Record #1137

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E. L. Kuykendall, Exhibitor , MPTOA
Reel 11
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Double Features
EDITORIAL COMMENT: What bears thinking about is the extent to which, in the regulation of relations with exhibitors, Hays' approach, rooted in Hoover's ""associational capitalism"" clearly never gelled with the practices of the major distributors, whose business practices are normally described in terms of an older kind of capitalism - but may, in fact, have been an alternative response to Depression conditions. At any rate, it's clear enough in all these memos about trade practices where the sympathies of MPPDA officials such as Palfreyman and Pettijohn lay, and the extent to which they blamed the distributors for the situation they were now in, with the recurrence of the bills and agitation, the DoJ suit, etc. Kuykendall's argument about the irresponsibility of the independent exhibitors and Allied is important, as is his observation that the trade associations contained the 1934 crisis. One question that we must try to deal with is quite why the distributors were so reluctant to make any concessions on the block booking clauses - it's hard to see why it should have incurred a vast expense for them. It was - it becomes increasingly apparent - the real core of the grievances of the independent exhibitors, in part because it was obviously one way in which they were treated differently from the circuits and the more powerful buyers-and according to all of Pettijohn's figures, it didn't really apply anyway. So why, if it would have accomplished all of this, didn't they give in on it?

Appropriation of motion picture talent by radio; problems posed by double-features; down with chain theatres


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MPTOA Bulletin, 26 September 1936: double features: suggests that "The introduction of sound pictures practically eliminated double feature bookings for a few years because of the excessive costs involved in the early sound pictures." Claims that when the practice began to spread again, MPTOA pointed out the dangers, but Allied failed to deliver support at the NRA hearings. Since then, "the problem has gotten completely out of hand, most of the theatres in competitive situations have been forced into double featuring whether they like it or not, and the 'free and unrestrained' cut-rate competition by shoestring exhibitors has forced double featuring to spread across the country. ... "MPTOA repeatedly has posted warnings of what unrestricted double featuring would lead to. Before and during the Code hearings in 1933, we emphasized that the unrestrained spread of double features would: "1. Force all the theatres in a competitive area into adopting the policy by the simple cut-rate competition of offering two feature pictures for one admission, regardless of the 'individual decision' of any theatre owner or even a substantial majority of the exhibitors. "2. Increase the film rental cost to the exhibitor and decrease the average rental per picture to the distributor. "3. Cause the production of a large number of cheap inferior features to meet the market for double feature bookings, that producers of first class features would turn to this type of production and overload all exhibitors running single features, who are unable to secure selective contracts, with mediocre pictures intended for double featuring. "4. Curtail sharply the number of short subjects produced, drive outstanding star names out of the short subjects field and cheapen the quality of all short subjects not suitable for use on double feature programs. "5. Increase the shortage of product and enable the larger theatre or powerful buyer, without overbuying, to squeeze the smaller competing theatre either into a subsequent run, a low admission grind policy or out of business altogether. "6. Cheapen motion picture entertainment in the public mind, put it all in the 'bargain basement' category. "7. Drive away the more intelligent theatregoer who quietly withdraws his patronage because he is frequently forced to sit through a long trashy feature in order to see the first part of the feature in which he is interested, and because the prolonged show keeps families and working people away from their homes too late at night. "8. Force an artificial circulation of cheap and inferior pictures carried on extended run play dates by outstanding and superior pictures, which helps discredit the movies as worthwhile entertainment. "9. Overfeed the appetite of the patron for dramatic entertainment so that he returns to the theatre less frequently. "10. Would not increase the total attendance at theatres, though it may shift attendance from one theatre to another until the competing theatres all run double feature programs." All this has come about as they predicted. "but it is interesting and encouraging to note the determined effort in Akron, Ohio, of the city exhibitor organization by agreement to play selected outstanding features on single feature bookings only. This seems a reasonable control and may point the way for other cities to limit the practice within reasonable bounds. "... Ten years of fund raising by professional organizers among one faction of independent exhibitors, the squandering of vast sums of the exhibitors' money on a lot of high pressure publicity and reckless denouncing of our own business, intensive agitating, lobbying and threatening, have been exerted on anti-block booking legislation. It has accomplished exactly nothing of any value to any exhibitor. No bills have been enacted, no courts have upheld such a law, and the sponsors have not even been able to draft a workable bill that had even a remote chance to end block booking and blind selling. "In the course of this activity, however, these professional agitators, who have done very well for themselves out of the agitation, were able to arouse certain reform organizations to active and reckless attacks and indiscriminate denunciation of the theatres, the movies and everything connected with them. This was not difficult to do, the same people inherently hate and despise the show business and the movies. Once aroused and urged on by these professional agitators the reform groups quickly got out of hand, only the alert and organized activities of the responsible trade associations in this business averted disastrous consequences. "Now these same professional agitators are starting another planned campaign to destroy the chain or circuit theatres. The same appeal to hatreds and prejudices, the same reckless denunciations, the same proposals to raise a huge slush fund for lobbying and lawyers, the same agitation for the help of those who hate and despise the movies, are again employed. "Just why those who pretend to represent this business should publicly demand that the motion picture industry should be treated just like the breweries and the booze business is beyond us. It certainly shows an utter lack of any sense of responsibility on the part of those making such demands. it may be significant to note that one of the few reform outfits who actively appeared before Congress in support of the Neely Pettengill Bills was the WCTU." -- signed by E.L. Kuykendall.

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