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Albert Maywood Courtright II

Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

Entertainment and Culture

Each winter, the Church of Christ, the Presbyterians and sometimes the Methodists put on a series of "lectures" to raise money for the Women's Aid Societies. That was the only culture the citizens of the community were exposed to. I think the arrangement was to sell what were called "family tickets" which permitted the whole family to be admitted on one ticket. There were one or two lectures, musical numbers such as the Swiss Bell Ringers or a man who made music with such things as drinking glasses by rubbing the edges with a wet finger, a chalk talk artist - he drew pictures with colored chalk on large sheets of newsprint paper. I remember vividly a science lecture in which the lecturer performed many demonstrations in physics and chemistry. For example, he made a small amout of hydrogen, caught it in a rubber balloon, then exploded it in the air with a gas lamp lighter. He also demonstrated X-rays by showing us the bones in his hand. He must have known how dangerous it was but perhaps he didn't. X-rays were still new. The bell ringers were always popular. A group of about a dozen people stood behind a long table on which were placed more than hundred bells of all sizes, the large ones, which gave out deep tones, at one and the small ones for the high notes, at the other. Each player had only certain bells to ring and they had to be exactly coordinated to sound them at the right time. Some of the tunes they played were pretty lively and those at the treble end did a lot of scrambling to pick up bells, sound them, then drop them to pick up another.

Occasionally a traveling stock company came to town to present a play at the "opera house." I can remember being taken to see Uncle Tom's Cabin when I was about eight years old. All I remember of it was Uncle Tom being fastened to a post and Simon Legree beating him with a long, black snake whip. Uncle Tom's Cabin was considered a classic which is why I got to see it but most of the plays were farces or comedies of little literary value. I didn't see many of them. Sometimes one of the lodges or clubs, or maybe a church group would hire an outside director to put on a home talent show, nearly always a variety show, as it didn't need so many full rehearsals. I still remember a few of the worlds to a song that Dr. Musgrave sang in one of those shows and I wish I knew the rest of it. He was dressed in white pants and shoes as he sang

"My Irene is the Village Queen,
She's the queen of the Village Green…

Everybody in the street gets a tickle in their feet
When she plays on her Accordeen"

That's the only thing I remember of the show. I presume I was allowed to see it because some worthy organization was selling tickets. The theater, dancing and playing cards were three of the things considered wicked by members of our church, but that changed by 1914.

My mother was a member of the Ladies Aid Society whose main function was to raise money for missions and to help the church finances. The members met in different homes in turn for quilting parties, the quilts being auctioned off at bazaars or bought by the ladies. I often came home from school to find a group of women cutting out pieces from old clothes and sewing them into a quilt stretched out over the backs of our dining room chairs on a quilting frame. We children managed to snitch a few cookies before we were chased outdoors.

The aid society also raised money by having what were called "Dutch Suppers" in the basement of the church. The ladies worked all afternoon on the day of the dinner, either in the church kitchen or in their own kitchen at home, preparing various dishes which were then set out on a long table where the diner could help himself. The idea of a self-serve restaurant had not yet arrived so it was a novel experience to walk along the tables and help yourself to so many mouth-watering things. I don't know why the event was called a Dutch Supper but I connected it with the world Schmier Kase (pronounced "smearcase") (cottage cheese) which was always one of the dishes. The Presbyterians and Methodists also put on dinners and ice cream socials, the latter taking place on the church lawn during the summer.

The first movies, Moving Picture Shows we called them, were pretty crude. There was only one projection machine so if the show consisted of more than one reel, a hand lettered slide would be projected onto the screen reading, "One moment please while the operator changes reels." A popular feature during the interval between reels was the showing of a series of colored slides (hand colored of course as it was many years before color film was developed) and the words of a popular song of the day which the audience sang accompanied by the show's pianist who sat near the screen and played music appropriate to the action taking place. We did a lot more group singing then than is done today. Not much care was taken in filming to see that all the props were in their proper place. You could frequently see over the top of the painted scenery something that didn't belong in the picture or a chair suddenly shift its position. The action, being all pantomime, was greatly exaggerated. That was suitable for a farce but not for a serious play or a tragedy.

