Continuing our series on theatrical cartoons, we return to Lookin’ ‘Em Over — a 1920s vanity cartoon book, wherein local business & community leaders appeared in city-based cartoon books in which they paid to be caricatured. Illustrated by Donald H. Grant, and published in Nashville, we showed a few sample pages from this book last May.
A section of Lookin’ ‘Em Over was devoted to theatre owners & managers — silent film theatre owners. One re-recurring theme in this set of cartoons, is advertising how cool the theaters are. At this time, movie theaters were on the cutting edge of air-conditioning technology; before air-conditioning, theaters closed during the Summer, it being too hot for large crowds in a tight, enclosed space. Air-conditioning reversed that, attracting Summer audiences to film theaters.
Also recurring — and unfortunately not surprising in the 1920s — are racist references and images. Most particularly involving those who proudly advertised their moral values. Below right, Ernest C. Cantrell, manager of Nashville’s Knickerbocker Theatre, in addition to providing cartoonist Grant with a racist anecdote to illustrate, sang and danced in blackface, and attends the Allen Fort Memorial Bible Class every Sunday.
Click on the above & below pictures, to open larger versions.
Harry Sudekum below right (brother of Tony, at top??) is depicted wielding a wooden board labeled “Clean Vaudeville” — with protruding nail — as he chases Gloom (Vaudeville), “Out of Existance”. Compare this with the cartoon for Earle M. Fain, above left, who (in addition to racist elements) offers “above all CLEAN ENTERTAINMENT”. Implied is, not vaudeville. The sub-text running in these cartoons, is that Vaudeville is (was) “dirty”, and that silent film theaters are ending the existance of immoral vaudeville, replacing it with the clean, decent fare of (pre-Hays Code Hollywood) movies. That this moral crusade just happened to economically benefit the theater owners leading the crusade, must of course have been mere coincidence…