Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Moving Pictures: Going to a Show in 1913 Naperville

Continuing our look at what Naperville was like one hundred years ago, here is a page from the City Council meeting minutes from March 17, 1913.

Asa Frank Stoner applied in March “to operate a moving picture show.” Stoner was a prominent citizen and a member of the Euclid Lodge, the local Masons chapter. He served in World War I and was also a member of the American Legion.

The early 1900’s was the “wild west” of cinema, before big corporations monopolized the industry. Anyone who could scrape together a little cash could open a nickelodeon theater in an existing storefront.
They would rent films from a distributor, patch them up if they were a little worse for wear, and run them maybe thirty times a day.

Folks would pay a nickel to watch about a half hour’s worth of entertainment — twenty minutes’ worth if the operator sped up the projector to squeeze more showings into an evening.
Moving pictures were considered “not quite nice” at first, but by 1913 they were well accepted. Men could bring their wives and children along to a nickelodeon, unlike a saloon.

In 1913, the Keystone Cops and Tom Mix cowboy movies were popular. Dialogue titles were not yet common so the silent film stars mimed their roles completely.

The earliest moving pictures were presented as one act of a vaudeville show and many of those traditions continued in movie theaters. Live piano music accompanied the films and the show might include sing-a-longs to filmed “illustrated songs.”

Traveling moving picture shows offered the same film every night for a week before heading to the next town, but Chicago was the biggest movie-going city in the entire nation. No doubt there were plenty of new titles available to watch on a regular basis at Mr. Stoner’s moving picture show.

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