I Remember When: Playbill Part 2

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In this episode, Gerald H. Hoag, former manager of both the Majestic Theatre and the Michigan Theatre, talks about the early theaters in Ann Arbor and some of the early stars and most popular films to come to town. Host Ted Trost mentions the Ann Arbor Film Festival and the Ann Arbor Art Fairs. Footage includes a street performer at the Art Fair and the University of Michigan Marching Band.

Directed by Dale Throneberry
Created by Jeff Werner
Executive producer: Catherine Anderson
Graphic artist Eric Anderson
Sponsored by the Ann Arbor Public Library, with help from the Ann Arbor Sesquicentennial Commission and the University of Michigan Speech Department.

Length: 00:30:58
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Repository Information: Ann Arbor District Library Archives


  • [00:00:00.00] [PIANO MUSIC]
  • [00:00:40.22] TED TROST: Hello, and welcome to Ann Arbor playbill Part II, another in the continuing series "I Remember When." During this program we'll be taking a look at the movies in Ann Arbor, from the silent films right up to today.
  • [00:00:54.27] We'll also be taking a brief look at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, held every summer and known throughout the country as one of the finest displays of arts and crafts to be seen anywhere. And finally, we'll take it in a little of the 1974 Michigan homecoming celebrations.
  • [00:01:13.06] Join me now, as we enjoy the memories of Jerry Hoag, longtime manager of the Michigan Theater, here in Ann Arbor.
  • [00:01:22.63] Jerry was even in the movies once, although he didn't know we had seen this until after the interview. Actually, this film was made as a commercial for Ann Arbor, sponsored by a group of local merchants. At least that's what our sources tell us.
  • [00:01:37.70] This was Jerry in 1936. Here he is today. I first asked Jerry when did you come to Ann Arbor?
  • [00:01:49.20] JERRY HOAG: --Ann Arbor in 1919 to take over the Majestic Theater as manager. The Majestic was over on-- right next door to where the television station used to be, where the [INAUDIBLE] is.
  • [00:02:00.07] TED TROST: How many theaters were there in Ann Arbor at that time?
  • [00:02:02.43] JERRY HOAG: There were five. Let's see, there was uptown, there was an arcade in the Majestic, and then downtown there was a Worth, and the Orpheum, and the Ray. Of course, there was also the legit house, so-called the Whitney.
  • [00:02:17.25] TED TROST: Had you been a manager of a motion picture theater before?
  • [00:02:21.98] JERRY HOAG: No. This was my first job. I came from an auditor for Butterfield Theaters in Saginaw. I had previously been a treasurer and then an auditor, and then this was my first management job in 1919.
  • [00:02:36.39] TED TROST: Well now, were there crowds coming to the movies in those days when you first began?
  • [00:02:40.73] JERRY HOAG: No. It was a very poor business. House was in the red. We couldn't get rid of it because we had a long lease with Mrs. Sauer, and we had to keep it.
  • [00:02:52.47] TED TROST: What kind of pictures were they showing in those days?
  • [00:02:54.71] JERRY HOAG: We had the very best pictures. By that I mean we had three changes a week-- for silent pictures, you understand. And we'd have either Mary Pickford or Douglas Fairbanks on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday.
  • [00:03:08.48] And then on Wednesday and Thursday, we'd have [INAUDIBLE] Bennett, or Charles Ray. And then on Friday and Saturday we'd have a western, William S. Hart or Tom Mix. Three changes a week.
  • [00:03:18.58] TED TROST: Well, I understand that in addition to the films, you also brought vaudeville programs to Ann Arbor.
  • [00:03:23.63] JERRY HOAG: Later. I brought vaudeville about three years later, 1922.
  • [00:03:29.15] TED TROST: Who were some of the stars that came, or some of the shows?
  • [00:03:32.74] JERRY HOAG: Well, we played about everyone. Of course, I started wearing Pennsylvanians. That first theatre in Greysmouth, I started at the Majestic.
  • [00:03:42.11] And from the other side we had everybody from Jimmy Savo, so on. Although the big stars didn't come in there. We did play the Tennessee 10, and Mason-Dixon Orchestra, and so on and so forth.
  • [00:03:58.90] TED TROST: Didn't I understand Fred Waring also got his start with the Jay? They used to have the Jay Hop at the university?
  • [00:04:04.22] JERRY HOAG: That's where I picked him up.
  • [00:04:05.18] TED TROST: And you picked him up.
