Movies were a popular form of entertainment during the 1930s. Throughout the decade, 90 million Americans went to a movie weekly. This figure was nearly three times as many as attended movies in the 1920s and was considerably higher than the weekly figures for the following four decades. Below are excerpts from an oral history interview from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 , as well as a description of a theater owner written by a Federal Writer. Both comment on movies. What evidence do these accounts provide for the popularity of movies? Why do you think movies were so popular during the Depression? From these accounts, what similarities and differences do you see between movie-going in the 1930s and today?
C.M. Deal, Jr.
C. M. Deal was a twenty-one-year-old father of two living in North Carolina. He was interviewed in 1939.
"One thing I like about my wife, we both have the same tastes. We can go to a good show and have the best time. We get a woman to keep Betty Jean [their baby] on account of germs. . . .
". . . the Colonial theatre is one of the finest in the south. There's so many people here and only four theaters, it's hard sometimes to see a show you want to. A couple months ago my brother-in-law and me went on Saturday night. We went to the first show. Making the rounds of all four theaters we couldn't get a seat, and came back home to wait for the second show. The last time we went back we got standing room inside the door. My brother-in-law is kinder hotheaded-the usher came around and wanted to close the door; he couldn't we were against it and couldn't move.
'Have you gentlemen bought your tickets?' He asked.
'You're dern right we have,' Jim replied. The second time he came around he said, 'Excuse me, but I must close the door.'
'You can't close it,' Jim replied, 'we can't move an inch.'
"The third time he said, 'I'm very sorry, but I'll give you your money back as the door has to be closed.' It tickled me, I knew he had orders to close the door.
"Jim got so mad he said, 'Get our money and damn quick too.'
"They're building two new theaters now."
In 1914, Mr. A. F. Kehr began his career, by opening the first picture show in Ogallala. He christened his [show?] the "[Gem?]" which was located to the building now occupied by Green [Lees?] Clothing Store. For awhile he used bridge planks, nail kegs and "what have you," for extra seats, and gave the community the very best pictures available. Mr. Kehr kept up with the moving picture industry by installing the latest equipment available from time to time.
The first two years having been a great success, Mr. Kehr moved one block south, installing new equipment, and also increasing the seating capacity to 150. The name was changed to "The Princess."
In January, 1936, the Kehr family opened the "Prairie," a luxurious theatre and one of the finest in the country, with all the very latest and most practical equipment money could buy. We pride Mr. Kehr's theatre as being on an equal with the theatres in the larger cities.
Many of the pictures are shown here before release dates in Omaha and Denver. . . .
. . . The 552 comfortable seats are upholstered in black leather and black and rust velour.
The roomy balcony will seat 56. . . .
The sound equipment is the new R. C. A. [Victor?] Photophone high fidelity, the same equipment in the two super theaters in Rockfeller Center, New York City. . . .
The high fidelity repoduces the human voice without the mechanical tones which are so lacking in character.
The temperature and humidity is maintained by a system of automatic dampers and thermostat.
Read the complete accounts of C.M. Deal and A.F. Kehr from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 . Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.