motion pictures.

There was, however, an era often referred to as Hollywood's "Golden Age". This was a period when the basic techniques of how a movie told a story (the language of film) had been finally codified and formalized, and the studio–system, which had been established and organized to turn out movies like a factory, dominated Hollywood movie production. (The major Hollywood studios became so efficient during this period that each of the top five often released a new feature film every week.) This "Golden Age" ran roughly from the late 1920s (around the time when the new"talkies" sounded the death knell for the silent–film era) to the early 1950s (when the studios were forced to sell off their lucrative theater chains). Although some historians would quibble about what the exact dates were, the period between 1930 and 1950 is generally what is meant when referring to Hollywood's "Golden Age".

The term "classic", like the terms "masterpiece", "genius", "greatest" and "work of art", are so misused and over–used in the motion picture industry that they have become meaningless. When referring to "old movies" (which we consider to be any film made before 1960), we prefer to use the term "vintage movie " rather than "classic movie ". Whereas a classic movie implies greatness, a vintage movie might be good, bad, or indifferent,. But for each vintage movie, even the worst, we know that there will always be someone who will find it to be enormously entertaining.

 


Q #22: Dear Picture Show Man:

What is a "Movie Mogul", and why is that term used?

A: A "mogul", according to the dictionary, is 'an important, powerful, or dominant person; an autocrat'. The spelling "mogul" is a variation of "Mongol" or "Mughal", a member of the Mogul dynasty that ruled an empire covering a large part of the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to the 19th centuries. By the 19th century the term "Great (or Grand) Mogul" was often used by Europeans when referring to the Emperor of Delhi, the ruler of what remained of the Mongol Empire. However, as far back as the late 17th century the term was being used in England to indicate any important person. (In 1680, for instance, Dryden referred to Mr. Limberham as "the mogol of the next mansion".)

Between 1910 and 1915 the words "movie" and "movies" began to be used colloquially, slowly replacing the more seemingly dignified terms "motion pictures", "moving pictures", "picture show", and "photoplay" . By 1916 there is a printed reference using the term "movie mogul" for the first time (in this case referring to a successful Midwest motion picture exhibitor). During the 1920s "movie mogul", along with "movie king" and "movie magnate", was being used regularly by the media to describe any important movie producer, and by the end of the 1930s the head of each major motion picture studio was commonly referred to as a "movie mogul" or "film mogul".

Louis B Mayer 1943.

Although "movie mogul"and "film mogul" are now loosely applied to just about anyone who has made more than two or three movies, from the late 1920s to the late 1940s it was usually limited to only the most powerful producers. These included the heads of the "Big Five" studios (M–G–M, Warner Bros., Paramount, RKO, and 20th Century–Fox), the heads of the "Little Three" studios (Universal, Columbia, and United Artists), and the two most important independent producers, Samuel Goldwyn and David O. Selznick.

But, throughout much of the 1930s and 1940s, it was the leaders of the "Big Five" studios who were the ones in possession of the absolute power and financial resources necessary to make them unquestioned rulers of their movie empires, to make them true "moguls". The most legendary of these moguls were Louis B. Mayer at M–G–M, Jack Warner at Warner Bros., Adolph Zukor at Paramount, and Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century–Fox. These men were paternalistic autocrats who exercised complete control over the careers and even the lives of the people who worked in their studios, especially the stars. They also possessed the intuitive insight to usually know what stories and personalities the public wanted to see, and the uncontested authority to follow through on their intuitions. These, and a few others, were the flawed geniuses who presided over what we've come to know as Hollywood's "Golden Age". While they might not have been the first or the last, these were without doubt the most prominent, influential and, perhaps, even the greatest of Hollywood's "movie moguls"!


Q #23: Dear Picture Show Man:

Which movie theater was the world's largest?

A: On March 11, 1927, the Roxy Theatre opened at 761 Seventh Avenue in New York City. Named after its creator, the film exhibitor Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel, and designed by the Chicago architect, Walter W. Ahlschlager, the Roxy was the largest and arguably the most elaborate movie palace ever built.

