American Showman

American Showman: Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel and the Birth of the Entertainment Industry, 1908-1935

ROSS MELNICK
Copyright Date: 2012
DOI: 10.7312/meln15904
Pages: 576
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/meln15904
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  • Book Info
    American Showman
    Book Description:

    Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel (1882--1936) built an influential and prolific career as film exhibitor, stage producer, radio broadcaster, musical arranger, theater manager, war propagandist, and international celebrity. He helped engineer the integration of film, music, and live performance in silent film exhibition; scored early Fox Movietone films such as Sunrise (1927); pioneered the convergence of film, broadcasting, and music publishing and recording in the 1920s; and helped movies and moviegoing become the dominant form of mass entertainment between the world wars.

    The first book devoted to Rothafel's multifaceted career, American Showman examines his role as the key purveyor of a new film exhibition aesthetic that appropriated legitimate theater, opera, ballet, and classical music to attract multi-class audiences. Roxy scored motion pictures, produced enormous stage shows, managed many of New York's most important movie houses, directed and/or edited propaganda films for the American war effort, produced short and feature-length films, exhibited foreign, documentary, independent, and avant-garde motion pictures, and expanded the conception of mainstream, commercial cinema. He was also one of the chief creators of the radio variety program, pioneering radio broadcasting, promotions, and tours.

    The producers and promoters of distinct themes and styles, showmen like Roxy profoundly remade the moviegoing experience, turning the deluxe motion picture theater into a venue for exhibiting and producing live and recorded entertainment. Roxy's interest in media convergence also reflects a larger moment in which the entertainment industry began to create brands and franchises, exploit them through content release "events," and give rise to feature films, soundtracks, broadcasts, live performances, and related consumer products. Regularly cited as one of the twelve most important figures in the film and radio industries, Roxy was instrumental to the development of film exhibition and commercial broadcasting, musical accompaniment, and a new, convergent entertainment industry.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50425-6
    Subjects: Film Studies, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-24)

    Film historiography has often focused on production, stardom, and/or the intricate operations of the studio system—much of it to the exclusion of motion picture distribution and exhibition. American Showman analyzes the career of a single film exhibitor and radio broadcaster, Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel (1882–1936), between the years 1908 and 1935, in order to illuminate the work of a silent era “showman,” the complex operations of an urban movie palace, and the multiple and interrelated venues created for film, music, and live performance on stage, on screen, and over the air. Whereas the film industry could debate which...

  6. PART ONE. ROXY AND SILENT FILM EXHIBITION
    • 1. A NEW ART FOR A NEW ART FORM ROXY AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF MOTION PICTURE EXHIBITION (1908–1913)
      (pp. 27-80)

      The concept of a showman, in contrast to a movie theater manager, is not only lost on contemporary multiplex audiences but has also been scarcely analyzed by cultural and media historians. Nearly 120 years after the first public exhibition of motion pictures, there have been fewer than a dozen books published in the United States about individual film exhibitors. Ben Hall’s The Best Remaining Seats (1961), Carrie Balaban’s account of her father, Chicago exhibitor A. J. Balaban (Continuous Performance, 1964), Charles Beardsley’s survey of Sid Grauman’s career (Hollywood’s Master Showman, 1983), and Charles Musser’s examination of itinerant exhibitor Lyman Howe...

    • 2. BROADWAY MELODY ROXY AND THE DELUXE THEATER MOVEMENT (1913–1917)
      (pp. 81-140)

      The period between 1908 and 1913, the first half of what some film historians have dubbed the “Transitional Era” (1908–1917), was a period of gradual but profound change in the motion picture industry, from film exhibition’s transition from nickelodeons like the Family Theatre to deluxe theaters like the Lyric in Minneapolis, to developmental changes in narrative filmmaking and the importation and production of new multi–reel, feature–length films.¹ These films, often based on literary or stage classics, lured in middle- and upper–class audiences who were attracted to the opulent settings and mixed entertainment offerings at deluxe theaters...

    • 3. THE MOVIE HOUSE AS RECRUITING CENTER ROXY, WORLD WAR I DOCUMENTARIES, AND THE ENGINEERING OF CONSENT (1917–1918)
      (pp. 141-170)

      The United States’ entrance into World War I on April 6, 1917, would have far–reaching effects on the film industry and on the consecration of the movie house as a community (and propaganda) center. When the “Great War” began, there was little cooperation between Washington and the commercial film industry, still largely based in New York. However, by the end of the war, one figure above all others—Roxy—would begin to link these two disparate centers in a tenuous but inextricable partnership that has remained ever since. His work producing and exhibiting propaganda films during World War I...

