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Call it one quirky time capsule, this look back at a century of Buffalo pop culture. As Buffalonians, we are well aware of our jewels including the art gallery, the orchestra and a gaggle of well-crafted buildings. But what makes this city so peculiar is its flexibility, the tendency to twist and turn (and yes, dip and slide) with a vibrancy that rivals the Niagara. One thing is certain in this crazy-quilt history: A trip on our time machine won't soon be forgotten.


Vaudeville, burlesque and an Italian diva named Nina dominated the landscape, as did the marquees at all four Shea's theater venues -- Hippodrome, North Park, Criterion and the granddaddy downtown.

The Palace Theater changed features daily. No matter what time shoppers visited -- yes! shoppers downtown -- they could view a different "photoplay," including Harry Carey in "Sundown Slim" and Gladys Walton in "The Secret Gift."

At the Elmwood Music Hall -- where tickets ranged from $1 to $2.50 -- Nina Morgana sang to a sold-out crowd. Quite a step up for the vest-pocket prima donna whose pals included Enrico Caruso. It seemed like only yesterday she launched her career at the Pan-American Exposition as "Baby Patti" -- from a gondola at the Italian exhibit.


A lecture sponsored by the Buffalo League of Advertising Women touted the virtues of Buffalo. "Selling Buffalo to the World," conducted by a Shredded Wheat official, stressed the development of modern advertising and the opportunities that it presents for "educated and ambitious" young women. Included in the talk: "wonderful elms, public parkways and neighborly and friendly people generous in response to every appeal." Not to mention a salubrious summer.

On the film scene, the first noiseless picture opened at Shea's Buffalo. "The Right to Love" was filmed with revolutionary equipment that destroyed the background noise that had been present in the projection of many talking pictures.

Buffalo's centennial celebration in 1932, with grand-opening ceremonies in the Elmwood Music Hall, did little to relieve the Depression gloom.


Twelve thousand people jammed the newly built Memorial Auditorium to watch Sonja Henie and 11 train-car loads of "fresh and lovely damsels" in "It Happens on Ice," the first of a litany of ice shows to hit the Aud. The show stealer, according to Buffalo Evening News reviewer Ardis Smith, was "Glow Worm," in which the golden gossamery frocks of the waltz-skating young ladies were lighted from within by the batteries on their hips (in case you were wondering).

Silent film star Charlie Chaplin managed to snag top honors from critics for his performance in "The Great Dictator." The spectacle of Chaplin ridiculing Herr Hitler turns from slapstick to an exercise in universal pain, prompting critics to hail the film as Chaplin's finest performance. It was also tagged the third-best film of 1940.

A former Buffalo redcap at the Central Terminal was taking New York City by storm with "refined and tender lyricism" performed before hundreds at Town Hall. Clyber Barrie's performance, according to the New York Herald Tribune, placed him among the leading Negro singers in the country. He was discovered singing in a church choir in Buffalo by artist Paul Robeson.

On the fashion front, if you were a teen-age bopper in Buffalo, black T-shirts, blue jeans, leather jackets and suede shoes were the signs of this time.


Rock 'n' roll music gave Buffalo's swelling teen population a reason to pack the Dellwood Ballroom on Main Street, where they danced to the mellow sounds of Perry Como.

George "Hound Dog" Lorenz, who introduced a legion of radio listeners to black artists like Little Richard, plied the airwaves nightly on WKBW.

At the Town Casino, New Year's Eve 1960 festivities featured comedian Frankie Scott, with seats selling for $6.60. For those who preferred a drive-in to ring in the '60s, the Sheridan featured "Female on the Beach" with Joan Crawford and Jeff Chandler.

Following guest appearances in Europe and Israel, Buffalo Philharmonic maestro Josef Krips returned here in winter 1961 to close the season with a series of concerts -- one spotlighting violinist Isaac Stern.

The mass appeal of rock concerts hit its stride with thousands of music fans descending on a little suburb of Buffalo called Orchard Park and a venue formerly known as Rich Stadium. Bands including the Rolling Stones, the Eagles and a teetering Eric Clapton gave law enforcement officials a hands-on lesson in crowd control.


Sculptor Larry Griffis erected his cluster of sculpted birds and females near Soldiers Circle, while an artist named Lawless danced dog biscuits in neon glow.

Tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo visited the Philharmonic for separate performances in 1980 that featured teddy-bear charisma and rounded focus.

A baby band from Buffalo won the world with songs that spoke of ebony balloons, a flower girl and what most cars do in a Buffalo winter. The Goo Goo Dolls even managed to snag the Times Square performance of a millennium, entertaining on New Year's Eve 1999.

The pursuit of Monet sent thousands of patrons to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery to find out more about the prolific artist who painted what he could not see.


"You had better order your girls to put some more clothes on from now on." -- City Court judge, in releasing four dancers from the Palace Theater after they were charged with indecent exposure in December 1930.

"I need the space. This is far harder work than playing at the (New York) Center (Theater). But it is much more satisfying." -- Sonja Henie after performing at a Memorial Auditorium holiday ice show in 1940.

"All the power of heaven and earth will never take you from my side." -- ad for "The Thief of Baghdad" playing at the Shea's Great Lakes in December 1940.

"I decline to answer." -- Milton Rogovin, appearing by subpoena before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in October 1957.

"I am not just ambivalent as I am about almost everything, but ambivalent about my ambivalence." Leslie Fiedler on the subject of gun control

Top 10 list of cultural figures:

Harry Altman: "Mr. Show Business" owned the Town Casino and Glen Park Casino.

Katherine Cornell: The first lady of theater lived for 23 years on Mariner Street.

Leslie Fiedler: Cardinal figure in American literary thought has enjoyed living on Buffalo's Morris Avenue.

Lukas Foss: Conductor "con-brio" and former Philharmonic maestro who ignited the music of this city.

George "Hound Dog" Lorenz: A founding father of rock 'n' roll music, he howled nightly on WKBW radio.

Ann Montgomery: Converted an ice cream parlor and Oriental billiard parlor to a swinging cabaret called Little Harlem.

Nina Morgana: A favorite of Enrico Caruso, her long-running career at the Metropolitan Opera was launched here.

Milton Rogovin: Documentary photographer of Buffalo's working class.

Michael Shea: Buffalo showman who gave the Queen City its crowning jewel.

Harvey Weinstein and Corky Burger: Promotional team that ruled Buffalo's entertainment scene. These days, Weinstein is the head of Miramax films.

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