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Three 1930s Films Out of Peoria

Peoria Community Fund Campaign Film (ca. 1935)
Peoria Community Fund Campaign Film (ca. 1935)

In 2021, CFA received a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to photochemically preserve three short films from our Charles E. Krosse collection: Variety Show at Peoria’s Palace Theatre (ca. 1934), Peoria Community Fund Campaign Film (ca. 1935), and Paying the Piper (ca. 1936). Together, these 35mm nitrate films depict fascinating snippets of socio-political and cultural change in the Midwest region, few artifacts of which remain. No other prints of these particular films are known to have survived. This preservation project resulted in new 35mm polyester intermediate negatives, soundtracks, and composite answer prints created by Colorlab.

The Charles E. Krosse Collection encompasses over 120 16mm and 35mm films produced and/or distributed by C.L. Venard Productions of Peoria, Illinois. From the teens until the early 1980s, the company offered a full range of film services to central Illinois, including selling and renting film equipment, producing sponsored films for local businesses, and distributing national and international films to local audiences. Krosse was born in Peoria, IL in 1925, and worked as a marketing executive at Caterpillar for decades. He obtained the collection from C.L. Venard in the early 1980s, and it was subsequently donated to CFA in the summer of 2006. CFA effectively saved the collection from where they were stored in Peoria, Illinois, essentially escaping a potential bonfire.

Variety Show at the Peoria Palace Theatre (ca. 1934, 35mm, black-and-white, optical sound)

This film documents a lively local variety show performed at Peoria’s Palace Theatre. It includes a number of live performances by singers and dancers, all in front of a band of young female musicians. Filmed in 1934, a fairly pivotal year in terms of The Great Depression as the massive unemployment rate began to show significant decreases, and celebrations like the one depicted in this film became more widespread. The film includes appearances by the Palace Theater manager Lou Goldberg, beauty queen Virginia Fleming, and pre-teen Mae West impersonator Dorothy Lam, among others. The film was directed by Irvine Pepper Siegel and distributed by C.L. Venard.

Peoria Community Fund Campaign Film (1935, 35mm, black-and-white, silent)

This sponsored film directed by John H. Matthews was made for the 1935 “Hands Across the City” fundraising campaign organized by the Peoria Community Fund Association. It captures the city and its denizens, while advocating for the important civic work undertaken by 23 pivotal organizations operating in Peoria: the Boy Scouts, Peoria’s Neighborhood House, Cradle Beach (a summer camp for poor mothers and children), the Girl Scouts, the Negro Community Center, YWCA, Salvation Army, Women’s Recreation Camp, and the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers, among other agencies doing essential work for the local community. The intertitles in the film implores viewers to give generously, and underscore the ways in which the work these agencies not only improve quality of life, but also aid in “the building of character and good citizenship.” This campaign film is notable for its vital footage documenting Peoria in the 1930s, as well as providing an early glimpse into civic minded campaigns of the era.

According to an article by Roland Neff in the Peoria Star from October 6, 1935, the film was shot in six days and completed in one month with the help of some 400 Peorians. This 35mm print of the film was shown in Peoria theatres during the week of October 13 to 20, 1935, and two 16mm prints of the film were shown before luncheon clubs, lodgers, and school classes that fall. When the film was originally presented, leaders of the Peoria Women’s Crusade, heads of various agencies, and the theatre operators “make explanations as the pictures move along in sequence.”

Paying the Piper (1936, 35mm, black-and-white, optical sound)

A fascinating piece produced by the Jam Handy Organization for the Republican Party, Paying the Piper is an anti-New Deal theater snipe funded by “The Crusaders on the Screen.” This short film was meant to be screened in theaters prior to the main feature. Paying the Piper questions the “wisdom” of donating money to arts (specifically dance) initiatives, and whether this is sound economics. In an age wherein the galvanizing force of the arts is undermined by the powers that be, this unique piece from the Krosse collection is quite telling.

Many thanks to the NFPF and Colorlab for their help in preserving these films!


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