Creative Ventures and Colorful Dreams
Did you watch the Academy Awards ceremony last month? Like usual, the event was filled with celebrity appearances, musical performances, and of course the presentation of Hollywood’s most coveted award – the Oscar. While the awards have been given out since 1929, the film industry has been around much longer. In fact some entrepreneurs achieved success in producing motion pictures in the late 19th century, and by the early 20th films had become a full-fledged industry drawing countless viewers.
The Columbia Theater in Muncie was located on South Walnut Street. This photo shows the business during its first year of operation in 1913.
Minnetrista Heritage Collection
In Muncie, movies proved just as popular as in other towns and cities around the country. By 1919 ten different cinema houses could be found in the community. While that number had dropped to seven by 1941 it didn’t mean films had lost their appeal. The release of a new movie always drew crowds. And during hard times like the Great Depression and World War II, the inexpensive price of a ticket was well worth the hour and a half of distraction.
Frances Woodworth Ball in the library of her home, Oakhurst, 1920.
Minnetrista Heritage Collection
Among those making their way to the theatre to catch the latest flick were members of the Ball family. Leading the pack may have been Frances Woodworth Ball – wife of George Ball, and a definite fan of the movies. By the 1940s Frances had been attending films for decades and often mentioned in letters if she had, or was planning on, heading to a show.
Recently, a flipped through some of Frances’s financial ledgers showed that she was not only a fan of movies, but also an investor. Throughout the 1940s she regularly bought and sold shares of some of the film industry’s most notable companies. Included on the pages of her accounting book are names such as Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, RKO, Universal Pictures, and Warner Brothers. Many of those companies also appear in the 1940s stock holdings of Frances’s daughter, Elisabeth.
It would seem that the interest in the film industry was not confined to mother and daughter, however. Along with Frances and Elisabeth, Bertha Crosley Ball (Frances’s sister-in-law), also owned stock in Technicolor Incorporated. Founded in 1915, the company developed the world’s second major color film process the following year. No, not all films were black and white before The Wizard of Oz. In fact, the first film shot in color was the 1918 flick, Cupid Angling, and hand-colored movies date all the way back to around 1902. Technicolor reined king, however, do to its superior saturation quality and vividness. Between 1922 until 1952 it was the most used film process and played a crucial role in creating many of the classic color films treasured by so many people today.
While all three Ball women owned stock in the film industry, also invested in radio and television companies – particularly Crosley Radio which was founded by Powell Crosley, Bertha’s cousin. But what led Frances, Elisabeth, and Bertha to invest in such up and coming industries may never be known. It could have been the advice of a savvy financial advisor. Perhaps it was their personal enthusiasm for the booming entertainment of the day. Either way, their interest and investments in such companies show they had a forward looking eye for popular culture, creative ventures, and colorful dreams.