Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Las Cruces Gets Talkies

On October 19, 1929, the Las Cruces newspaper announced the arrival of :

Sound Pictures Coming

A matter of great interest to Las Cruces theatre goers is that tomorrow the Fox Rio Grande Theatre, one block west of Church street, will open up their sound projector system which they have been busily installing for the past week or so. From the character of pictures with sound which have been booked for the coming weeks it is quite apparent that Las Cruces is to have just as high grade entertainment in that line as the largest cities in the country. Las Cruces is to be congratulated upon this fact and it is comforting to know that with this beautiful playhouse, and the installation of this most adequate and modern sound projecting system which is the product of Western Electric and the best made; together with the management afforded by the great Fox West Coast Theatre chain which now owns the Rio Grande, Las Cruces folks will not have to go to El Paso nor anywhere else to see and hear the best shows produced. It is also a matter of satisfaction to Las Cruces people that manager W. L. Gullett is to remain in charge of the management of the Rio Grande.

Las Cruces Citizen, October 19, 1929

Here’s the story behind this highly welcomed event:

Some time in early October 1929, the Rio Grande Theatre was purchased by Fox West Coast Theatres, a distribution and theater ownership company begun in 1921 by William Fox.

William Fox is one of the pioneers – and early heroes – of movies. He got into the film showing business in 1904 by starting the Greater New York Film Rental Company. In 1909, he played an important role in breaking film monopoly, the .

In 1915, he founded the to make films, his first film being staring “sex vamp” Theda Bara.

Business was booming in 1929 and Fox, who always thought “gigantic” and had a “big” reputation for showmanship, decided to celebrate his “Silver Jubilee” of being in the film business with a massive national promotion. On October 12, 1929, he ran the following full-page ad in the Las Cruces Citizen newspaper:

Fox Silver Jubilee Advertisement – “The story of William Fox
is the History of the Motion Picture”

Time Magazine said this about his campaign.

Last week came the Silver Jubilee (25 years) of the Fox Theatres, announced by lavish two-page newspaper advertisements that told of gala performances, mysteriously adding: “Far more important than even the entertainment, will be a message from William Fox of vital concern to the future welfare of every patron of Fox theatres.

In 500 of the 1,100 Fox theatres throughout the U. S. audiences heard this message delivered through Fox Movietone. The birthday gift was advice that Fox patrons buy outright as many shares as they could afford of Fox Theatres Corp. operating and holding company for his gigantic chain. As special inducement they were told of plans for future expansion and the large earnings that were possible.

Expansions promised by Mr. Fox far outstripped the ordinary bounds of showmanship. He promised not only installation of his “grandeur” proscenium-filling screen, and cinema houses devoted to newsreels, but magnificently he offered one fourth of his fortune (which newsmen were permitted to estimate at $36,000,000) to develop visual-oral instruction in schools. “On the theory,” he said, “that one picture is the equivalent of eight words” and that words uttered by college presidents are more potent than those of ordinary teachers, Mr. Fox visualized the time when 15,000,000 or 20,000,000 school children will have school hours reduced from six to three per day by listening to a talkie “educator” instead of to a teacher….

Less convincing than his generosity was Cineman Fox’s foxiness. Offered in 1925, Fox Theatres stock has paid no dividends, has never responded to continued reports of expansion. In 1928 its earnings were $1.91 a share. Previous attempts to distribute the stock, mostly held by speculators, have been unsuccessful. Early this year a group of brokers ran the stock to 37-7/8, but before much was distributed it broke to 21-1/2. Last week it was strong around 28 on belief that the Fox Birthday plan, if successful, will reduce the floating supply.

Time Magazine, Oct. 21, 1929

The coming attractions advertisement that ran in conjunction with the Silver Jubilee announcement showed that the first talkie in Las Cruces was , staring . William Boyd later became famous as “.” The Flying Fool was followed by , , and .

Movie Ad – Las Cruces Citizen – October 12, 1929

The Flying Fool is the story of a WWI pilot with that nickname who falls in love with his brother’s girlfriend. To settle who gets the girl, the brothers “fight it out” without guns in the air. After taking extraordinary risks, both brothers land safely and the girl decides she is in love with the “Flying Fool.”

Stock Market Crashes – October 24, 1929

The people who attended the Thursday showing of The Single Standard staring probably enjoyed it. It’s impossible to say how many people in Las Cruces heard of or worried about the stock market crash that day. Certainly no one knew that people would later consider that event that day — — the beginning of The Great Depression.

On October 26 the Las Cruces Citizen published the advert for the next week’s pictures, clearly marked as talkies.

Movie Ad – Las Cruces Citizen – October 26, 1929

For the curious, here’s the advertisement for the last silent movies shown in Las Cruces, just prior the Rio Grande Theatre’s purchase by Fox.

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