  • [00:04:06.30] JERRY HOAG: Picked him up and we brought him over to the stage, and rehearse them to keep them from jumping up and down with their feet like this, because they all did. And it was very difficult for a dance band in those days to play a stage show. But they were marvelous and were entertaining.
  • [00:04:22.26] TED TROST: But you must have met some of the stars personally who came in.
  • [00:04:25.85] JERRY HOAG: Oh yes. Lots of them.
  • [00:04:26.58] TED TROST: Are there any that make a particular impression upon you?
  • [00:04:29.95] JERRY HOAG: Besides Fred Waring?
  • [00:04:31.12] TED TROST: Yeah.
  • [00:04:31.97] JERRY HOAG: Oh yes. Jack Benny for one. Of course, many of the legit people. Bing Crosby came with, of course, with the Paul Whiteman trail. I always said he was the man with the gravel voice. He had a little symbol that he kept time with, he and Harry Barris-- the trio.
  • [00:04:55.13] TED TROST: Well now, there was an organ installed here that has some fame.
  • [00:04:58.95] JERRY HOAG: At the Michigan.
  • [00:05:00.26] TED TROST: Here at the Michigan, yeah.
  • [00:05:00.88] JERRY HOAG: At the Michigan, yes. That's what made the theater different than any other because we had a big organ. This was the biggest organ that Barton ever made. And then we had a marvelous organist, and he entertained the audience.
  • [00:05:18.84] TED TROST: Was the organ also used as background music for some of the silent pictures?
  • [00:05:22.17] JERRY HOAG: Yes. We had an orchestra. We had a 10-piece orchestra playing. And then when they orchestra took their break, the organ played. So that was the entire background of the shows.
  • [00:05:35.63] TED TROST: Well now, you were at the Majestic and then you came to the Michigan Theater here. This is a beautiful, beautiful theatre. It still is.
  • [00:05:44.21] JERRY HOAG: The type that they don't build anymore.
  • [00:05:45.73] TED TROST: That's right. Now, what was, at least for its time, so special about it? What made it unique?
  • [00:05:53.56] JERRY HOAG: The equipment of a theatre was so much greater. Whereas the other theatres had two projection machines for continuous showing, we had spotlights and what we call E7s or affect machines, so that we could do all sorts of things on it.
  • [00:06:12.23] Then, of course, for the organ logs-- they call them now singalongs. The student body loved to sing. And they would sing. The organist was capable of getting them to compete. He'd have the balcony sing one song-- Small Fry was a number-- and the main foyer would sing small fry, and then the echo would be upstairs, small fry. And they'd compete.
  • [00:06:41.17] TED TROST: Now, the stage, you can have vaudeville productions, obviously. Did you have other productions?
  • [00:06:47.50] JERRY HOAG: Oh yeah. We had all kinds of legit-- We used to play seven, at least six, and usually seven legit shows-- New York shows on the order of one a month. And we brought all of them year after year after year after year.
  • [00:07:04.88] TED TROST: So you had an opportunity to meet some of the big stars there too.
  • [00:07:07.47] JERRY HOAG: Yes, indeed.
  • [00:07:08.06] TED TROST: And who stands out in your memory about quite outstanding?
  • [00:07:12.05] JERRY HOAG: Well, Clifton Web, I suppose, Helen Hayes, Ethel Barrymore. She was in The Corn Is Green. Helen Hayes was in Victoria Regina. Zasu Pitts was in Ramshackle Inn. Life With Father was Percy Waram and Margalo Gillmore.
  • [00:07:27.56] See, these were the same casts they had in New York. I mean the main stars were the same as they had in New York. Of course, Othello, when we brought Paul Robeson, and Jose Ferrer, and Uta Hagen, as are three people in that show.
  • [00:07:41.55] TED TROST: Now, when they would come to Ann Arbor, how long would they play? More than just one--
  • [00:07:46.08] JERRY HOAG: We would buy them for two weeks on the circuit.
  • [00:07:49.27] TED TROST: I see.
  • [00:07:49.77] JERRY HOAG: But Life With Father was here two days, and the other's usually one day. Grand Rapids would be two days. It'd be three shows. One matinee and two nights. But buy very small jumps. And buying them for two weeks, we could bring a New York show in, which would be impossible today, of course.
  • [00:08:08.58] TED TROST: Well now, in the '30s, the talkies were pretty big about after 1933 was it?
  • [00:08:14.58] JERRY HOAG: About '33 it started.
  • [00:08:16.51] TED TROST: Now, what kind of movies were shown in those days, in the '30s?
