In the early 1900s, people loved the theater, where they dressed up in their finest outfits and promenaded through Tremont and Washington Streets in Boston, showing off their newest garb. Movies, which were, of course, silents, also were popular pastimes, being shown in some of the movies palaces that still exist in many cities.
Silents weren’t what you might imagine. The live music from an orchestra in the pit depicted the excitement of the story, building to a crescendo and then directing the audience’s emotions to the nadir and then up again. Sometimes a sing-along was encouraged, keeping people engaged. Women were depicted in action roles, giving girls like my protagonist Miriam the courage to think of herself as capable of doing anything, not merely being under the thumb of the men in her life. Janis Johnson, wrote (HUMANITIES, January/February 2005 | Volume 26, Number 1): “the heroine is risking her life, showing amazing feats of physical strength and agility. And suffragists were fomenting change … to culminate in women’s getting the vote in 1920, a year shy of when Miriam could vote.
Keith’s Theater was one of the early “palaces” owned by BK (Benjamin Franklin) Keith, an entertainment mogul. This theater specialized in vaudeville, a family-style set of performances, where Keith was known to be a dictator about making certain his acts conform to a strict code of PG values. It offered continuous acts from morning to night, so guests could enter and leave at any time. His organization eventually became RKO Motion Pictures.
In my story Beguiled, Miriam’s mother was not fond of her husband’s introducing her beautiful daughter to the likes of vaudeville, but this was one of Miriam’s most beloved forms of entertainment with her Pop from the time she was 3 or 4. But these weekly excursions were surely instrumental in Miriam’s decisions as she entered her twenties.
Love to hear your comments. Are you a theater lover? What is your experience of being in the still existing movie palaces of 120 years ago?