Friday, September 5, 2014

Movie Going in the Depression

When I left off on Wednesday, Ivan Ackery had just been moved to manger of the Orpheum Theatre. Here's his recollection of the event:

“At the Strand,” Ivan recalled, “I’d had to fill 1,600 seats and deal with a staff of about 25. At the Orpheum I was looking at almost twice that number of seats and much more staff, and I had two important obstacles to overcome—the Depression and the Competition . . . How would I begin? Well, when in doubt, declare a New Policy. It’s sure to catch the interest of the press and the eye of the public. The Vancouver Sun headline read: ‘New Policy at Orpheum,’ and went on to say: "Ivan Ackery, manager of the Orpheum, today announces a new policy for his theatre, which will bring to the Orpheum screen this season some of the greatest films produced. ‘Our new policy,’ Ackery states, ‘brings to our screen this season a parade of the greatest of stars in their best efforts’.”

Ackery never went on to explain what his new policies were going to be - after all, it was head office that chose the films to be played - and this may just be another way that Ivan was able to get 'ink'.

This home is on 11th Avenue and is a heritage home that has been redone.

When Ackery moved to the Orpheum, he began overseeing a staff of 65. Two special engineers - one for electrical and one for technical maintenance - ten cleaners, four projectionists, four doormen, two permanent stagehands and a battalion of usherettes. If the theatre was hosting a big stage show then extra stagehands needed to be hired.

There were two box offices with four cashiers between them and two night watchmen. There were no fewer than 35 usherettes on staff at one time.

“These girls,” Ivan recalled, “were very carefully selected and trained to meet and handle the public graciously.” One of them, Gerri Cameron, recalls  “It may sound egotistical, but if you were pretty you pretty much got the job.” Another attribute: you had to learn how to graciously glide down the aisles while showing patrons to their seats. “We were natural blondes, brunettes and redheads,” another of them remembered, “and our hair was worn shoulder length, held back from our faces by little white bows. If a girl didn’t have naturally curly hair, she’d have a permanent wave. We all wore white gloves and had to have clean white collars twice weekly.”

Movie going during the Great Depression was an event. Ivan and his assistant managers wore tuxedos in the evening. The surroundings of the Orpheum were opulent and costumes were elaborate - all contributing the mystique designed to distract the movie goers from the drudgery and despair of their everyday lives.

“It was an escape from the humdrum and horrible things that were happening in real life [in the Depression],” said a former usherette, “and Ivan was the heart of it all. He was so warm and gracious that you’d just feel good when you saw him . . . He brought sunshine into the hearts of people in a very sad, very dreary period in their lives.”

Seeing how big and successful the Orpheum Theatre was, Ackery had the opportunity to mix with celebrities of the time. But more on that next week.

Once again, I would like to thank The History of Metropolitan Vancouver website for the above information. I do copy and paste anything that is a direct quote so I won't get it wrong.

I hope you find the beauty  around you.