If you ever caught a movie at the Greenport Opera House, the Capitol Theatre in Riverhead, the Rocky Point Drive-In or the Lyceum Theater in Patchogue, an upcoming museum exhibit might be just your ticket.
All those vanished venues and several others will be part of “The Silver Screens of Suffolk,” which opens at the Suffolk County Historical Society on Saturday.
“Silver Screens” is dedicated to the history of moviemaking and moviegoing in Suffolk County, says the Historical Society’s executive director, Victoria Berger, who curated the exhibit. The focus will be on roughly the first half of the 20th century — from the 1900s to 1960 — a time span that covers cinema’s rapid transformation from technological curiosity into the world’s most powerful and far-reaching mode of entertainment. Hollywood has long been shorthand for the film industry, but, Berger says, the East Coast played an early role in the development of cinema as well.
“I thought it would be a great story to tell,” she says, “to remind the population that a tremendous amount of film history started right here.”
Berger cites a number of examples, including 1916’s “Hulda From Holland,” starring Mary Pickford, which features a Bridgehampton windmill, and “My Lady’s Slipper” from the same year, which was filmed at Vitagraph Studios in Bay Shore. She also points to “The Sheik,” the iconic Rudolph Valentino romance from 1921 whose sweeping Middle East deserts were actually sand dunes in Amagansett.
“The exhibit is really going to cover a lot of territory,” Berger says. “We will have a complete storyboard of films that have been connected to Long Island through the years.”
Much of the exhibit is culled from the private archives of Robert and Frank Socci, brothers and lifelong memorabilia collectors. Robert Socci, 71, of East Meadow, says he grew up on the movies and recalls taking the bus to theaters as a child. “Back then you could see a movie, a B movie, a short and a cartoon,” he says.
While putting together materials for the exhibit, Socci says he tried where possible to re-create particular moments in time. If an old printed schedule from a movie theater was available, Socci searched his collection for a corresponding movie poster. The exhibit includes, for example, a poster of the Marlon Brando drama “Sayonara,” which played at the Bay Shore Theatre in 1958. Other programs in the exhibit show that “David Copperfield” (starring Lionel Barrymore and Maureen O’Sullivan) played at the Sag Harbor Theater in 1935 and that Edward G. Robinson’s “Kid Galahad” screened at the Smithtown Theater in 1937.
“We’ve got cowboys, we’ve got film noir, we’ve got horror, we’ve got comedies,” Socci says. “Whatever classic movie was playing, we tried to have the poster coincide.”
CLIPS AND MORE
Also planned as part of the exhibit: clips from feature films, old advertisements that would have shown in theaters at the time, examples of film-score sheet music and photographs of many Suffolk County movie palaces and drive-ins.
“It’s Long Island and the movies, we all grew up on this stuff,” Socci says. “You’ll definitely say, ‘Oh, yeah — I remember that theater!’ ”
‘The Silver Screens of Suffolk’
WHEN | WHERE Saturday through Feb. 28, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, Suffolk County Historical Society, 300 W. Main St., Riverhead
INFO $5; 631-727-2881, suffolkcountyhistoricalsociety.org