Journal-News, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2004
Talking movies debuted in Hamilton in 1929
By Jim Blount
Hundreds of Hamilton area residents forgot their troubles Sunday, Aug. 4, 1929. Seventy-five years ago today, on the eve of the Great Depression and the 10th year of Prohibition in Ohio, they flocked to the Palace and Rialto theaters for a movie innovation. A reporter said "not even the introduction of motion pictures created such a stir in Hamilton as did the beginning of talkies."
A newspaper said crowds packed the lobby all day at the Rialto, waiting to see a movie that matched voices and music with the action. The Palace "was packed, jammed and extended at all performances" as "between 4,000 and 4,500 persons visited the box office to get their first local glimpse of the talkies." Both theaters charged their higher Sunday prices, 50 cents for adults, 25 cents for children.
Motion pictures with synchronized sound had been around for a couple years, but the technological advance didn’t reach Hamilton until Aug. 4, 1929.
That day the Rialto, at 50 High Street, screened a musical, "Broadway Melody," advertised as an "all talking, singing, dancing dramatic sensation."
Film historian Richard Barrios called the MGM box office success "the first true musical film." The 110-minute movie starred Anita Page, Bessie Love, Charles King, Jed Proty and Kenneth Thomson. The show business story with a triangular love plot won the Academy Award for best picture. Other Oscar nominees were Bessie Love, best actress, and Harry Beaumont, director.
In his 1995 book, A Song in the Dark: Birth of the Musical Film , Barrios described "Broadway Melody" as: "The work that established movie musicals as potent and viable entertainment. The film giving stature to sound film at a crucial time. The instigator of a host of technical advances that greatly enhanced the production of talking pictures. A phenomenal worldwide success with audiences and critics. The first talking film produced by the industry’s biggest company. The model for a multitude of successors and imitators."
The first sound film at the Palace, 213-219 South Third Street, featured William (Bill) Boyd, Marie Prevost, Russell Gleason and Charles Farrell in Pathe’s "The Flying Fool," directed by William Taylor (Tay) Garnett. The plot involved a World War I air ace who returns home and steals his brother’s girl friend. The Palace also showed two talking short films, "The Runaway Train" and a Mack Sennett comedy, "The Bride’s Relations."
Boyd’s movie career extended from 1918 to 1955, numbering more than 140 films. In the mid 1920s he was playing the romantic lead in silent pictures and earning $100,000 a year.
But Boyd, an Ohio native, was best known as a cowboy hero, Hopalong Cassidy, in dozens of western movies from 1935 to 1952. Boyd acquired the rights to his profitable cowboy films and they had a lucrative second life in the early years of television.
"Possibly the quietness of the audience was the most noticeable to the onlooker," said a Hamilton Daily News reporter who watched the first talkie at the Palace. He said the theater "had the quietest audiences in its history -- no one reading sub titles out loud, or carrying on conversations and no children crying." Theaters had advertised "children in arms not admitted" and that "every child must have a ticket."
The reporter found the experience "so realistic, from the Pathe News reel to the end" of the feature film, "everything was complete, exciting, vivid, fascinating. To have pictures talk was so unusual that audiences yesterday were held spellbound."
The enthusiastic reviewer had this to say about the newsreel that preceded the movie: "One felt as though one were standing near the line of ambassadors and diplomats, who were being greeted by President [Herbert] Hoover as they met for the Kellogg peace conference. When the Pathe cameraman takes the pictures for the newsreels," the report said in explaining the Vitaphone process, "the identical sound caused by the action is recorded on the side of the film."
The last of the silent films at Hamilton’s two main theaters Saturday, Aug. 3, 1929, were "Give and Take," a comedy, at the Palace, and "Protection," a crime drama, at the Rialto.
The Palace -- Hamilton's first theater built exclusively for movies -- opened Feb. 3, 1920, and closed in the late 1950s. In May 2004, the building was acquired by the Greater Hamilton Civic Theatre as the group’s home and rehearsal site.
The Rialto opened Sept. 1, 1920, became the Court Theater in August 1959 and reverted to Rialto in May 1989 before closing in October 1993. The building was razed in October 1996. Lentil Park was created on the High Street portion of the theater site in 2001.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004
John B. Martin, Hamilton native, leader in public interest journalism
By Jim Blount
In presidential elections from 1952 through 1972, a Hamilton native helped shape speeches and campaign strategy for Democratic candidates and presidents. John Bartlow Martin -- also an author, journalist, teacher and diplomat -- worked anonymously for Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Edmund Muskie and George McGovern.
Martin was born Aug. 4, 1915, in Hamilton, Ohio, the eldest son of John W. and Laura Bartlow Martin. In his autobiography, It Seems Like Only Yesterday , he had little to say about his birthplace. "Many seem to regard the years of their youth as the easiest years of their lives," Martin said. "Mine were the hardest." He said "my parents' forebears had come from the rural part of the crucial pioneer triangle where Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky come together."
