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). The posters across the top, above the doors, cover the original “Royal” marquee — you get a tiny glimpse of it in the cracks.

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.

The photo was probably taken on a Saturday, because a small notice to the left of the right-hand door indicates that a “special matinee” was being offered for five cents admission and the show was “now on.” The Royal had just recently introduced five-cent matinees for children on Saturday afternoons.

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 “3 latest comedies” advertised in the Examiner ads around that time.

Despite the theatre’s gaudy street display, a couple of weeks earlier (Feb. 2) — in offering a screening of the British war picture Battle of the Somme along with a two-reel episode of The Girl from Frisco “and a specially selected Comedy” — the management was proclaiming: “This is the best show ever shown on a Peterboro screen. Money cheerfully refunded to any patron not satisfied. Everyone knows how long the Royal has been in business and that we never bluff. We give what we advertise.”

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.

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.

Robert Clarke