In 1916 a runaway express delivery horse had thrilled pedestrians with its charge in full flight up George Street – with the daring movie-like intervention of the police officer saving the day. As reported, the horse’s hoofbeats on the pavement sounded for all the world like the drumming of a musician in a silent-film movie orchestra.
Well over a decade later, on a winter’s day in late February 1929, it was not a runaway horse but a car and driver who provided another real-life movie-like incident. A man driving a car on George Street just south of the Canada Packers plant (where the Holiday Inn is today) found himself caught in “rather deep” ruts. When he “tried to manoeuvre his car out of them,” his front wheels locked and he and his car “careened” across the road, slamming through a Clarks Soups billboard. The car with the driver in it then took “a header over a bridge on to the ice of the creek beneath.” As an Examiner reporter put it, “in true movie style” the car got stuck in an upright position, back wheels on the side of the small bridge and “front wheels resting on the ice.”
The driver wasn’t injured, and his car was only slightly damaged. He “dazedly viewed the landscape from his perilous position for a few moments and then very carefully let himself down from his seat, which had become a perch.” A “wrecking crew” soon arrived and began work to set things right.
As the newspaper put it, people on George Street that day had once again witnessed “real movie thrills and spills.”
While the Royal, under its new management, continued to show a quick sense of opportunism, in general the theatres in town were doing everything they could to lure audiences out on a regular basis – to make sure the movie “habit,” once in place, could not be broken. The exhibitors followed the credo of industry mogul Marcus Loew (a founder of MGM): “We sell tickets to theaters, not to pictures.”
They used different strategies. In fall 1924 the Capitol attempted to lure “every Scotchman in Peterboro” to its show, which featured Stan Laurel in a “Scotch Comedy.” One day, with a teachers’ convention in town, the Capitol offered a “special program” for the attendees – hoping to persuade “over 100 school teachers” to take an evening off from the meetings and attend “in a mass.” The theatre promised to add “several additional reels of an educational nature” to its regular schedule, which included the feature The Side Show of Life; it reserved all of its “loge chairs” for the teachers.
If the Capitol had its Scotch draw, the Royal had its special Irish program accompanying a film starring Colleen Moore (who, it is said, personified the “flapper” of the 1920s). “Irish Picture Crowds the Royal,” said the ad for April Shower, adding, “Irish furnish fun” and playfully suggesting: “Crowded Last Night? Well, Rather!”
Later the Royal scheduled an “Irish night” for its regular Thursday evening amateur show: “Irish songs, jokes and novelties . . . the old favorites.” It wasn’t the film – My Man – that the theatre was pushing as much as the communal experience: “If you’re lonesome after 8 o’clock drop into the Royal – that’s where you’ll find your friends.” The evening also featured a surprise visit by J.B. Ernest Sigouin, a professional singer in town for a few days. “The amateurs were all pretty fair, with some of them extra good,” reported the paper, and the evening ended with a “community” sing-along of old favorites – “You could hear them from Brock Street to King Street.” When Western star Hoot Gibson came to town in Let’er Buck, the Royal ad proclaimed, pretty much as usual, “We honestly believe this is the greatest outdoor production ever made.”