His family moved to Indianapolis when he was about four years old. Martin also had nothing positive to say about his Indiana boyhood. After skipping two grades, the young man called "bookworm" graduated from Arsenal Technical High School at age 16.
At DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., Martin was editor of the newspaper and a stringer for the Indianapolis Times. After graduation, he was a reporter at the Times. His experience on the police beat led to writing articles for detective magazines. He moved to Chicago to free lance with crime stories "the meal ticket," he recalled. Martin said it "was almost perfect training for someone who aspired to write serious fact pieces."
In 1943 Harper's accepted Martin's article on a German spy who had been raised in Chicago. Harper's bought more stories and so did Outdoor Life and Esquire. Then he graduated to popular high circulation magazines -- Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Collier’s, The Atlantic and others.
Like many young men in the early 1940s, his career plans had to wait. Martin was drafted into the U. S. Army in 1944 and trained in the criminal investigation division of the military police. He served until February 1946.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, Martin's byline was familiar when the big magazines were at their zenith. Martin said he wrote "increasingly long series on big national issues, sometimes spending a year on one." He described his work as "full-time free lance heavy fact writing."
One of his blockbusters was a 1948 Harper's article, "The Blast in Centralia No. 5, A Mine Disaster No One Stopped," a detailed catastrophe study that remains on the reading list for a variety of college courses.
Martin wrote 18,500 words on the Illinois coal mine explosion that killed 111 men March 25, 1947. He depicted them as helpless victims of faulty protection systems. His investigation led to political changes and enactment of tougher federal safety measures for mines.
The Centralia story was an example of the "legwork" and interviewing that Martin emphasized in his work. "Most journalists make a living by interviewing the great. I made mine by interviewing the humble," he explained. Martin also said he learned "to master the facts -- to study the public record until I knew more about the case than anybody directly involved."
"Over the years I taught myself to cut about one for six," Martin said. "That is, if I want to end with a final draft of 20 pages, I write about 120 pages of rough draft. I put the pieces through six rewrites." In 1988, after his death, Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism established the John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism. Northwestern said Martin's "magazine stories about labor racketeering, poor working conditions, racism, crime and abuse of mental patients were marked by careful reporting, incisive writing and a palpable concern for victims. In many cases, these stories prompted public policy changes and inspired other journalists to make a difference with their own words." Martin taught 10 years at Northwestern, 1970-80. His previous teaching stints included Wesleyan University; Princeton University and the City University of New York.
Besides his 1986 autobiography, Martin -- who died Jan. 3, 1987 -- covered several topics in his 16 books, ranging from a Stevenson biography and Indiana, An Interpretation, to Jimmy Hoffa's Hot and The Deep South Says Never, the latter based on a Saturday Evening Post series on the South during the Civil Rights movement.
In 1952, Martin's writing career took a sudden change. For the next 20 years, much of what he wrote didn't carry his byline. Next week this column will cover his behind-the-scenes political work.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2004
John B. Martin's writing skill helped presidents and candidates
By Jim Blount
From his youth John Bartlow Martin planned to be a writer. He earned success as a newspaper and magazine journalist and the author of 16 books. By 1952, the Hamilton native was recognized as a leader in what he called "free lance heavy fact writing" and what scholars described as "public interest magazine journalism" that "prompted public policy changes." For 36 years, he had no desire to become involved in politics, but presidential politics became his second profession.
Starting with Adlai Stevenson's 1952 and 1956 presidential runs, Martin -- born Aug. 4, 1915, in Hamilton -- wrote speeches and participated in the campaigns of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Edmund Muskie and George McGovern.
Although involved in researching and writing about major issues for popular magazines, Martin declared he had little interest in politics while working as a newspaper reporter in Indianapolis and, while residing in the Chicago area, writing for leading magazines in the 1940s and 1950s.
"Not until Adlai Stevenson's first ran for president in 1952 did I become engaged in politics and public life," he said in his autobiography, It Seems Like Only Yesterday. It began when Martin was asked to edit a book of speeches by the Illinois governor.
"Never before had I written a speech," but "from my work on the Stevenson book," he wrote, "I knew something about Adlai Stevenson's speaking style, I could tell when something sounded Stevensonian or didn't." With that background, he joined a distinguished group of writers and advisers, including Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian; John Kenneth Galbraith, a Harvard University economist; and poet Archibald MacLeish.
Martin became more than a speechwriter. He relied on his skills and experiences as a reporter in a new assignment -- editorial advance man.
In describing his new job, he said "I'd go to a state in advance of the candidate to interview people, trying to find out what the local issues were. I would talk to the local Democratic leaders, businessmen, newsmen, taxi drivers, waitresses, bartenders anybody I could find." Martin then produced a report that prepared campaign workers and the candidate for stops and speeches in the state.
Martin didn't completely abandon free lance writing in the 1950s. His seven-part series in the Saturday Evening Post on the Senate labor racketeering investigation of Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters Union brought the writer to the attention of the Kennedy family. He worked for the 1960 John F. Kennedy campaign and, after the election, wrote speeches for JFK's administration.
