Moviegoing Children in the 1920s (according to the book Half Magic)

I’m spending a good portion of my time lately reading elementary and middle-school books as I think about and plan for homeschooling my daughter, and I picked up one this week that’s about fifth-grade level called Half Magic, by Edward Eager. I hadn’t heard of this before, but the cover illustration looks like the ones on Eleanor Estes’ family comedy books for about the same age range, but this one has a bit of magic in it and name checks fantasy books like E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Cottage. Anyway, that’s by the by.

Today I came across a couple of pages where the four children (ages about six to thirteen or so) head to the movies. The book was written in 1954, but set 30 years earlier, which makes it take place in the mid-1920s. I just found this humorous depiction of kids going to the movies in around 1924 to be pretty hilarious and also probably fairly accurate. For reference, Jane is the oldest, Mark is second at age 11 (if the other ages are given, I’ve overlooked them), then Katharine, and Martha is the youngest. The story takes place in Toledo, Ohio, which is middle America at its most middle American.

After lunch, it was time to choose what movie to see.

The children did this by first making a tour of all the movie theatres in town and looking at the pictures on the outside. A time of argument followed. Mark liked Westerns and thrilling escapes, but Martha wouldn’t go inside any theatre that had pictures of fighting.

Jane and Katharine liked ladies with long hair and big eyes and tragic stories. They wanted to see a movie called Barbara LaMarr in Sandra. Mark finally agreed, because there were a lot of pictures outside of a man who wore a moustache, and that meant he was the villain, and that meant that somebody would hit him sooner or later. Martha agreed because all the other theatres had either pictures with fighting or Charlie Chaplin.

Half-Magic-illustration

All of the four children hated Charlie Chaplin, because he was the only thing grown-ups would ever take them to.

When they came into the theatre Barbara LaMarr in Sandra had already reached its middle, and the children couldn’t figure out exactly what was happening. But then neither could the rest of the audience.

“But, George, I do not seem to grasp it all!” the woman behind the four children kept saying to her husband.

The four children did not grasp any of it, but Barbara LaMarr had lots of hair and great big eyes, and when strong men wanted to kiss her and she pushed them away and made suffering faces at the audience with her eyebrows, Jane and Katharine thought it was thrilling, and probably quite like the way life was, when you were grown-up.

Mark didn’t think much of the love blah, but he watched the villain getting more villainous, and the hero getting more heroic, and patiently waited for them to slug it out.

Martha hated it.

That was always the way with Martha. She wanted to go to the movies like anything until she got there, and then she hated it. Now she kept pestering the others to read her the words and tell her what was happening (for in those days movies did not talk).