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Silent-Film Era Theater Organ A New Fixture At Hollywood Theater

An unveiling and special performance is scheduled for Sept. 21.

Clark Wilson accompanying a silent film on theater organ. (Photo Credit: Submitted by Hollywood Theater)
Clark Wilson accompanying a silent film on theater organ. (Photo Credit: Submitted by Hollywood Theater)

A piece of old-Hollywood-era film screenings is now a fixture at Dormont's Hollywood Theater.

The Hollywood is now the only theater in the Pittsburgh area with a theater organ—a Rodgers 34E organ, to be exact—which would traditionally have been used to provide the soundtrack to silent films.

To celebrate, the Hollywood is holding a free open house and program to unveil the organ on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.

Renowned organist Clark Wilson will perform that evening on the Rodgers organ, the first time the organ will be played at the Hollywood.

Wilson has performed with silent films around the country, including the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. He was named Organist of the Year by the American Theater Organ Society, and has recorded seven albums.

The evening will include refreshments, an introduction to silent film music by Wilson, and his performance on the Rodgers organ along with silent film comedies. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. for refreshments and a tour of the theater, with comments at 7 p.m. and films beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public, for all ages. Donations will be accepted. 

Dormont's Hollywood Theater opened in the mid-1920s in the heyday of the silent picture era, and ran feature films starring A-list actors of the day—Gloria Swanson, Tom Mix, and Lon Chaney, to name a few.

Organists or small orchestras were typically hired to perform along with silent films, and even after 1929, when films began to include sound, many theaters continued to use organists to accompany film programs, or to play before cartoons.

The organ will be used frequently in its new home at the Hollywood, for special events and to accompany the upcoming silent film series.

Getting the organ to the Hollywood was made possible by a partnership between the theater and The Pittsburgh Area Theater Organ Society (PATOS), a non-profit organization started by a handful of organ players and enthusiasts in 1970, to preserve theater organs.

Another "rescue"—a genuine 1926 Wurlitzer pipe organ—was restored by the group after being found in a storage location in New York, and is now housed in the Keystone Oaks High School auditorium where it is frequently used.

For more information about the organ, or about the Sept. 21 event, e-mail info@thehollywooddormont.org or call 412-563-0368. 

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