He had a part in a memorable 1961 speech by Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He is credited with suggesting "vast wasteland" to describe the quality of television. Martin also served as U. S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic during the Kennedy years.
Martin's observations on presidents and the presidency are numerous in his autobiography.
"We never know what kind of president a man will make until he becomes president," he wrote, noting Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman as examples. Martin said "during the election of 1860 few people would have predicted that the plain lanky man from rustic Illinois would make our greatest president, nor would many have said in 1945 that the failed haberdasher from Missouri would also make a great president."
In regard to winning the office, Martin said "to succeed, a politician needs not only to be articulate, attractive and a leader, he needs even more to be lucky."
"Adlai Stevenson had been lucky for a time, had hit a rising curve that carried him to the [Illinois] governor's mansion and propelled him toward the White House. But then his luck went bad -- he was obliged to run against Eisenhower and was overtaken by Kennedy."
Martin's last work in a presidential campaign was 1972, first with Sen. Edmund Muskie, whom he "had long admired," and then with the nominee, Sen. George McGovern. He said he "had never seen any campaign so poor as the McGovern campaign" Martin said "the headquarters had the uproarious atmosphere of a college dormitory," and "McGovern himself made mistake after foolish mistake."
It was a time, he observed, "when young people were in revolt. They declared they wanted to 'open up' the party," but "what they did not realize was that they were handing control of politics over not to the people, but the poll takers and the television anchormen."
"Time was when reporters told us what the candidates thought about issues," Martin lamented. "Nowadays each night during the primaries they tell us who will win by what percentage next Tuesday," he said. "In 1984, virtually every work and every act of both the Republican and Democratic candidates was aimed at nothing but the evening TV news," the sound bite, said the Hamilton native who died Jan. 3, 1987.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2004
Mexican War didn’t resolve festering slavery issue
(This is the ninth in a series on Butler County connections to the Mexican War.)
By Jim Blount
"The Mexican War ended with complete victory by the United States," said a history of Butler County, "and we now had no enemy nor any foreign controversy. War seemed far distant," said the anonymous author of the History and Biographical Cyclopaedia of Butler County, Ohio, Illustrated, published in 1882 by the Western Biographical Publishing Co., Cincinnati. "Yet the seed of discord was there, and war was soon to break out among us on an unexampled scale."
Declaring war on Mexico in 1846 wasn’t universally endorsed in the 28 states, especially those above the Mason-Dixon line and the Ohio River. The Ohio General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the war against Mexico and President James K. Polk’s aggressive expansion policies.
Ohio’s governor, William Bebb, a native of Butler County, and other northern war opponents, mostly members of the Whig party, realized that Texas, admitted to the union in 1845, would become a slave state and feared that slavery also would be permitted in additional states in the area taken from Mexico when the war ended.
The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo still left the U.S.-Mexican border in doubt, while the annexation of Mexican territory raised other issues that split the North and the South. In question was the western limit of Texas and the status of slavery in territory that would be divided into new states.
A series of proposals -- known collectively as the Compromise of 1850 -- won favor in the U. S. Congress. Included were admission of California as a free state; creation of New Mexico and Utah territories, but delaying decisions on slavery until they qualified to be admitted as states; outlawing the slave trade in the District of Columbia; and resolving Texas boundary claims by providing for federal payment of $10 million in debt that had been amassed by the Republic of Texas.
Also part of the deal was a more stringent federal fugitive slave law -- an action that would have immediate impact on Ohioans assisting runaway slaves along the secretive Underground Railroad.
The Compromise of 1850 wasn’t the end of the debate. Some of the same issues were argued again before approval of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.
Butler Countians in the 1848-1861 period weren’t in agreement on the slavery question, according to the 1882 history.
"In some of the states free colored men were not permitted to sojourn; in others it was a state's prison offense for the two races to marry," the author recalled. Ohio had its share of laws that limited the rights of free African-Americans and protected the property of southern slave holders when escapees were apprehended north of the Ohio River.
"And here in Butler County the bitterest prejudices prevailed," said the county history published 17 years after the Civil War. "Any man of color who attempted to settle in Rossville [now part of Hamilton’s West Side] was speedily driven out by a mob.
"Should any one of that race go South, he was liable to be taken up and sold, as being presumptively a runaway," the account continued.
"The most distinguished colored citizen of the county at present, a man always free, and whose abilities and acquirements are at least equal to those of any other man in Butler, was forced to pretend, in order to prevent being enslaved in New Orleans and other places where he traveled in this youth, that he was an Indian," said the 1882 history.
"The true stain on the character of the people of the South is the long course of injuries practiced upon a defenseless people, and the crime against free speech and liberty thereby engendered.
"It is difficult to speak coolly of the years before the Rebellion -- more difficult than to do so of the great struggle itself," said the unidentified writer in recalling Butler County attitudes in the period between the end of the Mexican War in 1848 and the start of the Civil War in 1861.
Future columns will explore the slavery issue and the Underground Railroad in Butler County in conjunction with the recent opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.