Have you ever wondered what movies were popular with your grandparents or great-grandparents? The Filson recently acquired two film distribution cards from RKO pictures that showcase what movies were being shown at two local theatres from 1928-1930. The Empire and the East Broadway Theatres were two of numerous theatres that were dotted across the city in the early 20th century. While I couldn’t find any information on the Empire Theatre, I did find out some interesting tidbits about the East Broadway Theatre. It was located at 816 E. Broadway and while it has ceased being a theatre since 1960 the building is still used today as an office supply store. It’s more than likely that you may have shopped for office furniture on the very spot where vaudeville performers wowed Louisvillians. The theatre was originally a vaudeville theatre, but later converted to motion pictures. The RKO distribution card lists the films that played at the theatres. Titles such as “Street Girl,” “Rio Rita,” “Vagabond Lover,” and “Tanned Legs” conjure up scandalous images but in reality most of the films listed on the cards were comedy/musicals. In fact “Vagabond Lover” was the first film of entertainer Rudy Vallee. The cards also list the “shorts” that were shown at the theatres. These include the Mickey McGuire shorts that starred a young Mickey Rooney.
Louisville has historic ties with Hollywood. The celebrated director and producer D.W. Griffith was born in 1875 at Crestwood in Oldham County, but his family moved to Louisville while he was a young boy. Griffith went on to direct the controversial “Birth of A Nation” which is considered the first blockbuster. Incidentally the Filson has in its collections a broadside advertising the film’s opening in 1915. It changed the format of motion pictures, which before the film was released most motion pictures were under one hour. All of the films listed in the RKO cards were over one hour and one “Rio Rita” was 2 hours and 20 minutes.