On November 26, 1927—ninety years ago today—Cowtown’s opulent Worth Theater opened, the second of the theater triplets on 7th Street’s Show Row.
The Worth, part of Adolph Zukor’s Paramount Publix theater chain, seated 2,284, featured a grand Wurlitzer organ, plush carpet, and an Egyptian motif. The theater was part of the Worth Hotel, which had opened in September 1927. Clip is from the November 27 Star-Telegram.
To publicize the new theater, the Worth and its cross-Taylor Street neighbor, the Star-Telegram, teamed up for a publicity stunt: A real Hollywood film crew, led by a real Hollywood director, would come to town and make an all-Fort Worth movie—shot in Cowtown, scripted by a Cowtowner and starring Cowtowners. The all-Fort Worth movie would be a two-reeler (20-24 minutes).
Berkova Productions filmed similar movies in twenty-one other cities. For each film local talent was used, and the firm of Finkelstein and Ruben produced the movies and, with local newspapers, provided publicity.
The director of the all-Fort Worth movie would be Lem F. Kennedy (born 1880), an actor and director known for Thou Shalt Not Steal (1917), The Power Within (1921), and Down Upon the Suwanee River (1925). Clip is from the December 4 Star-Telegram.
Two contests were held. In the first contest Fort Worth residents were invited to submit scripts. A contest editor at the Star-Telegram culled the script entries and mailed the finalists to Hollywood, where (top to bottom; photos from Wikipedia) film stars Clara Bow, Richard Dix, Bebe Daniels (of Dallas), and Adolph Menjou would select the winning script. Note that the winning script had to include a scene in the Star-Telegram building and a scene in the Worth Theater. (The Star-Telegram had shared the limelight in a similar stunt in 1916 when Harry Houdini came to town to perform at the Majestic Theater.) A wedding scene also was shot at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church with spectators serving as extras. Scenes also were shot at the train station and on Main Street. Clip is from the December 11 Star-Telegram.
The four judges picked the winning script: Beauty and Brains by Mrs. G. L. Miller of Travis Avenue. Among the runners-up was Stranded on Goat Island by Francis Pevehouse of Lake Worth. Clip is from the December 28 Star-Telegram.
In the second contest local talent auditioned for a role in the movie. The Star-Telegram printed this coupon containing a casting card and a casting ticket. Response was good. The newspaper printed the names of more than one hundred applicants.
On January 5, 1928 the Star-Telegram reported that director Kennedy had made his initial selection for the cast. Note that it helped to look like Clara Bow or Rudolph Valentino.
On January 10 and 11 the Star-Telegram announced the cast members of Beauty and Brains. Two Fort Worth motorcycle policemen would have minor roles. Among the major roles, Earl B. Howard (top center) would portray the maniac Bughouse Bronson. (Inset from 1929 shows Howard, a radio salesman, in a moment of sanity.)
On January 8 the Star-Telegram reported on the start of filming and described the movie’s dramatic first scene.
On January 13 the Star-Telegram reported that filming was almost finished and that early scenes had already been printed.
Meanwhile, Dallas announced that the Morning News and the Dallas Palace Theater would team up to make an all-Dallas movie. Dallas’s Palace Theater had opened in 1921 as an independent theater but was taken over by the Paramount Publix chain in 1927. So, the all-Dallas movie was probably a PR stunt by the new owner and coincided with Paramount Publix’s opening of the Worth Theater in Fort Worth. Clip is from the November 30, 1927 Dallas Morning News.
On January 6, 1928 the Morning News crowed that the powerful lamps used by the crew making the all-Dallas movie would flash messages in the night sky to Fort Worth in Morse code. The Worth Theater would give prizes to decoders.
On January 9 the Morning News announced that filming of Woman Proof was complete. Note the character played by J. C. Jeffers. Although the Fort Worth and Dallas movie scripts were written by different people, both movies featured a character named “Bughouse Bronson.” Hollywood apparently tweaked both scripts by adding a maniac.
On January 20 Dallas’s Palace Theater included Woman Proof in its display ad in the Morning News.
On January 28 Cowtown’s Worth Theater included Beauty and Brains in its display ad in the Star-Telegram.
The all-Fort Worth movie premiered for a week engagement at the Worth Theater on January 28. On January 29 Star-Telegram reviewer Bernice Foy was oddly brief but positive.
In 1948 Fort Worth and Dallas would take part in a similar PR stunt. But rather than make a movie to promote a building, they built a building to promote a movie, building replicas of the house featured in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.
The Worth Theater and Hotel and the Dallas Palace Theater closed and were demolished in the early 1970s. The Fort Worth Club expanded into the Worth space.
As for Beauty and Brains, after the all-Fort Worth movie premiered, the Hollywood film crew packed up lights and lenses and went back to Tinseltown. Fort Worth went back to life without the limelight. As far as I can determine, no copy of the all-Fort Worth movie survives. We will never know the fate of Bughouse Bronson.
Show Row Footnote
The first of the theater triplets on Show Row? It was built at the corner of East 7th Street and Commerce in 1908 as Byers Opera House for live performances. In 1919 the opera house was converted into a theater to show newfangled motion pictures and became the Palace Theater. It was demolished in 1977.
Photo by W. D. Smith.
The third triplet: Cowtown Goes Hollywood: “Fort Worth’s Newest Movie Cathedral”
(Thanks and a tip o’ the tripod to historian Harry Max Hill for his help.)