Screening Success!

By Ashley Panko

King’s Professional Writing Program students Sarah Scinto and Chris Cozzillio welcome community members in 1920s style (Photo by Ashley Panko)

Success! The film screening event for “Flesh and Spirit,” “His Neglected Wife,” and “Her Fractured Voice” went off without a hitch this past Friday, October 26th, just in time to celebrate an early Halloween. The venue for the screening, the Burke Auditorium on King’s College Campus, was nearly full with film buffs and 20s fanatics excited to be both reenacting and participating in historically significant events. These films have not been publicly displayed for decades and everyone who was present Friday night was part of the premier re-release.

Tony Brooks, Executive Director of the Luzerne County Historical Society, welcomes the audience (photo by Ashley Panko)

The members of the community showed great enthusiasm towards our 20s theme, many showing up in full period garb with props to match. The students in charge of distributing prizes for the costume contest were challenged to decide who was most authentic as many wore not just costumes but real clothing direct from the time. Also present were a few reincarnations of Al Capone, complete with toy machine guns and masks. To further feed the moviegoers 20s cravings, period snacks such as popcorn, Necco Wafers, Dum Dums, and MaryJanes were provided.

The enthusiasm of the community most surprised us; in addition to coming fully dressed many brought stories and even more material to aid in our compiling of information about the United States Motion Picture Corporation. Some guests were even related to the figures that keeping popping up in our research.

Though this screening was the culminating event for all of our research as a professional writing class, it seems that instead it has sparked a new wave of questions and a new level of interest which will hopefully extend out into the community. Perhaps then we will find some more of the answers we are seeking.

Many attendees wore 1920s costumes to celebrate the screening–from a 7-year-old flapper to a 70-year-old gangster. (Photo by Ashley Panko)

Paramount . . . in Wilkes-Barre?

By Ashley Panko

The chandelier at the Kirby is a scaled-down replica of a fixture in the main lobby of the Empire State Building

Step back in time and picture yourself as a member of the roaring twenties. Are you there? Excellent. If you earned an average income in the 1920s, it would be very common for you to go to the theater for entertainment. And not just any theater either: a movie palace.

Movie palaces of the 1920s were far more extravagant than the movie theaters we know today. They were massive in size–even 1,000 seats would still be considered a small theater–and decorated in plasterwork. The atmosphere of the theater was equally, if not more, important than the film itself.

The architecture of these palaces was often gaudy and modeled after Asian or Middle Eastern design, thoroughly bedecked in marble, chandeliers, and luxurious carpets. Movie-goers felt like royalty in these grandiose establishments.

Finding it hard to imagine such a luxurious movie experience? Well some of these theaters are still around and available to tour, while some others have been renovated as cultural centers for the surrounding area. Even in our own Wilkes-Barre the Kirby Theater was in fact once a Paramount Movie Palace.

Originally opened in August of 1938 as the Comerford Theater, this Paramount movie house was a paragon of excellence within the Wilkes-Barre community. Decorated in art-deco style, the theater was bedecked with fluted columns, spacious lobbies, and rose-colored mirrors which enhanced the romantic mood. Decorations were accented in rich tones of copper and metallic blue, while the centerpiece of a fabulous chandelier hovered above the movie goers.

The first film shown in the Comerford was Alexander’s Ragtime Band, and people flocked to see it. There was an immense media presence and the Wilkes-Barre Record noted that it was the largest gathering of people in Public Square since the signing of the Armistice.

The building of the Comerford, now known as the Kirby Center, was a symbol of local wealth, as well as local pride. The community rallied around it as a physical representation that Wilkes-Barre was a force to be reckoned with.