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On this Day in Movie History, June 19. 1905: World’s First Nickelodeon Opened

On this day, June 19, 1905, some 450 people attend the opening day of the world’s first nickelodeon, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Popularized by Harry Davis and John P. Harris, they called it the Nickelodeon, joining “nickel” with the Greek word for an enclosed theater adopted by the famous 18th century Odéon in Paris.

It was not the first theater to show films. In 1919 a news article stated that it was the first theater in the world “devoted exclusively to exhibition of moving picture spectacles.” Davis and Harris found such great success with their operation that their concept of a five-cent theater showing movies continuously was soon imitated by hundreds of ambitious entrepreneurs, as was the name of the theater itself.

Statistics indicated that the number of nickelodeons in the United States doubled between 1907 and 1908 to around 8000 and it was estimated that by 1910 as many as 26 million Americans visited these theaters every week

Nickelodeons in converted storefronts typically seated less than 200. Patrons often sat on hard wooden chairs, the screen was hung on the back wall, and a piano (and maybe a drum set) would be placed to the side of or below the screen. Larger nickelodeons sometimes had the capacity for well over 1000 people.

The earliest films had been shown in “peep show” machines or projected in vaudeville theaters as one of the otherwise live acts. Nickelodeons drastically altered film exhibition practices and the leisure-time habits of a large segment of the American public. Although they were characterized by continuous performances of a selection of short films, added attractions such as illustrated songs were sometimes an important feature.

Regarded as disreputable and dangerous by some civic groups and municipal agencies, dark, ill-ventilated nickelodeons with hard wooden seats were outmoded as longer films became common and larger, more comfortably furnished motion picture theaters were built, a trend that culminated in the lavish “movie palaces” of the 1920s.

Louis B. Mayer came of age just as the popularity of the nickelodeon was beginning to rise; he renovated the Gem Theater in Haverhill, Massachusetts, converting it into a nickelodeon that he opened in 1907 as the Orpheum Theater, announcing that it would be “the home of refined entertainment devoted to Miles Brothers moving pictures and illustrated songs”

Larger nickelodeons sometimes had the capacity for well over 1000 people.

On this day, June 19, 1911, the first motion-picture censorship board was established — in Pennsylvania.

Birthdays
1897 – Moe Howard (Moses Horowitz) (actor: one of the original Three Stooges; Dr. Death, Seeker of Souls, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; died May 4, 1975)

1905 – Mildred Natwick (actress: Dangerous Liaisons, Barefoot in the Park, The Snoop Sisters, Tammy and the Bachelor; died Oct 25, 1994)

1912 – Martin Gabel (actor: Smile Jenny You’re Dead, Lady in Cement; TV game show panelist: What’s My Line?; died May 22, 1986)

1919 – Louis Jourdan (Gendre) (actor: Gigi, Three Coins in the Fountain, The VIPs, Columbo: Murder Under Glass, Octopussy)

1928 – Nancy Marchand (actress: The Sopranos, Lou Grant, Brain Donors, The Naked Gun, North and South Book 2; died June 18, 2000)

1930 – Gena Rowlands (actress: Peyton Place, A Woman under the Influence, Night on Earth; daughter of Wisconsin State Senator)

1932 – Pier Angeli (Anna Pierangeli) (actress: Battle of the Bulge, One Step to Hell, The Silver Chalice, S.O.S. Pacific; died Sep 10, 1971)

1932 – Marisa Pavan (actress: Diary of Anne Frank, The Rose Tattoo, What Price Glory?, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit)

1954 – (Mary) Kathleen Turner (actress: Body Heat, Peggy Sue Got Married, Romancing the Stone, The Jewel of the Nile, Serial Mom, Naked in New York, House of Cards, Accidental Tourist, The War of the Roses, The Doctors, The Virgin Suicides; voice of Jessica Rabbit in Roger Rabbit)

1967 – Mia Sara (actress: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Timecop, Caroline at Midnight, Bullet to Beijing)

1972 – Poppy Montgomery (actress: Blonde, Devil in a Blue Dress, Dead Man on Campus, The Beat)

1972 – Robin Tunney (actress: The Craft, Encino Man, Empire Records, Niagara, Niagara, Vertical Limit)