Genealogy

I Remember Maman: Montreal’s Film Row Circa 1940

rkobuilding

The white building is United Amusements’ former address on Monkland, now a lovely condo. My mother’s uncle, Isadore Crepeau, was VP Of this company in the 1920’s and 30’s. 

 

I have only recently discovered that Monkland Avenue in Notre Dame de Grace was once Montreal’s movie Mecca, referred to in industry circles as “Film Row.”

In the 1960’s, as a school girl, I lived in adjacent Snowdon  and I often saw second-run movies at the Monkland Theatre – and yet no one told me this.

On top of that,  my mother, grandmother and aunts all lived on that street during the 1940’s, in a large second story flat at the corner of Oxford and Monkland. My mom worked at RKO Motion Picture Distributing just a few blocks away.

When my Mom and I passed by the building in our tiny Austen Cambridge car on visits to see our cousins who lived on the corner of Monkland and Montclair, she would often tell  me, “You was born right there, over a shoe shop.’

I can see from Lovell’s Directory, online, the place was Eddy’s Shoe Shop, now Patisserie de Nancy.

Over the years, my mother only occasionally mentioned her past employment at RKO and I never asked for more information because I was not at all interested.  In the 1960’s, RKO was out of business, although it had been one the top five studios in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

 

filmrow

Lovell’s reveals the truth about Monkland in the 1940’s. Movie Distribution Mecca!

In the 70’s, I studied Film and Communications at McGill and still I never asked my mother about working at RKO.

In class we studied Eisenstein’s montage method and D.W. Griffith’s short and long silent films and even deconstructed Citizen Kane scene-by-scene, (a movie made by RKO and Orson Welles who later bought the studio and drove it into the ground) but those other classic RKO Films, Bringing Up Baby, It’s a Wonderful Life, or I Remember Mama* with Irene Dunn were not on the syllabus.

The RKO brand, for the most part, sounded so far away, in the Dark Ages of the 1940’s, when my mother was young and a working woman.

These days, I spend a lot of time watching Turner Classic Movies and I am now very familiar with the RKO ‘radio signal’ logo and their classic and all but forgotten movies. I am also researching more about my mother’s Crepeau family.

I think I know how my mother got the RKO job.

Her father, Jules Crepeau, had been Director of City Services in the 1920’s and her uncle, Isadore, had been VP of United Amusements, the local movie distribution concern that built the grand Monkland Theatre with its ornate plaster work, as well as a score of other Montreal movie palaces , including the Rialto on Park Avenue, the Rivoli on St. Denis and the Strand, where well-known pianist Willie Eckstein tickled the ivories.

My mother was a secretary or ‘stenographer’ as they called it back then, even though she had studied classical literature, Greek and Latin, at College Marguerite Bourgeois and was perfectly bilingual in English and French.

Were my mother alive today, I would ask if it was fun and exciting, or even ‘glamourous’ working on Monkland back in those days. Or was it tedious. Did she have to put up with sexist behavior at work? (I bet she did.)

Her bosses, according to the industry rags, got to party once a year at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City at the annual RKO sales meeting and  Montreal’s Film Row regularly welcomed visitors from all over, including Hollywood.

And the big question I’d like to ask, if I could go back in time: “Did you get free movie tickets?

 

mummyrkodays

Marie-Marthe Crepeau Nixon

filmrow

 

george

From Box Office magazine, 1940. c/o Digital Media Library.

 

  • I Remember Mama is a film about a struggling immigrant couple who raised their children without ever letting on that they are very poor. My mother raved about this film when it came on TV in the 1960’s. The movie was made by RKO in 1948 and she would have worked on publicity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.