Monday, March 22, 2010

Spin the carousel!


  1. Spin?

    Brooksie's Believe It ... or NOT!

    On her visits to Blessed Sacrament in Rochester, Louise Brooks would walk past the childhood home of fellow silent icon THĒDA BARA!

    .....A sidebar to "Screen Vamp Theda Bara Dies" (Rochester Times-Union, April 8, 1955) notes: "Two weeks ago" when Bara had fallen into a coma, "John Fenyvessy, 2220 Highland Ave., for many years a theaterman, revealed that Miss Bara had lived and attended school in Rochester during her girlhood.

    "Drawing on his file of stage and screen lore :-) Mr. Fenyvessy declared that for a couple of years around 1905, Theodosia Goodman's father was a clothing manufacturer [who] lived in Harvard street just west of Oxford street...."

    The 1905 city directory places a Bernard Goodman, of Goodman, Seelig & Co., clothes, at 168 Harvard, mid-block between Oxford and Goodman streets. The Church of the Blessed Sacrament (1912) is on/in Oxford, three minutes from Harvard as the Canary flies. (Stinkpot 107) With any of her three residences, Brooks would necessarily pass through the collegiate intersection. And she had two years of church-going from Goodman street to choose to walk along the 100 block of Harvard. (Doubtless the tree-lover eschewed side streets at times to admire the magnolias on the Oxford mall -- a median strip arrangement that impressed Kew Gardens's top arbor man as "unique" in 1910.)

    "He" John Fenyvessy "said that the future screen star attended the Free Academy (high school), now the Education Building in Fitzhugh street." Alas, the yearbook for 1905 (the school's last year, not incidentally, after 32 years' service) escapes me.

    The sidebar concludes, "Her Rochester connection does not appear in biographies on her life."

    Eve Golden's "Vamp", for examp. "Theda graduated from Walnut Hills" high school in her hometown of Cincinnati "in 1903 and enrolled in the University of Cincinnati. She spent two years attending classes, singing in the glee club and yearning for a stage career. Finally, in 1905, she dropped out and moved to New York [City], over her father's objections." At least Theda's father was Bernie Goodman -- of Ochs, Weihl & Goodman, tailors (since 1899).

    The biographer forgoes citations altogether and directs the curious to Lincoln Center, adding: "Film historians Kevin Brownlow and Robert Birchard helped to ensure that my facts were in order." I'll surmise Eve Golden knows her onions, not to mention apples. ... In 2007, Walnut Hills High made Theodosia Goodman (’03) an inaugural inductee in its Alumni Hall of Fame.

    The Rochester Public Library has a chunk of John Fenyvessy’s file of stage and screen lore: his descriptions of vaudeville acts in the second decade of the century, collected in one thick scrapbook; trade-journal reviews of movies in the thirties, in four others; his nine-page monograph about his Hungarian-American father ("Albert A. Fenyvessy had financial or family interest in over half of Rochester's theatres during the nineteen twenties and the nineteen thirties...."); and a pass to attend the first graduating exercises of the Free Academy to be held at "the palatial new Lyceum", in 1889, with firsthand information about its staging. All evince his inner historian; not a shred sheds light on Theda Bara.

    The draft registration card of John's brother Paul indicates that in May, 1917, he was a booker for Fox Film Corporation, which was Theda's thudio. Coincidence ... or what?


  2. I've seen a few newspaper accounts of Theda Bara's films in Rochester. None mentions a connection. PERHAPS, THEN, the closest she came to the Free Academy was the old National Theatre (1902), directly behind it (across School Alley); as, for instance, DuBarry had the distinction of being the main film feature when the house re-opened in February, 1918, this time as the Fay Theatre. (Albert Fenyvessy bought the Fay in '22.)

    During Brooks's heyday, three of the four Fenyvessy brothers were Rochester theater managers. (The exception was a motion picture operator, and aero-cinematography pioneer.) So was an Abbott, Harry, brother of Bud. But I digress. John Fenyvessy (1886-1972) managed Keith's Family Theater, a part of a "small time" vaudeville circuit. On July 9, 1928 (the day Adele Astaire (a former Keith's headliner) narrowly escaped death in a speedboat explosion), he presented the Rochester premiere of The Cherokee Strip (1925); a revival of ROLLED STOCKINGS (the only Brooks he booked); and some buffalo.

    (The Democrat and Chronicle told readers, "Rolled Stockings, with Laura La Plante, will be shown with the western to-day." Meanwhile, the usually reliable Strand Theater (a Fenyvessy operation that had had nine (9) of Brooks's silents) had Isle of Forgotten Women. ... The historic Cherokee Strip, settled in 1893, was as near as 25 miles from Cherryvale. The movie was made on a ranch about 60 miles south of Wichita.)

    Whether vamp or mere mortal: Walking from 168 Harvard street to the Free Academy (both structures still stand) takes one past the intersection of Court and Stone. "The world's first photographic film was manufactured on this site in March 1889", says a marker at the northwest corner today. "Patented by George Eastman ... flexible, transparent film was soon adopted by Thomas Edison for motion picture cameras...." Louise Brooks almost certainly passed by the spot on foot or by #17 bus; it's ninety yards from the Public Library, in the direction of home (via the nation's first indoor shopping mall, Mid-Town Plaza (1962)).

  3. Excellent, informative post! Thank you very much.


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