Ribald Rialto

During the week of June 22nd 1925 the Rialto Theatre took a walk on the wild side, testing local morality and exploring Tacoma’s edgier tastes. It was a decade into prohibition and the city had become quite practiced at ignoring social conventions and shocking the church going set. That week the feature film was “If I Marry Again” starring

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Lloyd Hughes and Doris Kenyon, 1925

Doris Kenyon and Lloyd Hughes. The rumors started immediately when word got out that the melodrama followed the story of Jocelyn Margot, the daughter of a notorious San Francisco madame who married into a prominent family, eloped to the steamy tropic with her new husband and perhaps too quickly had a baby boy. When her husband died, she returned to Frisco and when his family refuse to recognize her son she reopens her mother’s elegant brothel using her married name. The scandalous ending involves a grand opening where she invites the best of high society.

It was suggestive films like If I Marry Again with their adult themes that lead social reformers to create the Hays Motion Picture Morality Code in 1930 but in the mid 20’s Tacoma doubled down on the risque’ entertainment. As a live bill before the film, the Rialto presented an act from the Ziegfield Follies called “Phantograph” which featured six bathing beauties in “special costumes”. The audience was given an early version of 3D glasses, projection tricks were used to accentuate the dancers and stage hands sprayed the crowd with squirt guns at the appropriate times like an early version of Rocky Horror.

Hazel Green and Arlin Abel were Ziegfield girls in the act

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Hazel Green and Arlin Abel at the Rialto, June 22, 1925

and before the first performance in town they showed off both the latest New York fashions and a new shocker-pipe smoking instead of cigarettes. They posed in front of an elaborate advertizing set that was installed at the theater entrance and wired with chasing lights and revealing photos of them in their stage costumes.

While the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was passed nationwide in 1920, Washington State was the first in the 20th century to pass suffrage in 1910. By the mid 1920’s Tacoma was a hard place to shock people with changing social norms but you have to give Hazel and Arlin credit for trying.

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