Thursday, April 12, 2012

Crime Novelist Scott Turow is born (1949) and The First Movie Palace Opens (1914)

Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent (1987), is born in Chicago on this date in 1949.

Turow started writing as a child, inspired by his mother, who wrote articles for local publications outside Chicago. He attended Amherst College, then studied and taught fiction at Stanford before enrolling in Harvard Law School. Based on his experiences at Harvard, he wrote One L: What They Really Teach You at Harvard Law School (1977). He joined the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago after law school, working on a sting operation to convict corrupt lawyers and judges. After eight years on the project, he left to practice criminal defense at a large Chicago law firm. While holding both jobs, he commuted to work on the train, where he wrote his first novel, Presumed Innocent, in a spiral notebook. The book was made into a hit movie in 1990 starring Harrison Ford. Turow continued to work part time as an attorney while turning out more bestsellers, including The Burden of Proof (1990), Pleading Guilty (1993), The Laws of Our Fathers (1996), Personal Injuries (1999), Reversible Errors (2002), Ordinary Heroes (2005), Limitations (2006), and Innocent (2010). Turow is a pioneer in the legal thriller genre, paving the way for other bestselling writers such as John Grisham.

On this day in 1914, the first “Movie Palace” opens to the public in New York City.

The Mark Strand Theatre located at Broadway and 47th Street, in the heart of Manhattan’s Theater District, was the creation of Mitchell L. Mark, who began his motion-picture career as a producer but later became an exhibitor. Before 1914, motion-picture exhibitors had generally showcased their offerings behind modest storefronts, dubbed “nickelodeons” after the original Nickelodeon that opened in Pittsburgh in 1905. By contrast, the Mark Strand Theatre--later known simply as the Strand--was the first of the so-called “dream palaces,” called as such for their impressive size and luxuriously appointed interiors. The Strand seated around 3,000 people and boasted a second-floor viewing balcony and (in an architectural innovation at the time) a two-story rotunda where moviegoers could socialize before and after the presentation and during intermission. 

On the night before it debuted to the public, the Mark Strand Theatre held its opening-night gala, which the next day’s newspapers called “a sensation” (according to a 1938 retrospective on the Strand published in the New York Times) In addition to the feature presentation that night--The Spoilers, a drama starring William Farnum--the audience was treated to a performance by the Strand’s concert orchestra; The Neapolitan Incident, which the program called “a collaboration of the motion picture and song”; songs by the Strand Quartet; and a Keystone comedy short. By 1916, the number of movie palaces in the United States had topped 21,000. Instead of a program of short films, these theaters would show a full-length feature presentation in order to charge patrons premium prices. The movie-palace boom (and the corresponding demise of the nickelodeons) marked the beginning of the rise of the studio system.

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