  • [00:08:20.10] JERRY HOAG: Before or after the talkies?
  • [00:08:21.54] TED TROST: Well, after talkies. Well, tell us about both, before and after, so that we can determine what the difference is. Sure.
  • [00:08:28.74] JERRY HOAG: After the talkies come in, you didn't advertise only one thing. Vitaphone. As long as you had the sign out in front that said vitaphone, you packed the house.
  • [00:08:40.67] TED TROST: Now what is vitaphone?
  • [00:08:41.90] JERRY HOAG: Vitaphone was the first type of talking picture, which was merely a synchronized disk. It was synchronized with the showing before a movie tone. Movie tone, of course, was photographed sound. Vitaphone was not-- movie tone had not been invented.
  • [00:09:00.57] And vitaphone, of course, was this other thing was operators had to have it in perfect thing, and if you happened to step on the floor real hard near that disk, it would jump out of sync. And so you'd see somebody going like that. Almost three seconds later you'd hear the knock. Or somebody would talk. And then come out-- and the students loved that because they got a big kick out of it.
  • [00:09:25.21] TED TROST: Well, then the early talkies, were they melodramas, or mysteries, or westerns?
  • [00:09:32.29] JERRY HOAG: Let's see. Mostly melodramas. For instance, Richard Barthelmess in Weary River, about the only talking there was in it was singing "I'm just like a weary river that flows down to the sea," and the rest was silent. Because they had these silent pictures all made, and they just merely added parts or sequences, which made it very difficult for us to run them both, but we did.
  • [00:10:00.62] TED TROST: Well now I understand one of those years there was an interest in newsreels and you advertised them too. Was that about this time?
  • [00:10:10.22] JERRY HOAG: Oh yes. We had newsreels, and because of the fact of our location in a university town and certain things going on, we were able to get Pathe News to come out and take pictures oftentimes of events. But the newsreel was quite a big thing in those days, even though some of the students made their own entertainment.
  • [00:10:37.26] For instance, we had, after World War I was over, they came up the Hudson River with the Navy, and they're all lined up on the deck, and students would-- somebody would hollar out short arm inspection, and, of course, you couldn't hear anything from that time on because everybody howled. That was the type of thing that they had.
  • [00:10:55.37] But we had newsreels all that time. Then we used to go over and take pictures of Bob or Jim of the Jay Hop. We'd tape that on Friday night and show it Sunday afternoon. So that packed the house with all the people.
  • [00:11:06.98] TED TROST: Oh sure. People would have an opportunity to come in and see themselves.
  • [00:11:11.98] JERRY HOAG: Yes. We played the opera.
  • [00:11:13.88] TED TROST: Presented here?
  • [00:11:14.65] JERRY HOAG: Yes. yes, we played the opera several years. I've forgotten just what-- I think about three different years.
  • [00:11:24.45] TED TROST: Now, let's see. You've got movies here, you've had vaudeville plays, you've had stage plays, now you've got CinemaScope, obviously, right?
  • [00:11:33.06] JERRY HOAG: That's right.
  • [00:11:34.56] TED TROST: What do you think was the most, I hate to say it-- no, maybe I better put it this way. The picture that seemed to attract the most interest, or the pictures over the years?
  • [00:11:47.38] JERRY HOAG: Over the years? Well, of course, the record, I think, of pictures was still held by Bridge on the River Kwai. But long before that came out, we had such a thing as Going My Way with Bing Crosby, which most people have never seen.
  • [00:12:05.98] They've seen about two-thirds of it on TV, but the horrible part is the way that they presented it on TV. And I'm not trying to talk TV, but Life With Father was a beautiful picture, and when you leave out certain parts for the sake of commercials, you've never seen Life With Father.
  • [00:12:25.82] TED TROST: Did Gone With The Wind play here?
  • [00:12:27.69] JERRY HOAG: Yes. Gone With The Wind played, I would say, seven or eight times. The first time was, I think was it '39? 1939.
  • [00:12:34.91] TED TROST: I think so, yeah.
  • [00:12:36.99] Let me ask you this. Did you ever show one of the horror shows that really frightened the people so that you had to watch it with people passing out or at least running out?
  • [00:12:47.36] JERRY HOAG: Well, the-- I don't know how to explain this to you without having people take offense, but actually the things that were most frightening were the pictures that all the people says send your children to see. For instance, The Wizard of Oz. Everyone said how wonderful it was.