This self–proclaimed "Cathedral of the Motion Picture" had 5,886 seats*, employed a staff of 300 (including 16 projectionists, 110 musicians, and 2 trained nurses), and cost $12 million to build. The theater contained a complete hospital with an operating room, a 550–ton ice–cooling plant, and its own radio broadcasting studio. Sensors in each seat were wired to a centrally located wall chart of the theater's seating plan. By observing which lights were on or off on this wall chart, the ushers could quickly see which seats were not occupied. Among many other "firsts", this was the first movie theater to use a rear–projection system developed by the Trans–Lux Daylight Picture Screen Corporation.

The Roxy Theatre 1927.

A typical two–hour program at the Roxy, which originally changed every week, would begin with an elaborate live ballet on the Roxy's large stage followed by a news reel. The news reel, in turn, was followed by a talented chorus that would perform either an original composition, popular songs, or a classical arrangement. When this ended, three shafts of rose–colored light would illuminate three massive organ consoles as they rose from the orchestra pit. The three organists would entertain the audience, take their bows, and then play a parting tune as their consoles sank slowly below the rail. The 110–piece symphony orchestra, which had been accompanying the live entertaiment, would finish with one or more classical pieces. Then the feature film would be shown, and if it was a silent picture the orchestra would provide appropriate background music.

The Roxy Theatre interior 1927.It is claimed that 50 million people visited the theater in its first 12 years of operation. A cartoon, published shortly after the Roxy opened, shows a young child and his mother standing in the theater's huge lobby. Overcome with awe, the child asks, "Does God live here?"

The Roxy closed on March 29, 1960.

* Some sources indicate the Roxy had as many as 6,214 seats. Our source for the number 5,886 is the book "Theaters", by Craig Morrison (2006), a volume in the "Norton/Library of Congress Visual Sourcebooks in Architecture, Design & Engineering" series. (The number 6,214 may have been the number of seats available on the Roxy's opening night when it is possible that extra seats had been set up to accommodate the crowd. Please contact us if you have further information about the actual number of seats.)


Q #24: Dear Picture Show Man:

How many movie actors have played Raymond Chandler's fictional detective Philip Marlowe?

'You're Marlowe?'
I nodded.
'I'm a little disappointed,' he said, 'I rather expected something with dirty finger nails.'
'Come inside,' I said, 'and you can be witty sitting down.'
                                         (The High Window, 1942)

A: Raymond Chandler introduced his now famous detective, Philip Marlowe, in his very first novel "The Big Sleep" (1939) . Marlowe was a smart, tough, hard–boiled private eye with a romantic streak who worked in Los Angeles. By the time Chandler died in 1959 he had written seven Marlowe novels that had sold 5 million copies, and they have since been published in 25 languages. In the late 1940s the renowned British author Evelyn Waugh described Chandler as "the greatest living American novelist."

Although Chandler always insisted that Cary Grant was his first choice to play Marlowe in the movies, it's Humphrey Bogart who is usually associated with the character despite the fact that Bogart only played him once. This is probably because the Marlowe character is so similar to other parts Bogart played, such as Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon", Rick Blaine in "Casablanca", and Harry Morgan in "To Have and Have Not".

Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep.

The Marlowe novels have produced a number of movies, tremendously influenced subsequent detective stories and screenplays, and inspired both television series and TV movies. Below is a list of the seven actors who have played Philip Marlowe in theatrically released, feature–length movies that were based on one of Chandler's novels:

Dick Powell, ("Farewell My Lovely", 1944 – aka: "Murder My Sweet" )
Humphrey Bogart, ("The Big Sleep", 1946)

Robert Montgomery, ("Lady in the Lake", 1946)
George Montgomery, ("The Brasher Doubloon", 1947)
James Garner, ("Marlowe", 1969)
Elliott Gould, ("The Long Goodbye", 1973)
Robert Mitchum, ("Farewell, My Lovely", 1975; "The Big Sleep", 1977)


 

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