The first movie I ever saw was religious, the Passion Play, which was shown in an empty store fitted with folding chairs from the churches. It didn't make much of an impression on me. Our whole family was there along with other people from our church. It was several years after that before the first regular "picture show" was established as a regular feature and the store building arranged with a projection booth, screen and theater seats. It must have been between 1905 and 1910. The price of entry was five cents so they were also known as nickel shows. While I was working at the grocery, Mr. Moore, the owner, in partnership with his son, had a special building erected on West Perry Street with a glassed-in ticket booth, lobby, sloped seating, etc. and the cinema began to take on its present appearance. The films became better too tho the Moore's generally had a Vaudeville act which was presented between shows. Jack Bunny was the first movie comedian whose name became a household word, long before Charlie Chaplin became famous. To keep patrons coming back, the last reel shown was a serial which always ended at an exciting moment, such as the heroine about to be run over by a train. You had to return the next week to see if she survived. "The Perils of Pauline" was the title of a popular one.

The colored song slides were dropped by the 1920s but the news reels remained popular until T.V. came in to make them obsolete. Movie houses in the large cities became more and more elaborate and gaudy until they became known as movie palaces. Most of the big ones installed monster pipe organs which would rise up out of the orchestra pit on hydraulic jacks, player and all, spotlighted under colored lights, to play a popular hit between features. There was an impressive array of keyboards and stops but the only sound a theater organ ever emitted was the wavering vox humana, a little of which goes a long way in my opinion. When we visited Aunt Ruth and Uncle Charlie in Chicago, we never failed to visit the Tivoli Theater on 63rd St. The apex of movie theaters was probably the Roxy in New York with its chorus line of precision dancing girls and symphony orchestra. I sometimes went there for relaxation while I was studying at Columbia. The price of admission was considerably more than a nickel by that time, in the 1930s.

There were two types of phonograph, one like the Victor using a flat disk to record the sounds. The other, like the Edison, followed Edison's original design and recorded on a cylinder. The hollow cylinders were not so convenient to store and the Edison soon became obsolete. Both types of machine were propelled by a spring which had to be wound by a crank before you put the record on. By the time I finished high school tho, the power was supplied by a small motor.

The quality of the sound on the old 78 rpm records was pretty bad, the bass hardly came out at all and everything had a tinny quality. Nearly everyone with a phonograph had a recording of a popular Italian song, "O solo mio," sung by Enrico Caruso, the most famous opera star of the Metropolitan Opera. Madame Schuman-Heink was also a favorite. Most record buyers, however, purchased recordings of Sousa's band and comic recitations. When I visited Reuben Gipe in Grover Hill, I spent hours listening to band marches by Sousa, marches which are still played by marching bands, like "The Stars and Stripes Forever" and "El Capitan." The Sextette from Lucia, by Donizetti and Verdi's Anvil Chorus were considered the ultimate highbrow music and only a few of the "upper crust," people who had gone to college, possessed records of opera music. I doubt that I knew that such a thing as symphony music existed while I lived in Paulding. The second year I was in Ft. Wayne as an apprentice electrical tester at G.E., I was sent for a few weeks to the small motor lab to test phonograph motors. There was a soundproof room where I could go to check the speed, voltage and current of different motors the engineers were trying to improve. I played one record over and over, "The Merry Wives of Windsor." I fell in love with the tone quality of the oboe. I would even slip away from other work I was doing to go in and listen to the oboe solos in the overture.

After I began to save a little money, I would spend it for recordings of symphony music to play on my landlady's Victor phonograph. I was in ecstasy when I first heard Tchaikovsky's fourth and fifth. Neither the Nobles, where I lived, nor my roommate could understand what I was excited about. They liked church music. The trouble with the old 78 rpm records was that they couldn't record even one movement of a symphony on a single record and you had to stop the machine and turn over the record, even in the middle of a phrase. It took eight to ten records to contain a whole symphony. The stylus was merely a steel needle which wore out rather fast and caused all sorts of scratching noises. The invention of the record changer about 1918 made it possible to stack the discs in order but then you couldn't buy them one at a time as I had been doing; the last half of the first movement would be on the second record, not on the opposite side. Recording on magnetic tape and wire didn't come until the second world war and the 33-1/3 rpm recording and diamond stylus was developed and came on the market about the same time.

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Last modified on 20 March 2017 @ 22:44