Performance Counts September 2015: Adieu to Cinema Judaica

Posted on September 11th, 2015 by

Two museum workers unframing items from the exhibit.

De-installing Cinema Judaica

This week at the JMM we bid a fond farewell to Cinema Judaica. The exhibition of film posters and memorabilia, developed by Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum, was on display from July 1-September 6. Thanks to the creativity and hard work of JMM collections manager, Joanna Church, with assistance from exhibit designer and fabricator, Mark Ward, the exhibition also featured a local tie in through the addition of the wonderful photographs by Amy Davis of local movie houses (many of which have long been shuttered) and documentation about local film screenings of movies on display.

Cinema Judaica proved to be a summer blockbuster, drawing unexpected crowds and press attention. In total, during the nine weeks the exhibit was on display we welcomed 9% more visitors in comparison to same period last year.  This was, in large part, thanks to the very successful events planned by JMM Programs Manager, Trillion Attwood.


Lecturer next to PowerPoint slide on Screen

Jewish Movies 101

Cinema Judaica was an excellent inspiration for the nine programs that took place during the exhibit’s run.  Many programs were lectures, with speakers from California, New York and Pennsylvania. Topics varied from an exploration of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, to a brief history of Jewish movies and even an exploration of what remains of Baltimore’s movie theaters.

The Great Dictator film poster next to lecturer.

Fighting Fascism with a Movie

We also presented JMM Features, a series of three free movies screenings inspired by the exhibit. Two of the movies were screened outside in the lot across from the JMM entrance and one was shown in the JMM lobby. The movies were a huge success attracting great crowds including lots of new faces. Unfortunately we lost count of how many bags of popcorn we served but we did see the largest audience for An American Tail.

Outdoor film screenings of The Great Dictator and Gentleman's Agreement

Outdoor film screenings of The Great Dictator and Gentleman’s Agreement

In total the programs attracted 612 attendees, it is interesting to note that almost all of the programs attracted an above average audience. However the most popular program was Amy Davis’ lecture Flickering Treasures, which explored Baltimore’s historic movie theatres. If you missed any of our programs we recorded the audio of three lectures which will soon be available on our website.



View down wall of various film posters, starting with large 10 Commandments

A variety of poster sizes on display

“Cinema Judaica” included 61 movies, which were represented by 66 different posters, lobby cards, pressbooks, trade advertisements, and the like.  The images ranged in size from an 8”x10” still photo of Claude Rains (in character as Haym Salomon from Sons of Liberty) to a “six sheet” poster for The Ten Commandments measuring almost 7’ square.

An Amy Davis photo in situ

An Amy Davis photo

To put a local spin on these posters, we researched the Baltimore-area movie theaters at which the films played.  Thus, we were able to namecheck over 50 theaters, with eight significant venues shown in photographs.  Many of the comments made by visitors focused on memories of their favorite movie houses in and around the city.

The #GoldenTevye voting box.

The #GoldenTevye voting box.

In the hope of engaging audiences even further, we asked visitors to vote for their favorite poster in the exhibition. During the course of the exhibit 164 votes were cast, with visitors choosing 35 of the included movies (sorry, The House I Live In and your unloved friends).  The winner by a landslide was The Ten Commandments, with 22 votes (just over 13% of the total); Exodus came in second with 10 votes, followed closely by The Diary of Anne Frank and The Great Dictator, which garnered 9 votes each.

A selection of posters

A selection of posters

In the course of researching and installing the exhibit, a number of entertaining facts came to light.  For example, as I typed the cast lists of all 61 films I noticed that several actors appeared twice in this exhibit, including Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, and Haya Harareet. However, two actors managed to sneak in as the accidental stars of the exhibit: Character actor Hugh Griffith appears in four of the films (and won an Oscar for his role in Ben-Hur), and supporting actor George Sanders (shown here in Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent) appeared in five.

George Sanders in Foreign Correspondent, he is holding a phone to his ear.

