Tidbits from the Archives: St. Olaf goes to the movies

MAY 2004

By Jeff Sauve, Associate Archivist

St. Olaf goes to the movies
On April 21, my son Bailey was born. Several people have asked me how we came to pick the name “Bailey.” We were looking for a name that meant “second chance,” as my wife, Evelyn Hoover, experienced a miscarriage last spring. While watching one of my favorite movies, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life , Holden, our firstborn, said, “George Bailey would make a good name. He got a second chance.” No offense to the Georges out there, but Bailey sounded fine and meaningful to us.

With movies on my mind, I thought I would delve into St. Olaf’s early history with the screen arts and a particular theater, the Gem, which was on the site of what is today the Hvistendahl & Moersch Law Office in Northfield.

Longtime Gem Theater owner Everertt Dilley said in an interview for the Northfield News that the Gem established its own restrictive codes. Only Carleton men were allowed to attend the theater, “although sometimes you could see 60 young women lined up at the side door waiting to sneak in.” Around 1917, the Gem Theater caused the St. Olaf students to take action. A flyer found in the college archives reads:

“Boycott Boll”
Have we any respect for our nationality? Are we loyal to St. Olaf? We shall see! When a man like [Fred] Boll — manager of the Gem Theater — taunts the students of St. Olaf College and other Norwegians of this city, merely on the point of our nationality, when he disregards our bounteous patronage of the past with a slanderous oath, when he doggishly cusses the Norwegian race as such — as Mr. Boll did last Friday evening — let us as students of St. Olaf College, as descendants of the Norwegian blood of which we can justly be proud, hereby and forever resolve never to patronize the Gem Theater again. By so resolving and acting we demonstrate our Norwegian unity and our respect for our race. Let us be as one in this resolve! Although Boll had dodgers circulated on our campus for tonight’s program, let us remember his former curse. If we visit any movie, let it be The Lyric.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe the protest worked. The archives has student scrapbooks containing flyers and notes about the Gem well into the early 1920s.

A few more tidbit movie items:

  • St. Olaf’s only film credit belongs to The Great Northfield, Minnesota Robbery (1972) about the James Gang. In the film, the gang rides by a church where a Renaissance motet is being sung inside. The credit goes to the St. Olaf Choir.
  • Anthony Dexter ’35 starred in many B pictures. His best-known role was the title role as Rudolph Valentino in a 1951 film, Valentino . Incredibly,  Anthony Dexter’s given name was Walter Fleischmann — the same birth name of Valentino!
  • Barry Morrow’s screenplay for Rain Man (1988) won an Oscar. He was one credit short of graduating from St. Olaf in 1970. With submission of his screenplay for credit, Barry was awarded his degree in 1989.