Dakota Datebook

Fargo-Moorhead’s Days of Silent Film and Vaudeville

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

 

Today, most movie goers in North Dakota still have a few venues to choose from, but what was it like in the early 1920s, when the silent film, or the “photo drama,” first came to the Prairie?

 

On March 20th, 1921, a new and exciting week of photo drama releases had just come out, as featured in a column in The Fargo Forum called “News of the Screen and Stage.” Much like the modern entertainment section of a newspaper, the column listed upcoming films, filled readers in on latest news from the motion picture studios, and provided summaries of releases.

 

There were a large number of theaters in those early days, even more than now. In Fargo-Moorhead alone, there was the Garrick, Isis, Liberty, and Strand theaters, all located along Broadway. In addition, there was the Princess on NP Ave and the Lyceum in Moorhead. The Fargo Theatre, the iconic art-deco structure that still exists today, didn’t open its doors until 1926.

 

Some of the silent films playing that week were “The Brute Master,” “Number 17,” and “Blind Wives.” Many of these films originated as stage plays. Often, movie showings ran for a week before new ones were released.

 

1921 was also the height of vaudeville. The Grand was a vaudeville theatre on 1st Avenue. It advertised its “Hi-Class Vaudeville” show in The Fargo Forum, featuring acts such as Otesco, the clown violinist; McMahon and Wheeler, the novelty wire acrobats; and the comedy of Billy and Joe Fields. The Liberty Theater featured a Mack Sennett special on the week of March 20, 1921. Mack Sennett is considered a vaudeville icon of slapstick comedy.

 

The first “talkie,” The Jazz Singer, was released in 1927, shortly after the Fargo Theater’s opening, beginning a new wave of entertainment.

 

Sources:

The Fargo Forum “News of the Screen and Stage.” 19 March 1921.

 

Thank you to Mark Peihl at the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County Archives.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Hayley Burdett

 

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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