George Sanders in Foreign Correspondent

In the end, my favorite tidbit from “Cinema Judaica” is the fact that this was likely the most exclamatory exhibit we’ve ever had the honor of displaying.  …Sorry, I should say: the honor of displaying! Superlatives, adjectives, and !s abounded. This is only to be expected, of course, when your gallery includes “The thrill spectacle of the year!” (Foreign Correspondent), “The mightiest motion picture ever created!” (Solomon and Sheba), and “A story timeless, tumultuous, overpowering!” (Samson and Delilah).  Though only two movies had exclamation marks in the actual title (Operation Eichmann! and I Accuse!), most of the posters availed themselves of the chance to proclaim the movie’s stars, plot, or general wonderfulness with great excitement. The most excessive use was on Sodom and Gomorrah, which had 11… but lest you dismiss that as B movie excess, I’ll point out that the runner-up in the contest was the prestigious Judgement at Nuremberg, which scattered 10 exclamation marks across the poster.  Through the entire exhibit, I counted 117 exclamation marks total!


Don’t be too sad – we’ll have plenty more movie action this Fall with our Folk Film Festival, Tuesday evenings in November!


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Recognizing and Responding to Injustice: Using the Lessons of the Holocaust as a Tool for Combating Contemporary Intolerance in Our Communities Today

Posted on August 24th, 2015 by

During my summer internship at the JMM, I had the opportunity to work on a pop-up exhibit in connection with the JMM’s Annual Summer Teachers Institute that focuses on best practices in Holocaust Education. After I learned how to use the museum software Past Perfect and learned about the JMM’s extensive collections, I was inspired to develop an exhibit.  The exhibit focuses on recognizing and responding to injustices in our community. It relates to the 2015 Summer Teachers Institute’s theme: Auschwitz 70 Years Later, What have we Learned? I wanted to put some of the JMM’s collections on display and give teachers an opportunity to see what objects and materials we have in the collections that relate to topics they are teaching about the Holocaust in their classrooms.

Falicia stands in front of the lobby display she created.

Telling the teachers about my exhibit.

In recent years there have been many instances of injustices in our communities: locally, nationally, and worldwide. My hope is that by examining injustices during the Holocaust we can be inspired to recognize and respond to injustices in our communities today. I encouraged the teachers to reflect on this question: How can we teach our students to recognize and become “upstanders” or activists against injustices in our communities and society?

The exhibit consisted of photographs, objects, and documents about the Holocaust. Preparing for the exhibit was a lot more complex than I originally thought it would be. Some of the objects in the exhibit include: pieces of a chandelier from a desecrated synagogue during Kristallnacht, and an uncut Star of David.  The exhibit also included archival materials…

Mass Meeting Flyer

This is a Mass Meeting flyer announcing a meeting for Jewish people in Baltimore to learn about what was happening to the European Jews.

Baltimore Jewish Council booklet

The Baltimore Jewish Council booklet was established in 1939 to create a united front against Anti-semitism during World War II and provide resources on Jewish issues.

These are pictures of the Nazi and Confederate flags to show how flags represent different things to people, and can have painful associations and connections to injustices.

These are pictures of the Nazi and Confederate flags to show how flags represent different things to people, and can have painful associations and connections to injustices.

I had a lot of support from several staff members and interns including: Ilene, Joanna, Deborah, Karen, and collections intern Kaleigh who helped me pick appropriate objects, reviewed my labels, and helped me with the installation process. I really felt like I had the support of the staff in developing my first exhibit.

Falicia and Collections Manager Joanna in the library cutting out exhibit text.

Joanna and I are cutting out texts for the exhibit.

Falicia arranging the objects in the display case.

And here I am arranging the objects in the display case.

When I installed the exhibit I was not sure how many people would be able to see it and what they would think. On Monday August 3rd over 30 teachers came to the museum for the Summer Teachers Institute. Ilene told them about my exhibit and in between workshops educators came and looked at my exhibit.

Page of handwritten comments about the display.

Teachers wrote comments about the exhibit.

I enjoyed telling the teachers about my exhibit. It was also great to hear some of the conversations they had about the exhibit and the connections they were making about injustices of the Holocaust and forms of injustice they see today. It was great to hear comments and dialogue between the teachers about what was in the exhibit and many of them were interested in seeing what else we had in our collections.

Falicia EddyA blog post by Education and Programs Intern Falicia Eddy. To read  more posts from interns click HERE.

