OSWEGO - The Oswego County Historical Society (OCHS) presents a classic movie night event to support the landmark Richardson-Bates House Museum in Oswego. This year celebrates the 80th anniversary of the legendary Frank Capra film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” It will be featured at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17 in the historic Oswego Theatre at 138 W. Second St. All proceeds from this night will support the ongoing maintenance and preservation of the Richardson-Bates House Museum
Motion picture history records have lauded “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” as one of greatest films ever made. It was part of a momentous time in Hollywood history, as 1939 is often called the best year of movies in cinema history. This recognition was due to the highest quantity of quality films by the notable movie companies and the record attendance. Other famed movies featured that same year, include “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Stagecoach”, to name just a few. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for James Stewart. This would be a memorable partnership with the accomplished director Capra, who’s films are often credited with launching Stewart’s career as a leading man in motion pictures.
Capra was the most influential film director during the Great Depression of the 1930s, winning three Academy Awards for Best Director during that decade. His signature styles were often meant to inspire his belief in the American patriotic spirit, which focused on the everyman seeking the pursuit of the common good. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” tells the story of a young freshman United States Senator who immediately believes in making a positive difference in the country, but soon discovers the corruption politics can bring. Stewart’s idealistic character is determined to keep his ethics, integrity and belief in democracy. This can be seen in one of Stewart’s most famous scene performances.
The comedy-drama film premiered on Oct. 17, 1939 at Constitutional Hall in Washington, D.C. There were 4,000 invitations to the opening night, which included the majority of elected officials that packed night’s show. Some politicians that attended found the movie very unflattering and others even asked for it to be banned nationally and abroad. However, it was a major box office success, and popular with film critics and a fan favorite of movie-goers.
“We are pleased that the classic movie night will be the exact anniversary of the premier in Washington D.C. 80 years ago,” said Justin White of the OCHS board of trustees. “We hope to have the same success with a full attendance.”
Interesting details have been added to make this a special event including hosting it in Oswego’s historic cinema theatre. There will be special door prizes connected to the event and a souvenir program. A traditional pen set will be a raffle item to take chances on. This item donated by JP Jewelers is reminiscent of a traditional pen set that would have been used to by elected officials in Washington D.C. The movie tickets have been designed by Oswego Printing to emulate a vintage movie-style one of 1939 and will be a nice souvenir, as well.
“This has been a milestone year and we continue to promote the remarkable legacy of Oswego’s history,” added White. “The Oswego County Historical Society was formed in 1896, but for the first 50 years did not have a permanent headquarters. It was in 1946 that the fourth generation of the Richardson-Bates family generously gifted their Tuscan Villa residence to the historical society to be the first community museum.”
The museum officially opened to the public in 1947, now celebrating more than 70 years in operation. It remains one of the oldest cultural and historical organizations in Oswego County. It is one of the most intact 19th century house museums in New York state with the original furnishings and contents from the family. The society maintains an extensive collection of artifacts, documents and photographs that preserve the history of Oswego County. The organization relies on fundraisers to sustain general operating support.
“Year round we offer events and programs that highlight our history,” said White. “This classic movie event is quite popular and each year we work on making an interesting connection to Oswego history.” This year marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego during World War II. Commemorative programs have been coordinated throughout the year by the Fort Ontario State Historic Site and the Safe Haven Holocaust Museum. To highlight this remarkable history of the only refugee shelter in the United States during World War II, there will be a brief, but fascinating personalized documentary titled “Only 982” prior to the featured film. This will be shown in the traditional spirit of the newsreels that were shown prior to movies during that era. The documentary was co-written and produced by SUNY Oswego student Mic-Anthony Hay and assistant professor Juliet Giglio, who is the daughter-in-law of one of the Safe Haven refugees, Rikica Levi Giglio. After leaving California and settling in Central New York to teach creative writing at SUNY Oswego, Giglio knew then she had to find a way to tell her family’s story. The documentary focuses on the lives of cousins who were children when they arrived at the refugee camp in 1944, escaping the Nazi terror during World War II.
Another interesting touch is a trivia connection between the Bates family and James Stewart. One of the generous donors of the Richardson-Bates House in 1946 was Sally Bates, the daughter of Norman and Florence Bates. Sally left Oswego as a young woman in the mid-1920s to pursue her dream as a stage actress. Her successful career made her a well-known leading actress on Broadway for over a decade.
“There is a very interesting connection between Sally and Jimmy Stewart. It happened during one of her long-running shows in a lead actress performance in a very popular comedy called Goodbye, Again,” said White.
The play premiered at the Theatre Masque in New York City in 1932 and had a very successful run of 216 performances with her co-star Osgood Perkins, father of noted actor Anthony Perkins. It would be the first year of James Stewart’s career as an actor, which he started on a Broadway stage. He played a chauffeur in this play and had just one line. However, he garnered many laughs and was well-received by theater critics. According to Bates family legend, Sally found Stewart to be a very nice to work with and remembered him for his distinctive voice.
“Sally told Jimmy she thought he would do wonderfully well in Hollywood. She also said not all of the young new actors she worked with were good, but in this case it turns out her prediction was right,” said White
The movie will be shown in the main auditorium of the historic Oswego Theatre, which was designed by prolific international theatre architect John Eberson in the Art Deco design. It opened to the public in January of 1941 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The historic Oswego Theatre is the special place to feature classic movies,” said OCHS board trustee Lyn Patterson. ”It is such a unique example of Art Deco architecture and is a perfect backdrop for this event.”
Tickets are a donation of $20 per person and are available at the Oswego Theatre at 138 W. Second St., river’s end bookstore at 19 W. Bridge St. and Byrne Dairy at 97 W. Bridge St.
“There is nothing like seeing a timeless film on the big screen,” said White. “It is a whole different experience than seeing it on television. This will be a special opportunity to both enjoy and celebrate cinematic history and support the museum, as well.”
The OCHS is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the rich history of the county. The society maintains and operates the Richardson-Bates House Museum at 135 E. Third St. in Oswego, a historic landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 1-5 p.m. and other days by appointment. For more information visit the website at www.rbhousemuseum.org or call during regular hours at 315-343-1342.