Recapturing the spirit of the 1920s, the State Theater in New Brunswick celebrates its 85th anniversary with a screening of the original 1921 silent film, “White Oak,” starring William S. Hart, with live organ accompaniment, and vaudeville performers, on Tuesday, December 26. The event is a reenactment of the December 26, 1921, opening day matinee performance. As at the original matinee, there will be a variety of vaudeville performers including comedian Peter Geist, Project Dynamite jugglers, rope tricks by Chris McDaniel, and song and dance man MC Richard Stillman.
“White Oak” tells the story of gambler Oak Miller, played by the Western matinee idol of the silent screen, William S. Hart. Miller seeks revenge on the villain (Alexander Gaden), who ravished his sister, Rose (Helen Holly), who is ill and under the care of the woman Miller loves. The brute also attempts to, as an inter-title puts it, “possess” the gambler’s sweetheart (Vola Vale) and, still not satisfied, lecherously pursues the daughter of his partner-in-crime, an Indian chief (Standing Bear).
Hart, known as the first screen cowboy, became famous with movies such as the 1917 film “The Narrow Trail” and the 1925 film “Tumbleweeds.” “White Oak,” which was written by Hart, was directed by the great Lambert Hillyer, who directed over 150 movies in his lifetime.
Theater organist and film historian Dennis James has been performing for films with orchestras since 1971 throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Europe. He is renowned for providing the most comprehensive selection of authentic silent films with live music presentations available today.
According to “Same Stage — New Age,” a history of the theater written by Ruth Marcus Pat, New Brunswick in 1921 was a bustling city of about 40,000 with more than 60 industrial firms and dozens of churches and synagogues. Rutgers College was not yet large enough to be called a university and the New Jersey College for Women had just opened its doors three years earlier. Roads were inadequate and most families did not own cars. Radios were the principal source of entertainment in the home.
Announcing the opening of the Walter Reade’s State Theater back in 1921, theater magnate Reade boasted, “We have expended large sums of money, and we believe we have eliminated every possible detail fault which may be found in any other auditorium in the entire United States of America.”
“This matinee is our birthday gift to all our friends, neighbors, and patrons who have brought the theater so far,” says State Theater president and CEO Wesley O. Brustad. “It’s going to be a great party.”
85th Anniversary Celebration, Tuesday, December 26, 2 p.m., State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Reenactment of the December 26, 1921, opening day matinee featuring a screening of “White Oak,” a 1921 silent film. Organ accompaniment by film historian Dennis James and vaudeville acts. Admission is a non-perishable food item to benefit the Middlesex County’s Emergency Food Distribution Network (MCFOODS), serving over 60 local food pantries and soup kitchens. 732-246-7469.