Newsboys outside the Royal Theatre, 1917

Roy Studio, Peterborough Museum and Archives.

Roy Studio, Peterborough Museum and Archives.

The Royal Theatre, 344–348 George Street, early February 1917, with newsboys gathered outside the doors, forming footprints in the light snow. You can see a thin layer of snow on the horizontal ledge above the entrance. 

The now-tawdry theatre façade with its plastering of posters had lost a good deal of its original lustre over the years (the theatre had been opened in December 1908). Less than a year after this photo was taken a fire swept through most of the block and devastated the theatre and other nearby buildings. The Royal was rebuilt and took on quite a different appearance. 

The theatre at this point suffered from what a 1910 writer, F.H. Richardson, called “Posteritis” – “a garish, poster-plastered, cheap-looking, tawdry get-up” that was apparently all too common in the 1910s.

The array of different silent films advertised on posters outside the theatre is typical of the time. People would walk by, find out what was playing, and go in and out at any time to see the “continuous program.” The signs still say “Vaudeville,” but little vaudeville was being featured at that time. 

Pay Dirt (U.S., General Film Co., released June 18, 1916), starring (and directed by) Henry King, with Marguerite Nichols, played at the Royal on Feb. 9 and 8, 1917, along with episodes of the 25-part serial The Girl from Frisco, starring Marin Sais, and “three latest comedies.” 

The Mystery of the Brass Bound Chest (U.S., Kalem, Nov. 15, 1916) and The Fight for Paradise Valley (Kalem, Nov. 22, 1916) were episodes no. 15 and 16 of the serial, which began playing weekly at the Royal on Friday, Nov. 10, 1916 and lasted well into spring 1917. 

The other small posters in the middle of the photo, including Wrong Beds (U.S., Vitagraph, July 10, 1916) and Otto’s Legacy (U.S., Lubin, June 19, 1916), featuring Davy Don, probably referred to two of the three comedy shorts that were listed for that day in an Examiner ad. 

The theatre was showing immensely popular Chaplin shorts regularly. Note the statements out front – towards the left, “Exclusive new Chaplins at the Royal Only. Watch for dates,” and towards the right, “Today Special Pictures . . . War Prices.” Owner Mike Pappas had used the line about “War Prices” as early as March 1916. He had announced an “exclusive” Chaplin arrangement with Essanay as early as October 1915.

Robert Clarke