Movie Crazy pp 59-83 | Cite as

The Chance of a Lifetime

  • Samantha Barbas


In 1916, WRITER Anna Steese Richardson of McClure’s magazine wrote of a dreaded disease that was rapidly spreading across the nation. It was not a plague or a flu, but something infinitely more dangerous. It was called filmitis, and it attacked the brain; it transformed level-headed young men and women into crazed, star-struck movie maniacs. “The germs of infection lurk in every moving picture theater,” she explained. “The first symptom is a vague sensation in the region of the Ego. The patient murmurs: ‘I could do it just as well.’ The second symptom is pronounced unrest in the lobe of the brain occupied by self-esteem. The patient begins to argue that in suppressing his natural comedy or dramatic talents, he is doing the Great American Public a grave injustice. The third and most dangerous symptom,” Richardson continued, “is a sharp pain generally in the palm of the hand or directly under the pocket in which the patient carries his purse.” Under the spell of the movie bug, the “patient” becomes so delirious that he is willing to spend his last dollar to go to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. “Filmitis counts its victims by the millions,” she concluded. “If you do not believe this, ask any moving picture producer or director.”1


Young Woman Motion Picture Film Industry Movie Theater Movie Star 
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  1. 2.
    “Dress and the Picture,” Moving Picture World, July 9, 1910, 73; Barton Currie, “Nickel Madness,” Harper’s Weekly, August 24, 1907, 1246; “Nickel Theaters Crime Breeders,” Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1907, 3. In 1920, the New York Times reported that 60 percent of film audiences were women; in 1927, Moving Picture World claimed that 83 percent of viewers were female—see Richard Koszarski, An Evening’s Entertainment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 30.Google Scholar
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    “What It Means to Be Movie Struck,” Film Fun, February 1919, 26. During the 1920s, a quarter of employed women worked in factories and nearly 40 percent in clerical, managerial, sales, and professional positions. Nancy Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 130.Google Scholar
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© Samantha Barbas 2001

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  • Samantha Barbas

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