  • [00:13:09.75] Well, I happen to know that I had to go on the stage and look at the little kids all down there and say now remember, Judy Garland's in this picture, and don't be frightened when this house goes tumbling around. Because you know she's alive. She wasn't hurt. It all this make believe.
  • [00:13:28.47] TED TROST: Just a play, right.
  • [00:13:28.85] JERRY HOAG: And then when this witch comes up and all green out of the cauldron, remember, that's just a part of it. So don't fret. I'll be you you're going to be scared, aren't you? And I'd point to a little boy. He'd say, no. I'd said yes, you are.
  • [00:13:45.64] TED TROST: You kind of anticipated this beforehand? You knew this was going to happen?
  • [00:13:48.92] JERRY HOAG: We had panic. We had panic in the theater.
  • [00:13:51.08] TED TROST: You did?
  • [00:13:51.76] JERRY HOAG: Oh yes. When we showed Wizard of Oz first, the children ran out crying.
  • [00:13:56.58] TED TROST: I'll be. How about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Did you--
  • [00:13:58.89] JERRY HOAG: No, not that. Pinnochio was another one that frightened the children.
  • [00:14:03.05] TED TROST: They were Disney program, right?
  • [00:14:04.71] JERRY HOAG: Yes. But everybody said oh, this is wonderful for children. Well, it is if the children understand it.
  • [00:14:10.94] But before that, it was a complete frightening experience.
  • [00:14:17.01] TED TROST: When was the last standards that you used in deciding which pictures would be shown?
  • [00:14:23.53] JERRY HOAG: Well, if possible, we tried to pick a motion picture that was plausible, wouldn't be an insult to the intelligence of an audience, and would leave them refreshed was the main thing.
  • [00:14:42.75] We did not want to offend people. We wanted people to come to matinees and go out and go home and be happy, and the night's the same way, with it was the widows or--
  • [00:14:58.24] In other words, we never wanted to offend anybody. And probably even worse was insulting the intelligence by some silly thing.
  • [00:15:08.40] TED TROST: You must have had some great personal satisfactions in this work. What were some of them? The pluses that you remember?
  • [00:15:18.44] JERRY HOAG: I don't know. I can't recall any--
  • [00:15:20.50] TED TROST: Well, you have the satisfaction of having brought-- at least of having brought good entertainment to Ann Arbor. But did people ever come and say, oh, I'm so glad your theater showed this? I mean could you see--
  • [00:15:32.25] JERRY HOAG: Well, that was what made life worthwhile. I'm a ham actor. By that I mean the nicest thing in the world is to stand and watch the people come out, and they say nice show, and all up of OK and everything, and you bow and say thank you, glad you liked it.
  • [00:15:49.02] But of course, there were other times when they'd go out and go like that. Well, in those times, I ducked. If possible, I kept out of sight. Actually, the fun is in pleasing the people. It made it worthwhile working every Sunday, and every holiday, and every Christmas, New Year's, and so forth and so on. Without that, running a theater would be horrible.
  • [00:16:12.96] TED TROST: Well now, how many seats are there in the theatre.
  • [00:16:17.39] JERRY HOAG: This one has 1,813.
  • [00:16:19.40] TED TROST: Including the balcony.
  • [00:16:20.40] JERRY HOAG: Yes.
  • [00:16:21.53] TED TROST: Have you had to enlarge it at various times, or has this always has been the seating capacity?
  • [00:16:26.33] JERRY HOAG: We've taken some seats out. We had a few 18" seats. We had 14 18" seats. We took those all out. And now there's no seat that that's small.
  • [00:16:42.31] Nowadays you don't need as many seats because there's not as many people going. Actually, the theater is able to handle all the public. Very seldom that they have to wait. The only time that you ever see people waiting is when they're waiting for a change of program. In other words, at the end of one feature, the start of another one.
  • [00:17:03.70] TED TROST: Well now, having been in the motion picture business in Ann Arbor, and having observed people as they come out, watching some of these shows. We're having our sesquicentennial this year. How has Ann Arbor changed during this period, when you were actively serving as manager here?
  • [00:17:24.45] JERRY HOAG: Well, when I came, you must understand it was only 15,000 people. And we had street cars running around on the streets. And State Street wasn't paved. And, of course, there was no way to go to Detroit without getting stuck in the mud in some way.
  • [00:17:45.66] You had to follow the inner urbans to get to Ypsilanti. Packard Street was the only way to go. Washtenaw was not opened up like it is today.