    • 4. “THE MAN WHO GAVE THE MOVIES A COLLEGE EDUCATION” ROXY, RAPEE, AND MOTION PICTURES AT THE CAPITOL THEATRE (1919–1922)
      (pp. 171-204)

      Roxy’s propaganda work during World War I, in which he directed, edited, consulted, scored, and/or exhibited a wide range of war–themed fiction and nonfiction films, and produced related stage shows and other patriotic drives, established his political power and his growing bona fides as a film–maker, editor, and cultural tastemaker. Coupled with the extensive coverage he was granted in Motion Picture News and other trade journals, Roxy’s confidence had grown exponentially.

      The year 1919, though, despite all of its postwar promise for Roxy, would become the most difficult of his early career, full of new challenges, failures, and...

  7. PART TWO ROXY AND THE EMERGENCE OF CONVERGENCE
    • 5. A CAPITOL IDEA ROXY AND THE BIRTH OF MEDIA CONVERGENCE (1922–1925)
      (pp. 207-250)

      Film exhibition in the postwar period ushered in larger orchestras, more elaborate stage shows, and a growing acceptance, fostered in part by Roxy, of foreign, documentary, and avant–garde films. It was also a period of great technological advancement—of new synchronous sound formats developed by Lee DeForest and Western Electric, and, through the use of some of those same patents, the development of sound amplification and wireless transmission. In the coming decade, Roxy would harness his growing political and cultural might and a host of new technologies to become not only the most famous film exhibitor in the United...

    • 6. “IT’S THE ROXY AND I’M ROXY” BUILDING THE BRAND AND THE ROXY THEATRE (1925–1927)
      (pp. 251-305)

      The Capitol Theatre had been the epicenter of the film–radio movement in the early to mid–1920s and a key catalyst for the film industry’s use of broadcasting for the promotion of motion pictures, stars, and theaters. Roxy’s latest project, the 5,920–seat Roxy Theatre, was intended to become a new locus of media convergence where film, music, and broadcasting would promote individual films, songs, writers, and stars. In order to understand the many ways in which the Roxy Theatre was not just a movie palace but also a broadcasting and sound recording studio, symphony hall, motion picture theater,...

    • 7. IT’S ALL PLAYING IN SHEBOYGAN ROXY, RAPEE, AND THE EMERGENCE OF CONVERGENCE (1928–1931)
      (pp. 306-342)

      In recent years, a growing number of scholars have analyzed the integration of film and broadcasting in the 1920s or the growth of music publishing and recording during the coming of sound. However, many of these studies often omit how motion pictures and broadcasting made possible the successful merger of music publishing and recording with synchronous sound film. Scholarly analysis of film and music, music and broadcasting, and broadcasting and film in the late 1920s should not exclude any of these three unions. It is impossible to account for the industrial and consumer desire for late–1920s and early–1930s...

    • 8. THE PROLOGUE IS PAST ROXY, MEDIA DIVERGENCE, AND RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL (1931–1936)
      (pp. 343-394)

      Between 1926 and 1931, the once disparate media industries converged in the United States, creating a new entertainment industry dominated by multinational media conglomerates with film, broadcasting, music, and other media, technology, content, and intellectual property divisions. This convergence enabled companies like RCA to promote their RKO musicals by airing select songs on the company’s NBC–Red and NBC–Blue networks, sell sheet music through the Radio Music Company, press phonograph recordings of these songs through RCA–Victor, and use all of these ancillary revenue streams and marketing opportunities to bring more audiences into RKO theaters nationwide. This set of...

  8. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 395-398)

    In the months that followed Roxy’s death, the entertainment industry, comprising film, broadcasting, and music publishing and recording, was focused on the trends of the moment, not the pioneers of the past. Major Bowes was riding the amateur wave and, like Roxy before him, left NBC for CBS. Movie palaces were booking headliners, not stage shows, and smaller houses were focused on giveaways and double features, not classical music and cultural uplift. Rather than reviving his methods, members of the Roxy Memorial Committee, including Edward G. Robinson, William S. Paley, M. H. Aylesworth, Erno Rapee, George S. Kaufman, and Harry...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 399-496)
  10. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 497-512)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 513-538)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 539-544)
  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)