Catering to the “Better Classes”

In the years 1908 to 1910, nickelodeons across the country were busy upgrading facilities and clientele. Refreshments, restrooms, and even nurseries were added in order to attract the “better classes.” Attendance by ethnic and lower-class audiences was discouraged, both by programming and price, and, in particular, operators found that uniformed personnel, such as ushers, gave the appearance of order and fostered good behavior. Meanwhile, many legitimate theaters, originally forced by nickelodeons to put motion pictures on their bills, began attracting customers away from the smaller movies-only theaters. Ironically, many members of “the better classes” discovered that they could now go to the movies without going to the nickelodeon. Increasingly, therefore, movie theaters became larger and better furnished, and as many nickelodeons refurbished in imitation of more elegant competitors, the nickelodeon as such—as a low-priced, no-frills venue—began to disappear. Note that even as late as 1914, about 75 percent of the typical audience was male.

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