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Do You Remember?

"Cecil Spooner and her Bronx Theatre"

(Reprinted from the Bronx Times Reporter January 12, 2006)

Few people are alive today who remember the stage actress and feminist, Cecil Spooner. She was both a popular and a controversial figure in her day who dared to be herself regardless of the cost. She opened her own theatre in 1910 at the age of twenty-two at 961 Southern Boulevard off 163rd Street. Aptly named the Cecil Spooner Theatre, she ran the enterprise with her husband, Charles E. Blaney, and both her mother, Mary Gibbs Spooner, and her sister, Edna May Spooner were cast in some of her stage productions.
Another actress of the day to perform in one of her productions was Oscar Hammerstein’s daughter, Stella. The Beaux-Arts theatre had seating for over a thousand patrons and matinee performances were priced at fifteen and twenty-five cents while an evening show ranged from fifteen cents to half a dollar.

One of her productions, “House of Bondage” actually got her arrested. The police were watching the advertisements and didn’t like what they saw, so they attended a performance with a stenographer and took copious notes. Both Cecil and her manager were arrested just as the next evening performance was about to get underway. Deputy Police Commissioner Newburger believed it to be in violation of Section 1140A of the Penal Code. The play would subsequently be altered in content with some of the more graphic scenes deleted. Many would come to Cecil Spooner’s defense including the daughter of Mrs. Chester Arthur who was president of the Practical Mothers’ Association who endorsed the play which had spread to other theatres in Manhattan such as the Longacre at 48th Street. Sometimes a little notoriety is the best advertising you can get.

When Cecil Spooner’s lease expired in 1913, Loew’s took over the theatre. It was expanded to 1807 seats and served the neighborhood through the late 1960’s or early 1970’s as a second-run movie house. Loew’s kept Cecil’s name and called the theatre Loew’s Spooner. They also owned the Boulevard Theatre nearby on Westchester Avenue and Southern Boulevard which had a better location and served their organization featuring first run movies. That theatre opened in 1912 and had a greater seating capacity than the Spooner with 2187 seats.

The program shown (see above) has a picture of the popular diminutive actress on the cover. The play presented was “Ishmael,” adapted from a Southern romance novel and directed by Hal Carendon. The ticket stubs pinned to the upper right of the program are for orchestra seats for Saturday evening, May 24, 1913.

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