Friday, April 2, 2010

High Class pictures

I came across this newspaper advertisement just the other day, while going through some microfilm of the West Side Index, the local newspaper in Newman, California (a small town east of San Jose & west of Merced, in Stanislaus County). It, and the other advertisements depicted in this post, are typical of the material I dig up on a regular basis. They also help sketch the history of film exhibition in the region.

By my calculations, it was 82 years ago today that the Star Theater in Newman was showing a high class Paramount Picture "Not Yet Determined." Was it a  film starring Louise Brooks or some other Paramount actor? We'll never know. [Oops, the typesetter misspelled "A Hight Class."]

At this time, in March of 1928, the Star Theater - of which Gus Johnson was proprietor, was showing Paramount films. That wasn't always the case. In my research, I uncovered listings for six of Brooks films having shown in Newman at the Star. I found ads for The Street of Forgotten Men (1925), The American Venus (1926) - and then a gap - and then The City Gone Wild (1927), Now We're In the Air (1927), Beggars of Life (1928), and The Canary Murder Case (1929).

Why there was a gap in the exhibition of Brooks' films isn't known. However, I would guess from having scrolled through reels of microfilm that the theater started out tied to Paramount, shifted over to another studio or went independent, and then shifted back. Remember this was the time of block booking, when local theaters were allied to certain studios and were "obligated" to show most all of that studio's output - whether they wanted to or not. After The American Venus, which the Star screened in April of 1926, the theater seemed to drop Paramount films and instead screened a mix of motion pictures from studios like Universal or MGM. By early 1928, they had shifted back.

Here is another newspaper advertisement for the Star Theater, which dates from the beginning of Brooks' film career and from a time when the Star was allied to Paramount.
This ad dates from early September of 1925, and lists The Street of Forgotten Men as a coming attraction. It is typical of the dozens of "Paramount Week" ads I have collected from all over Northern California and from around the United States. (The Star eventually screened The Street of Forgotten Men in late October.)


Paramount had a stronghold in Northern California. And, as a matter of fact, hardly a week went by in 1926 and 1927 when one of Brooks' films wasn't showing somewhere in the Bay Area. (By my calculations, only 11 weeks passed when a Brooks film wasn't being shown during this 104 week period. That's kinda wow! The question arises: Was it because Brooks was so popular? The answer: Probably not. In all likelihood, Brooks Paramount films were shown as often as they were because her studio was so dominant in the region.)

Here is one last ad, for the Gustine Theater in nearby Gustine, California (just south of Newman). It was also found in the Newman newspaper and dates from March of 1937, near the end of Brooks' film career. 

What's interesting and even unusual about it is that it lists two Brooks' films, Empty Saddles (1936) and When You're in Love (1937) in one ad! I haven't found many instances of such overlap. 

As a matter of fact, and comparatively speaking, I don't have that many ads or listings for Empty Saddles. As a sort of B-Western, it didn't show all that much. Especially compared to When You're in Love, which was a major release from Columbia starring Grace Moore and Cary Grant. It was the most widely shown (in Northern California) of all of Brooks' films. It's too bad that Brooks herself is impossible to spot in it!

I did a search of www.cinematreasures.org for the Star Theater, but wasn't able to find an entry. Nor could I find anything on the Gustine Theater. I will search a little further.

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