Main Street Amusements: Movies and Commercial Entertainment in a Southern City, 1896-1930

Gregory A. Waller, Author
Gregory A. Waller, Author Smithsonian Books $49 (342p) ISBN 978-1-56098-504-4
Reviewed on: 04/03/1995
Release date: 04/01/1995
Paperback - 342 pages - 978-1-56098-547-1
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Motion pictures premiered in Lexington, Ky., at the end of 1896 with the usual fare of a short film of a street scene or a beach following a live melodrama. From these modest beginnings, Univ. of Kentucky film scholar Waller follows the development of movie and vaudeville theaters in the area up to the early sound era. The small city supported an impressive number of venues for stage and screen, along with skating rinks and park concerts. There was enough interest in the arts among both black and white Lexington residents to fully subscribe two or three annual productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin until after the turn of the century. Main Street Amusements traces what played where and how the business of fun developed, but what is missing is the why. Why did the public's taste change from live melodrama to canned celluloid? Why did the roller-skating fad end? Why did so many of Lexington's elaborate state-of-the-art theaters have such short lives? The most interesting element of the story is how African Americans sought their amusements under the restrictions of Jim Crow. Some theater owners courted them by touting the comfort and cleanliness of their ``colored'' sections, while others claimed a more refined atmosphere by banning African Americans altogether. Waller's recounting of the rise in the number of black-owned theaters, all booked with African American vaudeville acts or showing movies starring African Americans, gives Main Street Amusements a much-needed human element. Photos. (June)
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