Showtime! From Opera Houses to Picture Palaces in El Paso.
By Cynthia Farah Haines. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 2006. 190 pages, oblong hardback, many b&w photos, bibliography ISBN 0-87404-303-4 $45.00http://www.utep.edu/twp/ email@example.com
Cynthia Haines was educated at Stanford and UTEP, has long lived on the border, photographed it, been a theater critic for decades, and professed Film Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso for 10 years before moving to Kansas where she is already organizing Kansas cinematic history. Her book production here shows her care for details, persistence, and an understanding, humorous mind.
Haines’ photographic interests led her to Mary Sarber at the El Paso Public library and the volume Literature and Landscape: Writers of the Southwest resulted. Her photographic contributions are seen in Country Music (1982) Los Murales (1992), Colors on Desert Walls (1997), and An Art of Conscience (1996).
El Paso’s modern incarnation was barely 150 years ago, and they had saloons, with dance hall girls. Harris happily explores venued entertainment early to late. She parades through vaudeville, opera houses, slide shows, the silent movies, the talkies, and the Golden period of movies in their grand houses, especially the Plaza Theater, and the drive-in screens.
The financiers, the conmen, the promoters, minstrels, actors, organists, ushers, projectionists, impresarios, moguls, critics, social mavens, and the viewing public play their roles amid dusty streets, store-front parlors, city hall, grand parties, road trips, bankruptcies, and fires. She considers about three dozen venues including several Spanish language houses. Haines’ Appendix B “El Paso’s Drive-In Movie Theaters” must trigger smiling, nostalgic recollections among the older adults, a cultural joy deprived modern teenagers.
And Haines exposes the cultural discriminations against the Chinese and African American communities. By telephone to WTM Haines relates that El Paso was often the nexus of Mexican performers and movies headed north across the border; major stars came North to open the shows. The Spanish theater Colon attracted wide audiences. Some folks learned their Spanish language there. Some Mexicans learned their English in the other theaters. The Cattlemen Steakhouse became a major restaurant based on its Texan myth and movie connections and German heritage. The vintage photographs, posters, advertisements, and show cards are delightful.
For only a $45 ticket, you too can experience the grand history of El Paso’s Showtime! with its cast of hundreds, directed and written by Cynthia Haines, produced and distributed by Texas Western, and showing at bookstores near you.