I had a quick look at the facts on the job of movie-house ticket seller that Lovecraft once had in Providence.

lovecraft-movie-boothAbove: “A ticket for the midnight screening”.

The Lovecraft scholarship:

“Brobst has confirmed that HPL [Lovecraft] worked briefly as a ticket agent in a movie theater in downtown Providence” (An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, pp.24-25)

“I asked Harry K. Brobst about the story, and he confirmed it, stating that Lovecraft admitted to him that he held such a job and saying that he actually liked it at the start but that it did not last very long [this was] in the early days of the [Great] depression, perhaps 1929-30.” (S.T. Joshi, A Dreamer and a Visionary, p.317).

The context:

“In this era [1900-1929] Providence was a great show town, and vaudeville, burlesque, summer stock [theater], and movies rivaled sports for the attention of the populace. The major entertainment houses — all built during this time — were the elegant, all-purpose Albee (1919) […]; Fay’s Theater (1912), a popular vaudeville spot […]; the Strand (1915) […]; the Majestic (1917) […]; and Loew’s State Theater (1928), a splendidly appointed movie house […]. In addition to these, there were a half-dozen smaller, less glamorous entertainment houses in the central city.” (“The Age of Optimism: 1900-1929”, Providence City Archives website).

In 1921 there were… “five downtown Providence theatres: the Strand, the Emery, the Modern, Fays, and the Rialto” that showed the movie Chaplin’s The Kid (Gerald A. DeLuca).

Possible movie theaters in Providence in 1929:

UPMARKET:

MAJESTIC: 201 Washington Street, one of the leading first-run cinemas, wired for sound 1926, and “could seat 3,000″ — so they’d need a lot of ticket-takers.

STRAND: The Strand Theater was located directly behind Providence’s Biltmore Hotel. It opened 12th June 1915 as a movie theatre […] Briefly known as the Paramount Theater in the 1930’s” (William Charles D’atri). Lovecraft liked the place very much.

EMERY: Reopened 1926 on 79 Mathewson Street, “Completely refurnished, redecorated and re-established as a modern theatre, a marvel of the decorator’s art.”

VICTORY: aka Keith’s/Empire. 260 Westminster Street. Upmarket first-run movie theatre, renovated 1924.

RKO ALBEE: 320 Westminster Street, classy Hollywood movies, large and with luxurious decor.

MIDDLE MARKET:

FAYS: 60 Union Street at Fountain Street. Lively frequently changing mix of vaudeville and cinema, seems to have been an “all the family” theater.

CAPITOL: 569 Westminster, ill-fated, in a slow decline over the decades because just outside the downtown area.

DOWNMARKET:

MODERN: 440 Westminster Street, said to have specialised in “sensation” movies.

UPTOWN THEATRE: aka Columbus “[had] a long career as primarily a second-run [movie] house catering to a large adjacent ethnic Italian population in Providence’s Federal Hill neighborhood.” Unlikely, once you’ve read “The Haunter of the Dark”.

BIJOU / EMPIRE: 368 Westminster Street, which until 1930 seems to have been a dubious dive … “In a 1996 Providence Journal article on old Providence theatres, writer Michael Janusonis wrote that “…the hoity toities referred to it as ‘the sinkhole of depravity’ or just ‘The Sink’”. It appears to have staged scantily-clad “musical revues” in the 1920s. Sometime in spring 1930 it became… “a second-run [movie] house and changed the name to the EMPIRE.” (Gerald A. DeLuca). “‘Cheri’ was one of the last musical revues to play the Bijou. That was in March 1930. Shortly after that Spitz [the owner] converted it into a second-run [movie] house and changed the name to the EMPIRE. It was under this title that the theatre operated until about six months ago [1949] when it was shuttered for good.” (Boxoffice magazine, January 7, 1950, via Gerald A. DeLuca) Not to be confused with the movie theater at 260 Westminster Street.

 

So there you have it. Take your pick. My hunch would be he was at the BIJOU/EMPIRE. It was hiring at the right time around March/April 1930 after a rename and makeover, and when the weather meant that Lovecraft was inclined to venture forth from his usual winter hermitage. The venue’s previous very seedy reputation might have meant it needed both brand new ticket-takers, and a certain level of sober “class” behind the glass. On a map it looks like it was a fairly short walk from his home, a walk of perhaps a mile and half.

The Great Depression had started 29th October 1929, and Lovecraft was not inclined to commit himself to venture out in the cold weather of a Nov-March New England winter. So April 1930 seems the likely date for his cinema job. Because he left on a trip to Charleston, S.C. on 28th April 1930 (“Account of a Visit to Charleston, S.C.”). “Lovecraft’s travels for the spring-summer of 1930 began in late April.” (S.T. Joshi, A Dreamer and a Visionary, p.285). One wonders if the cinema job of a few weeks in the early spring of 1930 would have given him the funds, toward the end of the month, to pay for his ticket on the long Charleston trip?

Further reading:

Roger Brett, Temples of Illusion: The Golden Age of Theaters in an American City, Brett Theatrical, 1976. (A “detailed history of all the old downtown area theatres of Providence from 1871 to 1950.” 309 pages).

Flickr set of photographs of 450 Rhode Island theaters and movie houses.