'The Movie Business Is Dying!! Blame TV!' — The 1959 Edition
from the the-sky-is-falling dept
We’ve noted, multiple times, that the entertainment industry has an incredible ability to simply declare that any new innovation is clearly going to kill the old industry, and every single time they’ve been wrong (often ridiculously so). Of course, the most famous may be Jack Valenti’s claim that the VCR was the “Boston Strangler” to the movie industry. But this kind of ridiculously wrong predicting happened throughout history. One of our readers, Craig, points us to a fantastic program put on by the CBC radio up in Canada, culling through the archives of old interviews and re-airing them, including a series of interviews with “leading ladies of Hollywood.” That link is actually to the second part of the series. You can find the first part here. Each episode is a series of interviews. The final interview in the first part is a few minutes of a talk with Mary Pickford, who not only was a huge Hollywood star in the early days of Hollywood, but also cofounded the movie studio United Artists (with her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin), and was one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the folks who put on the Oscars). The interview then continues into that second part of the series.
So why do we care? Well, take a listen to the interview in part 2, done in May of 1959 with the CBC’s Tony Thomas, where Pickford starts complaining about how television is killing the movie industry, and warns especially about the pernicious intent of pay TV. Starting around 27:40 in the recording, she claims that TV is going to takedown the motion picture industry:
Pickford: I, in my short life, have seen the birth and the death of motion pictures.
Thomas: You think the motion picture has died?
Pickford: Mm hmm.
Thomas: But why should it?
Pickford: Because of the competition. Uh, you know. You can see the old motion pictures, that are just as good… or better than some of them today. And why should people leave their house?
Thomas: But you can see a picture so much better on a big screen in a comfortable theater than you can on a box in your living room.
Pickford: Well, that’s true. But it’s very expensive, and we have to face the fact that at one time there was 17,000 theaters — I don’t know what the number is today — but it breaks my heart to go by them today and see them… bowling alleys and skating rinks. Certainly, the motion picture will always be there, but I believe when paid TV comes in, and I’m sure it’ll be less expensive than going to the theater, that it’ll be the real death knell of motion pictures.
Sound familiar? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making a bad prediction. We all do it. But, when the industry “insiders” are so consistently dead wrong about how every new technology will “kill off” their existing industry, at some point, shouldn’t we be asking why people still take them seriously when they do it again?