  • [00:17:54.66] So it's a small town area, but you knew everybody. For instance, Sunday night, you knew exactly who was coming to that 7 o'clock show. And they never missed. The same people came. That was their one time. There were other things the same way.
  • [00:18:16.41] And now, of course, no one knows anyone else, and there isn't that spirit. Before when you went downtown, you said, hi so and so, hi, hello, hello, hello, and smile. Today there's none of that.
  • [00:18:32.64] TED TROST: That's missing. We're sort of a lonely crowd.
  • [00:18:34.70] JERRY HOAG: I put myself out two weeks ago to walk down the street. I think everybody thought I was nuts, because I said good morning. How are you? Hello. And I did it to everyone. I didn't have to know them. I just spoke to them, and I got the funniest looks you ever saw in your life. They thought I was nuts. And I guess maybe I was, but I was trying.
  • [00:18:53.51] TED TROST: And during those years you've had close relations with the university and with the students.
  • [00:18:57.63] JERRY HOAG: Yes, indeed. Well, Dr. Burton was a splendid friend of mine, personally, and I've known them all, although Dr. Little and I had one little disagreement. But most of them, all the way down from Joe Bursley, all the way down through the years.
  • [00:19:19.58] We could cooperate. And if they wanted something done, we had enough pull to bring a cameraman in here to take a shoot [INAUDIBLE] raising the Bourdon-- I'll have to get it right-- bell, and the tower. We had all that taken, all the pictures. Things of that sort.
  • [00:19:38.80] TED TROST: You didn't necessarily sense any rift between town-and-gown.
  • [00:19:43.81] JERRY HOAG: No. That was all over. The bitterness of town-and-gown was over before that year.
  • [00:19:52.83] TED TROST: I see.
  • [00:19:54.05] JERRY HOAG: They didn't have any of that, or they [INAUDIBLE].
  • [00:19:59.02] TED TROST: There is, of course, one aspect of film in Ann Arbor that cannot be overlooked. That is the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Each March, more than 350 filmmakers vie for $25,000 in awards.
  • [00:20:12.65] George Manupelli, a university art professor and founder of the festival says, "Without a doubt, the festival is one of the most respected in the country, and one of the most durable."
  • [00:20:24.49] In fact, it is the second oldest in the United States. During its 12 year existence, the festival has made Ann Arbor a mecca for experimental filmmakers from throughout the United States and Canada.
  • [00:20:38.04] According to ManuPelli, each March, people have an opportunity to see some of the best directors and best films in the country.
  • [00:20:47.07] Turning now from a festival to a fair, let's take a look at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, or Street Fair, or Ann Arbor Arts and Crafts Fair, as it is sometimes called. Whatever you want to call this phenomenon, it began over five years ago and has been increasing size, until now it reaches all the way from the Eastside of campus, to Main Street, and everywhere in between. It is probably one of the largest, if not the largest art fair in America.
  • [00:21:15.58] This is the campus area, and as you walk down the street from booth to booth, you will find artists and craftspeople from all over the country and Canada working next to each other. Going on through the campus area, you might see a clown like this one, or maybe two. Watch this one.
  • [00:00:00.00]
  • [00:22:10.79] TED TROST: While he's taking a drink, let's move on to Main Street. From our vantage point above Main Street, you can see there are more booths, and surprisingly, many of them offer completely different products.
  • [00:22:23.78] I only wish we could let you wander from craft to craft. But instead, we'll just look at a few participants and move on.
  • [00:22:31.57] [MUSIC PLAYING]
  • [00:22:46.47] TED TROST: Music, as we know, plays a large role to the lives of many of us in Ann Arbor. And we all have different tastes. But one of the best known groups around town is the University of Michigan Marching Band. This year, during homecoming, they not only welcome back some agile alumni, but they paid tribute to Ann Arbor sesquicentennial.
  • [00:23:08.69] First, the alumni band, and then the 1974 U of M Marching Band. As you watch, I want you all to notice the cheerleader from the Class of '29.
  • [00:23:20.82] As they say in Michigan Stadium, band, take the field!
  • [00:23:25.62] [MARCHING BAND PLAYING]
  • [00:29:17.06] TED TROST: As you can see, Ann Arbor has a lot to offer, not only in film and marching music, but we also have classical music. And, of course, theater in Ann Arbor is second to none.
  • [00:29:29.71] I only wish we could have shown you more. Thank you for joining me on "I Remember When." Hope you've enjoyed the program.
  • [00:29:38.34] I'm Ted Trost. See you next time.
  • [00:29:40.94] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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