Movies and Music at the Crystal Theatre, 1910

Outside the Crystal Theatre, 408 George St. N., February 1910. Roy Studio photo. Peterborough Museum and Archives.

 

“Another characteristic of the nickelodeon was advertising in the form of live entertainment staged outside . . .”

         – Charlotte Herzog, “The Movie Palace and Its Architectural Style,” in Exhibition: The Film Reader, ed. Ina Rae Hark, 2002.

 

Introducing the Shepperley Sisters, said to be "one of the daintiest musical acts on the vaudeville stage today."

The Shepperley Sisters appeared at the Crystal on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, afternoon and evenings, Feb. 7th to 9th, 1910, shortly after appearing at Massey Hall, Toronto. The Evening Examiner described them as “a treat that will appeal to the music lovers of Peterborough.” It appears that a Mr. G. Melville was also doing a song. (Perhaps he is the man to the left of the photo.)

The sisters, “expert musicians,” were living in Toronto at this point, but by July 1911 had moved to New York. With Mabel Shepperley as cornet soloist, their act was described as “high-class solos and duets on cornet, violin, violoncello, Spanish mandolin and banjoes, Japanese one-string fiddles and bugles. . . . These two young ladies are hardly old enough to have left school, and have been before the public for the last seven years, first appearing at the Islington Empire, London, England . . .  later their parents moved to Canada where they had a successful run of forty-two weeks before coming to the United States.”

A week earlier an Examiner article had announced the act with a statement from "Mr. [Wallace] Edwards.” Admission was five cents in the afternoons and ten cents in the evenings.

  Evening Examiner , Jan. 31, 1910, p.1.

Evening Examiner, Jan. 31, 1910, p.1.

The last entry I found for the sisters act was in the New York Clipper, Jan. 11, 1913, p.23, when they were appearing in Washington. 

*****

The motion pictures: the day's films are listed, in handwriting, on a notice board at the front of the theatre. In 1910 the films tended to be short and were frequently changed to keep people coming back. It was a time when an exhibitor tried to present, each day, as historian Eileen Bowser puts it, "a regular diet consisting of a Western, a drama, and a comedy." The Crystal's program followed this pattern perfectly.

You can see that the silent films that day – all "high class" (and with musical accompaniment) – were The Ranch-Man’s Daughter, a Western, The Course of True Love, a comedy, and The Son of the Wilderness, a drama. All of them were new releases, and the reels had probably been delivered by the morning train.

The top attraction listed is The Ranch-Man's Daughter – although no motion picture of that name was produced around that time (a film with that title did appear in 1911).

The film in question was most likely The Ranch King's Daughter, released Jan. 20, 1910 (Selig Polyscope Co.), 700 ft. or about 11 or 12 minutes long.

Many short motion pictures of that time featured a character referred to as “a ranchman’s daughter.” The plots, as in this case, tended to follow a quite typical, "canonical" pattern. Here the ranchman's daughter is being courted by two men, the upright foreman of the ranch and, unbeknownst to her, the leader of a gang of rustlers. When she chooses the foreman, the bad guy, not surprisingly, gets quite upset and for some reason carries her off to an Indian reservation. According to one account, "Several genuine Oklahoma Indians appeared in atmospheric roles."

It was a film with great educational value – or at least that was the viewpoint posited in the trade journal Moving Picture World – and especially so, the piece said, for youth who might be unfamiliar with the history of the American West: "Here is a love story, with jealousy as the influence which causes the disappointed lover to seize the girl and carry her away to an Indian stockade, a thrilling rescue, with a running fight and finally safe arrival home. . . .

"Such pictures seem rough, yet they unquestionably depict actual life as it used to be on the plains and in them these phases of life live, to be reproduced for the benefit of generations yet to come who will know nothing about it excepting what they learn from books, or see in pictures like this."

The second film shown that day also sported a popular title of the era. At least two other films of the time carried the name The Course of True Love. This one was released by the Biograph Company the very same week that it appeared at the Crystal.

In about 15 minutes the story covered the mishap of a "poor little flower girl" – "a pathetic figure" – who rather innocently causes a misunderstanding between two lovers. Eventually the lovers make up their differences and presumably live happily ever after.

Finally, The Son of the Wilderness (“Il figlio delle selve”) came, like many films of the time, from Italy. Silent films faced no language barriers. Son of the Wilderness was produced by the Società Anonima Ambrosio studio in Turin (makers of the huge success Last Days of Pompeii, 1908), and had been released in the United States on January 15, 1910. About 15 minutes long, it was one of 140 films produced that year by the Italian company. Its story, set in Marseilles during a period in which that city was "inhabited by Greek colonies," told of the "sacrifice of a young girl to save her aged father from a band of pillagers."

The program that day might even have had one more film. The Ranch King's Daughter was usually distributed on a "split reel" – so-called because two separate films were placed on the same reel. The other film on the split reel was a comedy short, An Afternoon Off (300 ft., or three or four minutes; released Jan. 24, 1910, Selig Polyscope).

Sources for the Shepperley Sisters: “Grand Music,” Evening Examiner, Feb. 1, 1910, p.1;  “Representative Artists,” Variety, July 1910, p.25; see also “The Shepperley Sisters,” Moving Picture News, May 6, 1911, p.22; New York Clipper, Jan. 11, 1913, p.23 (when they were appearing in Washington).

Sources for the films: Moving Picture World, ads, listings, and articles, Aug. 7, 1909; Jan. 15, Jan. 29, Feb. 12, Feb. 19, 1910; May 6, 1911; Nov. 25, 1911; Charlie Keil, Early American Cinema in Transition: Story, Style, and Filmmaking, 1907-1913 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001), p.54; American Film Institute website; allmovie.com.

Robert Clarke