The Burbank Historical Society is scaring up some nostalgic entertainment appropriate for the season.
Society members have decorated the Cunningham Room with skeletons and spiders, creating the perfect backdrop for early film collector Galen Wilkes’ free presentation “Flickers from the Silver Scream: A Vintage Halloween Show!” beginning at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Gordon R. Howard Museum.
He has produced a historic show of film clips for Halloween from the 1890s to 1940s — some silent, some talkies.
“I also have some old tyme theater slides they used to use in theaters, like Remove Your Hats, No Smoking and Don’t Spit on the Floor,” he said.
There will be a sing-along portion where the audience follows along with the words accented by a bouncing ball.
“It’s fun!” Wilkes said. “You don’t see this type of thing anymore and a lot of people haven’t been exposed to it.”
The silent films to be shown include a couple by French director Georges Melies, who was well known for “A Trip to the Moon” from 1902.
“Everybody has seen the famous scene where the rocket goes into the eye of the Man in the Moon,” he said. “He made most of his films in the late 1890s and early 1900s. He was pretty spectacular for someone who was there at day one. He pretty much had the ideas of story telling and special effects all worked out before anybody.”
Wilkes will also show the earliest surviving clip from the 1911 silent film “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”.
“These are films that aren’t going to scare anybody, because of the time period they were made. But they are fascinating to see — it’s our own culture, so we are getting to see what people saw a century ago.”
In the second half of the program, he will show a film clip of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and an excerpt of an interview he did with a friend who watched filmmakers back in 1923 shoot the film with Lon Chaney Jr.
Wilkes’ interest in the time period between the 1890s to 1920s was sparked at the age of 2. His father took him to the home of a co-worker who had a player piano, which was popular from the mid-1800s to 1920s and played itself. There was a roll of paper with perforations that the piano was able to “read” to produce sound. The result was a very unique tone.
His father’s friend was an engineer and connected it to his vacuum cleaner so it would run itself.
Wilkes began playing the piano a few years later, then started collecting films as a teenager, he said.
“I got interested in the whole turn-of-the-century era, which to me is an era that is full of aesthetics that have never been excelled — music, architecture, cars, wardrobe — all these things are fabulous,” he said. “Everything today is made to throw away and people don’t really appreciate things or want to hang onto things — it’s a month old, let’s get rid of it, we need something new.”
But at the turn of the 20th century, people didn’t live like that, he added.
Burbank Historical Society board member Craig Bullock is the chair of the Halloween event.
Burbank Historical Society board member Craig Bullock takes a break from decorating the Gordon R. Howard Museum for Halloween. (Photos by Joyce Rudolph)
“The purpose of the event is to get people in the door to see the museum and also to appreciate vintage movies — it’s frightfully fun,” he said. “Galen is going to be showing movies from the turn of the 20th century. He will be walking us through the history of early cinema.”
The show last year was incredibly popular and the historical society had a big demand to have him again, Bullock said.
“He is a preserver of early entertainment film and paper collectibles like movie posters and movie tickets,” he said. “His presentations are educational but fun at the same time, so you don’t feel like you are in an academic-type setting.”
Adding to the nostalgia, Wilkes will be playing the museum’s own Square Grand Piano or Box Grand Piano. This piano is built in a rectangular-shaped cabinet with the strings running left to right. More Square Grand Pianos were built and sold in America and Europe than any other type of pianos combined, but today they are all but extinct, according to the website of the Antique Piano Shop.
The Gordon R. Howard Museum is in Izay Park, next door to the Burbank Creative Arts Center. Free parking is available in the parking lot at 1100 W. Clark Ave. The museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.