The first installment of the new 2020 Scholar Series at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum featured a look at films shot in Colorado Springs over the past 120 years.
The museum created these lectures to explore the region’s history and celebrate the upcoming “Cultural Crossroads” exhibit, set to open in November.
“Everyone from paleontologists and professors are scheduled to present the lectures,” said Meg Poole, the museum’s program coordinator.
Presented by Steven Antonuccio, the Jan. 11 lecture, “Historic Films of the Pikes Peak Region,” focused on historic films and commercials that are housed in the Special Collections of the Pikes Peak Library District. More than 100 people attended the lecture.
Antonuccio began his career as a media specialist for Pikes Peak Community College in 1982, and spent 20 years creating and operating the Library Channel as an educational cable access studio manager. Following his retirement in 2008, he served as branch manager for the Pueblo City-County Library District.
Antonuccio shared anecdotes from his book, “There is No Such Thing as a Typical Librarian,” a love letter to the library profession that’s based on his decades of experience.
The author credited Colorado Springs’ scenic beauty for attracting scores of photographers and filmmakers. Their work resulted in a rich collection of historical films and photo, including the first film shot in 1897 by the Edison Film Co., and films and commercials shot by the Alexander Film Co.
“Because Colorado Springs is a photographer and filmmakers’ paradise, we have numerous wonderful photos and videos,” Antonuccio said.
Some of those photos were of Alexander Film Co. founders J. Don and Don M. Alexander. The brothers founded the company in Spokane, Wash., in 1919. The company produced short announcements and paid advertisement films shown during intermission at theater/drive-in movies. Today’s movie trailers descended from these films, Antonuccio said.
“You can blame the Alexander brothers for these trailers,” Antonuccio said, drawing laughter from guests.
Because theater advertising grew so rapidly, Alexander Film Co. in 1923 relocated its operation to a larger studio in Englewood, and again in 1928 to Colorado Springs.
By the early 1950s Alexander Film Co., was producing between 2,000-3,000 advertisement films annually. The company lot hosted 32 full-size motion picture sets, modern film and audio laboratories, art, engineering and sound recording departments, and a full-service print shop, and employed more than 600 people.
However, the dawn of television and theater closings in the late 1950s contributed to the demise of the company, Antonuccio said.
Antonuccio also shared photos of Rose Mary Echo “Silver Dollar” Tabor, the second daughter of U.S. Sen. Horace A. W. Tabor and his second wife, Elizabeth McCourt. Born into a Colorado family of privilege, Rose earned the name “Silver Dollar” from American orator and politician William Jennings Bryan who said Rose’s voice had the ring of a silver dollar.
By age 30, Rose was believed to be an alcoholic, drug addict and prostitute. In 1925 she was found scalded to death under suspicious circumstances. The back of a photo found among her belongings read, “In case I am killed, arrest this man for he will be directly or indirectly responsible for my death.”
Police questioned the suspect but released him due to lack of evidence. The 1932 biographical film “Silver Dollar,” starring Edward G. Robinson, immortalized the Tabor story.
“Hers is a tragic story as she came to Colorado to be an actress and died too young,” Antonuccio said.
Photos of African-American community activist Fannie May Duncan, the proprietor of the legendary Colorado Springs integrated jazz outlet, Cotton Club, also was discussed. Because hotels wouldn’t serve African-Americans, Duncan bought a mansion to provide lodging for performers and visitors. Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton were among the musicians who played there.
The yearlong 2020 Scholar Series will be held from 2-3 p.m. monthly in the museum’s District 1 Division Courtroom. To learn more, visit cpsm.org/scholarseries/.