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4 Cinema, a Screen Novelty: 1895-1897
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While R. S. Paine, Charles Balsley, and Edwin Porter were busy exhibiting the vitascope in California, Cyrus Echard and J. R. Balsley traveled with the vitascope through Indiana, showing films in Terre Haute and perhaps a few other towns. One problem with Indiana was the absence of large cities. Even Indianapolis (1900 population: 169,164) was oriented toward three-night stands by traveling road companies. The vitascope was ill suited for such conditions, and the entrepreneurs must quickly have realized that it would be impossible to recoup their $4,000 investment. By mid July they had returned to Connellsville disappointed.[129]

A week-long engagement for the Connellsville group came about by chance. Harry Clark, A. F. Rieser's business manager, was in Ohio when he ran off with his employer's vitascope. He had booked an exhibition at the Empire Theater in Indianapolis when Rieser's electrician caught up with him. Rieser later reported:


"They [the theater's management] have now arranged with the owner of Indiana to run a vitascope there next week."[130] Charles Balsley and perhaps Edwin Porter, having returned from California, were enlisted to show their films for this October engagement.[131]

In a city like Indianapolis, with more than one amusement house, theater managers routinely competed with each other by booking the season's most popular novelty—projected motion pictures. Thus, a phantoscope opened at English's Theater on September 14, 1896, simultaneously with the state fair. It was shown before each performance and between acts of the spectacular melodrama Sinbad . "Its pictures will create the same sensation here that they have been doing in New York and elsewhere," predicted the Indianapolis Sentinel .[132] Two days later, the evening was enthusiastically reviewed by the Indianapolis Journal :


The life and color of "Sinbad" as presented by David Henderson's famous American Extravaganza Company has a never-failing charm. It opened its week at English's last night and was welcomed by a large audience . . . .

One feature of the performance altogether new to the audience and which took the people by storm was the phantoscope. The pictures were shown between the acts. The first was the "May Irwin Kiss" a burlesque on the famous Nethersole kiss in "Carmen." It was received with roars of laughter and is certainly very lifelike. The second picture shown was a surf scene at Dover, England, and this was remarkably well done. The bathers, the waves of the ocean, the spray and all were shown to life. The Corbett-Courtney fight was the last picture and it was as if the audience sat at the ringside. A Sioux ghost dance, the great national bicycle parade, "Trilby" burlesque and other pictures will be shown in addition to those seen last night.[133]

The phantoscope had become a particularly serious problem for Raft & Gammon and their affiliates because the Columbia Phonograph Company had gained access to the Vitascope Company's exclusive subjects. Under these circumstances the use of Edison's name and the well-publicized New York opening were the vitascope's only unique assets, and even their value was beginning to fade.

To the public, the vitascope was becoming just one of several screen machines. When the Indianapolis Journal announced the forthcoming appearance of the Connellsville group at the Empire Theater in conjunction with Charles Frohman's road show of The Lost Paradise , it was not certain what to call the machine. It reported that "a dozen or more pariscopic views will be shown between acts. The pariscope, vitascope, cinematograph or whatever one calls it is the reigning sensation of the year in theatricals."[134] The Sentinel also referred to the films as "parascopic illustrations"—perhaps the name that Clark had intended to use for his runaway show. Immediately below the Sentinel's announcement of the vitascope, an ebullient notice informed readers that the


eidoloscope, "the most costly feature ever introduced in any theatrical performance," would soon be in town, too. "The bullfight which it reproduces in the last act of Rosabel Morrison's production 'Carmen' is the most startling incident ever seen under similar conditions."[135] Having been preempted by the phantoscope and outpromoted by the eidoloscope, Porter and Balsley might have expected a cool reception. The reviews of their opening night, however, suggest that Porter's skills as a mechanic, electrician, and showman were already apparent (see document no. 3). The Sentinel felt that "to say it was a success is putting it lightly."[136] When The Lost Paradise left the Empire at midweek, the vitascope remained behind, teaming up with the American Vaudeville Company for another week. The vitascope was again declared a success and a crowd pleaser, all the more so since some of the pictures were hand tinted.[137] Despite the good press, however, attendance was light.[138]


Empire—"The Lost Paradise"

It would have been hard to choose a better time for the revival of [Henry Churchill] DeMille's melodrama "The Lost Paradise," than the present. The play teems with doctrines, speeches and situations bearing on the alleged conflict between capital and labor, the action centering on a strike in a great factory. A love story is woven in and a tale of sacrifice for love, but the parts of the story in touch with the spirit of industrial unrest abroad these days are those that elicit the most applause . . . .

Between the second and third acts is given an exhibition of the original Edison's vitascope. The same series of pictures is given that received such favorable mention on its presentation at Koster & Bial's, in New York. The vitascope is an expansion of the kinetoscope. If the name had not been already appropriated, "living pictures" would be the most applicable term. The best of the series are Loie Fuller's dance, the view of Herald Square, in New York, in which the spectator sees cable cars, trucks and carriages passing, people crossing the street and moving along the sidewalks, and the view of the breakwater at Southampton which shows the waves rolling in one after another and breaking on the beach. The illusion is almost perfect, the effect being produced by so rapid a succession of pictures that before the eye has dropped the one the next has appeared, producing an effect of motion. Six in all are given, including the amusing long-drawn-out "Widow Jones kiss." "The Lost Paradise" will appear only to-day and to-morrow, with the usual matinees, a new company coming the last half of the week.

SOURCE : Indianapolis Journal , October 20, 1896.


Soon after the Indianapolis showing, the Connellsville group disposed of their rights to Indiana—presumably at considerable loss.[139] Balsley returned to Connellsville, where he spent the rest of his life, at one point serving as a cameraman/stringer for Pathé News, but otherwise pursuing a career outside the film industry.[140] Porter, however, went back to New York: he was in the moving picture industry to stay.

The Connellsville group's fate was similar to that of many fellow states rights owners. Lacking experience in the amusement field, they may have been wise to quit before losing more money and while their exhibition rights could be sold for anything at all. During their short career, they had exhibited in a diversity of circumstances. Vaudeville theaters had provided their most lucrative engagements, but the entrepreneurs had also exhibited in an arcade and between the acts of a play. J. R. Balsley and Echard may also have exhibited the vitascope at a summer park in Terre Haute. This diversity of venues well illustrates the eclectic nature of pre-nickelodeon motion picture exhibition as it was to be practiced for the following ten years.

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