B ack in Time
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A Winter Carnival revival, funds for Palestine and a scandalous silent film Don Morgan Contributor
hings were lively in the Capitol City 92 years ago. While some St. Paulites were celebrating the New Year and the end of wartime regulations, others were working to get the Winter Carnival back on track, and some were visiting movie theaters to see a film that was scandalous for its time. That January, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover announced that wartime regulations and post-war deflation were over and that happy times were ahead. He was right. That year marked the start of an eight year economic boom. Apart from a bitter argument with the St. Paul Railway Company over
the elimination of a downtown free-fare zone, everything seemed to be working out just fine. January 16 marked the second anniversary of Prohibition. The Pioneer Press, in conjunction with The New York Herald, began a series of articles analyzing the economic, social, practical and legal results of the Eighteenth Amendment, and the enforcing Volstead Act. It turned out that downtown New Year’s Eve celebrations had been something of a test case of the law’s effectiveness. According to The Pioneer Press, 20 people who “knew no eighteenth amendment” were jailed. During the first week of the year, the “purity squad” raided a soft drink parlor on Seventh Street and
seized over 1,000 gallons of wine and 500 gallons of moonshine whiskey. When not reporting the news, staff at The Pioneer Press was hard at work trying to resurrect the Winter Carnival, which had been dormant since the country’s entry into World War I. That month the paper promoted a parade, button sales and a beauty contest, which hinted at a movie audition for the winner. Readers were urged to send in photos of candidates for the “most beautiful young lady in the city.” The audition hook caught people’s attention because silent films were approaching their peak in popularity. Opening that month was a great silent spectacle, “The
Queen of Sheba,” featuring Betty Blythe in the title role and Fritz Leiber as King Solomon. It promised “spectacle, romance and drama,” not to mention a chariot race with women drivers, “massive oriental settings,” “hundreds of beautiful women” and “bizarre barbaric costuming.” “Scanty” was perhaps a better adjective for the costumes. Blythe remarked in an interview that she had more than a dozen outfits for the movie and that even if she wore them all at the same time she still would have gotten cold. The movie packed theaters every night for its one-week run downtown. There were a few serious events that month, including activities for a group from the Palestine Foundation Fund who arrived in the city as part of a nationwide tour to urge support and raise funds for their dream of “a foundation upon which the Jewish people can build Palestine and relieve the persecution of their brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe.” Heading the group was Vladimir Jabotinsky, a native of Russia. Jabotinsky had been exiled from his country for Zionist activity and fighting for Jewish civil rights. He was a war veteran of the British Army in the Middle East and had become a leading proponent of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
The group was well re- films. If it could be found ceived in St. Paul. They were and restored it would offer a greeted at the Union Depot fascinating glimpse of “preby local Jewish leaders then code” Hollywood. Studios attended a reception hosted soon began a trend toward by the governor at the State “stricter moral standards” for Capitol, followed by a din- movies that eventually led to ner at the St. Paul Hotel. showing married couples in The next night a large crowd twin beds only. gathered at the Metropolitan Vladimir Jabotinsky Opera House on Sixth Street remained a committed to hear speeches from the Zionist all his life but delegates. Over $20,000 was never lived to see the modraised for their cause. ern state of Israel. He died in On the heels of the Zi- 1940 at the age of 59. Origionist was a violinist. As Ja- nally buried in New York botinsky was leaving town, City, his body was moved to 21-year-old violin sensation a cemetery in Jerusalem in Jascha Heifetz arrived for 1964. a one-night engagement, Jascha Heifetz was a leadsponsored by the Schubert ing violin performer and Club. Heifetz performed teacher until his death in at the People’s Church on 1987. His extensive classical Pleasant Avenue, which had recordings are still big sellers. an auditorium famous in Carnival boosters tried the Midwest for its excellent hard but weren’t able to oracoustics. Heifetz, whose ganize a successful Winter Lithuanian Jewish family Carnival that year. It would fled Russia to avoid persecu- be another 15 years before tion, played to a full house the Carnival started to rise of about 3,500. The perfor- again. However, the beauty mance featured selections contest drew much interfrom Chopin, Brahms and est. In a style unthinkable Dvorak and finished with today due to privacy and Handel’s Violin Sonata in security concerns, the home D minor. The Pioneer Press addresses of all 40 entrants called it magnificent. It was were printed in the paper. an early example of a mar- The interviews of the finalketing synergy familiar to ists and the selection of the musicians today, known as winner attracted a big crowd the record tour. Dyer Broth- to the Capitol Theater in ers Music on Fifth Street had the Hamm building. The all of his performance selec- winner, a 19-year-old from tions available in its listening the city’s west end, became rooms. a queen without much of a “The Queen of Sheba” is Carnival to reign over. one of the great lost silent HumboldtAd:Layout 1 10/18/11 4:04 PM Page 1
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