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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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SILENT MOVIES. It is believed the first person to operate a movie machine in Dubuque was A. Roy Appleby who cranked out one-reelers at the BIJOU THEATER at the beginning of the twentieth century. Projectionists usually spent eighteen hours on the job sweeping floors, repairing film, and finally turning the crank which projected the film. Turning the crank continuously for a film could take between thirty minutes to two hours. If the projectionist became tired, he might turn the crank a bit quicker to finish the reel.

It was Jake Rosenthal, however, who held the title as Dubuque's most spectacular silent film promoter. Enjoying the possibilities of working with mass psychology, Rosenthal used his skills at the MAJESTIC THEATRE. One of his feats involved the promotion of the silent film, "Cleopatra." Suggestions that the film was a bit risque, were spread around town with the result that questions were asked whether it should be shown. It was decided that a local official should inspect the film. After the projectionist had cranked out the film, the inspector chose which scenes should be deleted. The projectionist complied by cutting out two frames in each scene. The projectionist and Rosenthal failed to tell the inspector that several hundred frames on film are used in each scene. Much attention was paid to the fact that Rosenthal was showing a censored film which, when showed, failed to suggest that anything had been cut. The crowds to see the film were huge. (1)

Sound effects and music were added to the film experience shortly after the business began. Theaters hired a piano player or occasionally an orchestra to provide music suitable for the mood of the scene. When silent movies made their appearance at the GRAND THEATRE at the beginning of the twentieth century, the house boasted its own pipe organ and small orchestra to accompany the film. (2)



1. Tyson, H. G. "Pioneer Tells About Days of Film Flickers," Telegraph Herald, September 15, 1946, p. A7

2. " 'New Look' at the Grand," Telegraph Herald, February 21, 1964, p. 9