Documenting the American South


Going to the Show

"Goodbye, Girlie, and Remember Me"
An Illustrated Song

Movies were but one component of the program at all early movie theaters in North Carolina. Between film presentations, a singer would perform a popular song (usually accompanied by a pianist) while 12-18 lantern slides were projected on the screen illustrating the lyrics. The final slide frequently contained the words to the song's chorus, and the audience was invited to join in. These performances were known as illustrated songs, an entertainment that was common in vaudeville theaters for a decade prior to its adoption as a regular program feature in storefront movie theaters.

Illustrated songs served several functions. With only one projector, each film had to be re-wound between screenings. Illustrated songs filled this gap in the film portion of the program. But illustrated songs were not just program fillers, they were also popular attractions in many early movie theaters. Before radio, popular music circulated principally through live performance, and music publishers made their money through the sale of sheet music. Illustrated songs performed in thousands of movie theaters represented an important way of advertising new songs. Sheet music was sold in many department stores-usually just down Main Street from the theater in which audiences saw and heard illustrated versions of these songs performed. (Bowser 1990, p. 15) (Mooney 2006) (Altman 2001) (Crafton 1999)

Joyland Ad, Wilmington Star, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

A small article in the Wilmington Star from November 1, 1910, announced that "Goodbye, Girlie, and Remember Me" would be performed that day at the Joyland Theater. Most likely, it was sung by Edward Reilly, the twenty-three year old manager of the Joyland, who had been an "illustrator," as the singers of illustrated songs were called in the trade, since 1907. He would have been accompanied on the piano-perhaps by Dessie Jones, who was thirteen years old at the time. From evidence in the Joyland manager's ledger it is likely that these slides were rented from Walter Hitchcock in Baltimore. (Headley 2006, p.20)

"Goodbye, Girlie, and Remember Me" was published by the Ted Snyder Company in 1909. Its music was composed by George W. Meyer, a prolific New York composer of popular tunes. The lyrics were written by Irving Berlin, then also a staff song writer with Ted Snyder. Berlin would have his first hit song in 1911, "Alexander's Ragtime Band," and over a career spanning sixty years would become one of the most popular songwriters in history. Among his later songs were "Easter Parade," "White Christmas," and "God Bless America."

The illustrated song slides were produced by Scott and Van Altena, one of the leading slide makers of the time. For each song they illustrated, Scott and Van Altena would produce between twelve and sixteen glass photographic slides (3 1/2" x 4 1/2") to illustrate the lyrics of the song, along with an introductory slide showing the cover of the sheet music and a concluding slide displaying the words of the chorus. Audiences were urged to "join in" singing the chorus that ended each song in performance, thus encouraging them to leave the show humming the tune.

Thousands of sets of illustrated song slides were produced for use in early movie theaters between 1906 and 1914. Ballads, with their strong narrative lines, were especially well suited for illustration. Models were employed by the leading slide makers to pose for the slides, for which they received three to five dollars for a day's work-usually enough time to shoot one set of slides. Most song slide models remained anonymous (the producers did not want to create "stars" who could demand more money), but a few went on to successful careers posing for the motion picture camera and did become household names. One of the models working at Scott and Van Altena in 1910 was a fourteen year old Brooklyn high school student named Norma Talmadge, hired to pose for another Irving Berlin song, "Stop, Stop, Stop; Come Over and Love Me Some More". She was to become one of the most popular Hollywood stars of the early 1920s. (Ripley 1959)

The female model appearing in "Goodbye, Girlie, and Remember Me," Alice Joyce, also achieved fame as a silent film actress. She was hired for her first film role by a New York producer in 1910, and followed the movie production business to Hollywood a few years later. She appeared in more than fifty films-most of which do not survive.

In our recreation of the performance of "Goodbye, Girlie, and Remember Me," Jon Finson, Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, plays the role of the "illustrator," accompanied by Alicia Levin on the piano. The slides come from the MarNan Collection in Minneapolis, courtesy of Margaret Bergh.