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

Overview

Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel (1882--1936) built an influential and prolific career as film exhibitor, stage producer, radio broadcaster, musical arranger, theater manager, war propagandist, and international celebrity. He helped engineer the integration of film, music, and live performance in silent film exhibition; scored early Fox Movietone films such as Sunrise (1927); pioneered the convergence of film, broadcasting, and music publishing and recording in the 1920s; and helped movies and moviegoing become the ...

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American Showman: Samuel

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Overview

Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel (1882--1936) built an influential and prolific career as film exhibitor, stage producer, radio broadcaster, musical arranger, theater manager, war propagandist, and international celebrity. He helped engineer the integration of film, music, and live performance in silent film exhibition; scored early Fox Movietone films such as Sunrise (1927); pioneered the convergence of film, broadcasting, and music publishing and recording in the 1920s; and helped movies and moviegoing become the dominant form of mass entertainment between the world wars.

The first book devoted to Rothafel's multifaceted career, American Showman examines his role as the key purveyor of a new film exhibition aesthetic that appropriated legitimate theater, opera, ballet, and classical music to attract multi-class audiences. Roxy scored motion pictures, produced enormous stage shows, managed many of New York's most important movie houses, directed and/or edited propaganda films for the American war effort, produced short and feature-length films, exhibited foreign, documentary, independent, and avant-garde motion pictures, and expanded the conception of mainstream, commercial cinema. He was also one of the chief creators of the radio variety program, pioneering radio broadcasting, promotions, and tours.

The producers and promoters of distinct themes and styles, showmen like Roxy profoundly remade the moviegoing experience, turning the deluxe motion picture theater into a venue for exhibiting and producing live and recorded entertainment. Roxy's interest in media convergence also reflects a larger moment in which the entertainment industry began to create brands and franchises, exploit them through content release "events," and give rise to feature films, soundtracks, broadcasts, live performances, and related consumer products. Regularly cited as one of the twelve most important figures in the film and radio industries, Roxy was instrumental to the development of film exhibition and commercial broadcasting, musical accompaniment, and a new, convergent entertainment industry.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

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.

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.

Choice

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

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
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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231159050
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Series: Film and Culture Series
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Ross Melnick is assistant professor of film and media studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He received his Ph.D. in cinema and media studies from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a postdoctoral fellowship from Emory University. He has worked as a curator at the Museum of the Moving Image and in marketing for Loews Cineplex, Miramax, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and DreamWorks, and in film distribution for Sony Pictures. With Andreas Fuchs, he is the coauthor of Cinema Treasures.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsAcknowledgmentsIntroductionPart 1. Roxy and Silent Film Exhibition1. A New Art for a New Art Form (1908--1913)2. Broadway Melody (1913--1917)3. The Movie House as Recruiting Center (1917--1918)4. "The Man Who Gave the Movies a College Education" (1919--1922)Part 2. Roxy and the Emergence of Convergence5. A Capitol Idea (1922--1925)6. "It's the Roxy and I'm Roxy" (1925--1927)7. It's All Playing in Sheboygan (1928--1931)8. The Prologue Is Past (1931--1936)AfterwordNotesBibliographyIndex

Columbia University Press

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