American Showman: Samuel

American Showman: Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel and the Birth of the Entertainment Industry, 1908-1935

by Ross Melnick
     
 

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Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel (1882-1936) built an extraordinary career as film exhibitor, stage producer, radio broadcaster, musical arranger, theater manager, war propagandist, and international celebrity. The first book devoted to his multifaceted life and career, American Showman examines Rothafel's role as the key purveyor of a new film exhibition aesthetic

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Overview

Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel (1882-1936) built an extraordinary career as film exhibitor, stage producer, radio broadcaster, musical arranger, theater manager, war propagandist, and international celebrity. The first book devoted to his multifaceted life and career, American Showman examines Rothafel's role as the key purveyor of a new film exhibition aesthetic that attracted audiences across economic classes and boundaries and his development of a new, convergent entertainment industry.

Columbia University Press

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Media scholar Melnick's (coauthor, Cinema Treasures) look at Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel showcases the "transformative moment" that ushered in the "beginning of the modern entertainment industry." Roxy was a German Jewish immigrant whose career at the dawn of the motion picture era took him from a tiny ad-hoc movie theatre in rural Pennsylvania to playing a pivotal role in creating Radio City Music Hall, as well as making the motion pictures and famed movie palaces of the early 20th century viable entertainment destinations. While by no means a light read (the notes and bibliography stretch over 100 pages), film buffs and media studies scholars will find Melnick's tome plenty informative. The author provides wonderful details about how Roxy embellished silent films by surrounding them with live orchestras and dancers, signaling that merely being a projectionist was no longer sufficient—one had to curate, as Roxy did, an experience, complete with flowers, matrons, pages, and fountains. The book also provides valuable insight into Roxy's dynamic contemporary moment—one characterized by world military strife, economic downturn, and a blossoming of technological innovation. Photos. (May)
Washington Post
[An] eye-poppingly informative new book.... To paraphrase Frank Loesser's "Guys and Dolls," with the publication of American Showman, the question 'What's playing at the Roxy?' can now be answered: 'First-rate cultural history.'

— Mindy Aloff

Wall Street Journal
[An] exhaustive biography.

— Ethan Mordden

New York Times
Dr. Melnick skillfully captures the substance and durability of Rothafel's prolific life.

— Sam Roberts

Indiewire
This volume is brimming with revelatory material. Anyone who cares about the development of film exhibition in the early 20th century should consider it essential reading.

— Leonard Maltin

Mindy Aloff
…eye-poppingly informative…In this 52nd volume of Columbia University Press's outstanding Film and Culture series, Melnick has placed his subject in a huge context, chronicling not only Roxy but also the movie and music businesses, the rise of radio, issues of anti-Semitism, the development of New York and much more during the first third of the 20th century. His writing clarifies, his judgments are eminently reasonable and his research is spectacular.
—The Washington Post
Leonard Maltin Blog
Anyone who cares about the development of film exhibition in the early 20th century shouldconsider it essential reading…even a casual film buff will find much to enjoy...the book is well written and not overly burdened with jargon.

Choice

A penetrating, exhaustive contextualized study of Roxy's crucial role in every aspect of the early film industry...highly recommended.

Washington Post - Mindy Aloff

[An] eye-poppingly informative new book.... To paraphrase Frank Loesser's 'Guys and Dolls,' with the publication of American Showman, the question 'What's playing at the Roxy?' can now be answered: 'First-rate cultural history.'

Wall Street Journal - Ethan Mordden

[An] exhaustive biography.

New York Times - Sam Roberts

Dr. Melnick skillfully captures the substance and durability of Rothafel's prolific life.New York Times

Journal of American History - Charles Musser

American Showman is a fascinating, passionate, and definitive biography of Samuel 'Roxy' Rothafel.... Melnick unveils aspects of Rothafel's career that change our understanding of American film history from the late 1910s to the early 1930s.

UCLA Film & Television Archive - Jan-Christopher Horak

For anyone interested in the historical transition from the Nickelodeon era to the classical Hollywood cinema, Ross Melnick's American Showman is a must read.

American Studies - Bernard F. Dick

An impeccably researched and definitive study of Samuel 'Roxy' Rothafel

Business History Review - Josh Glick

Roxy?'s extraordinary life, as Melnick illustrates, serves as a powerful lens through which to examine a dynamic age of cultural change in American life.

Indiewire - Leonard Maltin

Anyone who cares about the development of film exhibition in the early 20th century should consider it essential reading... even a casual film buff will find much to enjoy... the book is well written and not overly burdened with jargon.

Sight & Sound - Nick Pinkerton

With so many greatly exaggerated reports of the death of cinema abroad, what a pleasure to read Ross Melnick's scrupulously researched, exhaustive biography of movie-palace impresario Samuel 'Roxy' Rothafel -- a biography that doubles as a cultural history, looking to a moment when the movies were the upstarts, making vaudeville and live theatre quake in their boots.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231159043
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
05/01/2012
Series:
Film and Culture Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
576
Sales rank:
1,025,832
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Rick Altman

It's about time that we are finally getting the full story of America's most daring and successful showman. On a par with Thomas Edison, D. W. Griffith, and P. T. Barnum, Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel was not only the most important impresario the film world has ever known, but he was also a leader in the realm of silent film music and the country's first major radio personality. For nearly two decades, Roxy was the most powerful man in the film industry--yet until now we have lacked a serious treatment of his fabulous career. American Showman rights that wrong, and how! Ross Melnick's book is that rare combination of in-depth research and a great read. Finally, Roxy has received his due.

John Belton

American Showman is at the cutting edge of contemporary film studies. It is to this book that future generations of film scholars engaged in cultural history will turn.

Thomas Doherty

Once quite literally up in lights, the name of Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel has dimmed over time--an oversight happily remedied by Ross Melnick's splendid new study of the legendary showman. An engaging writer, insightful critic, and rigorous scholar, Melnick has vividly recaptured the magic and moxie of this pioneer of the American entertainment industry, a marquee name in vaudeville, radio, and motion pictures. Melnick's illuminating cultural biography is not just the engrossing story of the beloved and larger-than-life Roxy but a fascinating journey into American culture in the first passionate years of a lifelong affair with its own mass media.

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