I mention this because I think they tell us something interesting about the experience of going to the movies in the pre-talkies era; something not captured in all the stills of Gloria Swanson and John Barrymore and Alla Nazimova. One of the cards said (I'm paraphrasing, because I didn't think to write all this down before I gave them away), "Please be patient while the operator changes a reel." I paired it with another request: "Please read the titles to yourself -- loud reading annoys your neighbors." A simple request, but totally revealing, no? It communicates something concrete about the everyday experience of going to the movies in the pre-talkies era, a detail that isn't part of the official film-history account and is therefore not part of anybody's mental image of what moviegoing was like in its early years, even though it seems totally obvious now that I think about it. Of course people read the titles out loud! They didn't have cell phones, so they had to do something to annoy each other. And if I'd been a blogger in 1919, I would have been complaining about it regularly, I'm sure.
The others are interesting from a women's-studies perspective: "Ladies! Please remove your hats" was accompanied by a cartoon of a frustrated man seated behind a woman wearing a very large hat. (I recall a sketch on Sesame Street that found Bert in a similar predicament, although I don't quite remember the punch line. Did the woman have very large hair beneath the hat?) And I love the one that says, "Please refrain from smoking -- it disturbs the ladies." And how.
The theme I'm getting at here -- the difficulty of seeing the past clearly through the distorting prism of the present -- is explored (delightfully, I think) in Richard Greenberg's play The Violet Hour, and I'm reminded in particular of this moment from the very last scene (not a paraphrase; I looked it up):
JESSIE: Well, I don't know about you, but I would like to get to the theater early for a change --
GIDGER: Oh, absolutely. Because eighty years from now, there are going to be signs in the lobby that say WARNING: THIS PLAY CONTAINS CIGARETTE SMOKING, so we don't have a minute to lose.
(Everybody but John laughs, gaily, as in a twenties play.)
MTC's 2003 production of that play contained very little that was bright or effective. But Greenberg's spooky joke paid off, because at that very moment, just such a sign was on display in the lobby of the Biltmore.