Monday, August 6, 2018

Talking Pictures Come to Birmingham

A topic I've approached several times on this blog concerns various silent movies filmed in the Birmingham area. Naturally the article below grabbed my attention on one of my forays around Alabama Mosaic. Published in 1940, the article interviewed J.T. Amberson, "who has been operating motion picture machines...since 1903...and who has operated in every picture house ever in Birmingham...". 

Amberson gave author Bob Luckie a vivid portrait of film exhibition in the city in the early silent era. He noted that sound projection was attempted during this time, but the inability to synchronize it with the picture quickly killed the technique until improvements arrived in the late 1920's.  

The projectionist worked long hours, from nine in the morning until nearly midnight. He cranked and rewound the film by hand. In the earliest years the shows lasted five minutes or less and cost a nickel to attend. Amberson did work in places with exotic names--the Marvel, Theaterium, the Odeon, Amuse-You [Amuse-U] and the Vaudette

The 1940 U.S. Census gives us a bit of information about John T. Amberson. He was born "about 1887", was married to Lettie K., and they had an eight year-old daughter, Lucille. The couple rented a house on Second Avenue South. Amberson's occupation was listed as "Projectionist" in the "Picture Show" industry. 

Author of the article Robert E. Luckie, Jr., went on to bigger things. A Birmingham Southern graduate, Luckie worked for the News before World War II. In 1953 he founded the advertising firm Luckie and Company which grew to become one of the top 50 such businesses in the United States. Luckie died in 2007; two sons currently run the agency. 

An overview of silent film history can be found here. A history of sound in film is here.

Birmingham News article July 21, 1940

No comments:

Post a Comment