When we think movies and movie stars today, we generally think Hollywood. But in the earliest days of motion pictures, the stars and the movie theaters were here in New York City. After all, New York was home to some of the greatest entertainers and culture in the world. We had Broadway and the great dramas, comedies and musicals, the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, and all of the smaller houses and concert halls, countless vaudeville and variety acts, and performers from every form of entertainment one could possible imagine – the great, the average, and the really awful. This, not some city in California, was the entertainment capital of the world.
One of the biggest names in the new 20th century film industry began in a furrier’s shop in the fur district of New York City. A Hungarian-born Jewish immigrant named Adolph Zuker, working as a sucessful furrier, invested in a penny arcade theater on 14th Street. Zuker had been absolutely smitten with motion pictures since he had seen his first penny show in 1901, perhaps ten years after the motion picture had been invented. It was now two years later, and he had the capital to invest in his dream. His penny arcade showed short little movies, which we call nickelodeons, which just showed moving images; there were no real plots, no stars yet. But people loved it.
Before long, his “Automatic Vaudeville Company” had branches in Philadelphia, Boston and Newark. He got financial backing from another furrier named Marcus Loew, another lover of this new form of entertainment. Marcus Loew became the president of Loew’s Inc, which would one day become the parent company of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. Zuker became president of Loew’s Enterprises, and they invested in fur shops, bakeries and grocery stores in neighborhoods and cities with large immigrant populations, and they turned those buildings into movie exhibition halls, where their short movies with no sound and no language could be understood by anyone. They cleaned up. (more…)