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The Alliterative Adventures of an Archivist and her Assistant

Posted on August 19th, 2015 by

While doing background research for our current exhibit Cinema Judaica, I came across a surprising number of photos in our collections showing Hollywood stars in and around Baltimore.  Most of these made obvious sense: people who owned homes nearby, or who were in town to raise funds for Israel Bonds or promote a film. One photo in particular was a little harder to parse, however: a publicity shot of Pearl White, silent movie star.

Headshot of actress pearl white.

Pearl White, 1916. Donated by Richard Millhauser, JMM 1995.88.27

In the 1910s, Miss White (1889-1938) was the daredevil heroine of film serials with fabulous titles like “The Perils of Pauline” and “The Exploits of Elaine.” You know the film cliché of a distressed damsel tied to the railroad tracks, cowering from a mustachioed, black-hatted villain? Though this specific trope is more common in later cartoons and spoofs than it ever was during the silent era, the broader notion of action-packed, anything-goes filmmaking in the 1910s and ‘20s is thanks in part to Miss White – who was famous for doing her own stunts – and her endangered-heroine films, including the occasional stint on a railroad tie. Please enjoy this thrilling advertisement for “The Fatal Ring” (1917):

Movie poster for The Fatal Ring

So many thrills! “The Fatal Ring” by Pathé Exchange (film) – Internet Archive. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

…But back to our collections, and the reasons Miss White appears in them.  As best I can tell from published material, such as her autobiography, Miss White was not Jewish, nor was she from Maryland.  What’s she doing in my archives?

With internet research, a field trip to the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and the assistance of intern Kaleigh, the question was easily solved. To start with, the back of our photograph is inscribed in pencil, “To Mr. David Millhauser – The man who got my life history – Sincerely, Pearl White – in Baltimore July 3 ‘16”.

Handwritten note on back of photograph.

Reverse of JMM 1995.88.27

David Millhauser (1892-1992) worked as a reporter for the Baltimore American.  Bits and pieces in our collections indicate that he covered political and industrial news around the city.  For example, here’s his U.S. Customs “Pass to Piers, Waterfront or Vessel” from 1918, listing his occupation as “newspaper reporter” and his employer as C.C. Fulton Co., the owner of the American.

Scan of customs passport

Donated by Richard Millhauser. JMM 1991.133.1

Pearl White filmed a now-lost movie, “Mayblossom,” at Carrollton Hall (Howard County, Maryland) in 1916.  On July 3rd of that year, she was photographed and interviewed at Baltimore’s Hotel Kernan by unnamed representatives of the Baltimore American; her photo appeared in the paper on July 4th, and a longer interview was published on July 9th.

Scan of newspaper image of Pearl White.

“Popular Movie Actress Here. Miss Pearl White, the daring and popular Pathé star, who is in Baltimore to take the leading role in a picture to be staged here. The photograph was taken in front of the Hotel Kernan yesterday afternoon by a member of the Art Department of The American.” From The Baltimore American, July 4, 1916, accessed at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Though the July 9th article – which consists almost entirely of Miss White’s own words, detailing her poverty-stricken background, her adventurous career, and her refusal to divulge her age – is unattributed, the source interview on July 3rd coincides neatly with the date noted on the photo given to Millhauser; unless there was some other way he elicited her life story on a Monday in Baltimore, I presume that he was the American’s interviewer.

Was a chat with an actress something of a departure from Millhauser’s regular beat? Based on the cursory nature of the article’s descriptions – Miss White is noted simply as “wearing a big blue hat fastened under her chin with a rubber band” – I’m inclined to think this kind of gossipy publicity piece wasn’t really in the author’s line. We’ll have to do some more research in the American’s archives to find out for sure… but in the meantime, there is one more connection to be made with Baltimore’s movie history.  In the 1910s David’s father Moses Millhauser owned the Elektra, a movie theater on North Gay Street in Baltimore.  The whole family, including David, took part in the theater’s operation, from managing the lobby to providing voiceovers for the silent films on the screen. Perhaps this connection is what garnered Millhauser the assignment of interviewing one of the most popular movie stars of the day. Whatever the reason, thankfully he held on to the personalized photo for many years, until it eventually made its way to our archives – providing just a hint of adventure and glamour to those who stumble upon it.

Entrance of the Cinema Judaica exhibit

The fanciful façade of Moses Millhauser’s Elektra Theater greets visitors to “Cinema Judaica”, open through September 6, 2015 at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Photo by Will Kirk.

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

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