by Rita Hanle
In a recent conversation, Herb Scherer shared a publication of Marquee, a quarterly publication of the Theatre Historical Society of America. Authors and contributors are members of this organization, and because of their interest in historic theatre, each edition is a specially curated trip through theatre history. Herb is showcased in the first quarter 2016 edition with two articles: “A Look into American Newsreel Theatres” and “Interview with Washington D.C.’s Trans-Lux Newsreel Theatre Manager Ray Gingell.”
In today’s news world, there are many sources to keep up with what is happening around the world. Think back to the early twentieth century when radio was the main source of news, but since the dawn of civilization, humans have told stories with pictures. When sound was perfected, the movies were equipped to see and hear news happen. The newsreel came into its own with newsreel theaters becoming very popular in the 30s. At that time, individuals went to the theater on a regular basis to see more or less whatever was playing. Three chains of newsreel theaters emerged: Newsreel Theaters, Inc., Telenews, and Trans-Lux, which became the most successful venue. For a cost of about twenty-five cents, one could view a continuous forty-five minute showing of newsreels and a single feature of an interesting topic of the day. Trans-Lux Theaters were located in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.
According to Herb, the decline in theater attendance started with the legalizing of the cocktail lounge, which drew large numbers of people who enjoyed a few drinks and listened to an entertainer. Baseball games were held in the daytime and large numbers of fans attended them. Herb stated that people don’t go to the movies as they used to, because there many more opportunities to be entertained. Most movie attenders today want to attend a “hit.” Years ago there wasn’t the competition for the entertainment dollar that there is today.
Check out the Theatre Historical Society of American online at historictheatres.org.