In 1928, five “Wonder Morton” cinema organs were installed in the New York metropolitan area. The organs were especially designed by the Robert Morton organ company for five Loew’s “Wonder Theaters” in order to accompany silent film screenings. After more than eight decades, cinema organ music seems like an extinct form of art. However, one of the “Wonder Morton Theater Organs” survives and plays constantly at the Jersey Loew’s theater attracting audiences of more than 1,100 people.
It was between 1990 and 1997 that The Garden State Organ Society decided to track down the last “Wonder Morton” organ that survived. Like most of the theater instruments that were built and used during the 1930’s, the “Wonder Morton” organ had been silenced and stored since the seventies because as audio and soundtracks were incorporated in movies, silent film screenings were no longer profitable.
“They started tearing down these big theaters because people’s interests changed. T.V came along, and people weren’t interested in this anymore, and if it was a theater that really wanted to make money, it had to show more than just one or two films at a time.” Explains organist Eric Fahner.
Still, in 1997, The Garden State Organ Society with the support of Bob Balfour, worked out a million dollar deal with a Chicago based pharmacist, and brought the organ back to the Jersey Loew’s Wonder Theater, a palace theater with a 3,200 people capacity that survived it’s fate of turning into office spaces because of a delay with the contractors.
And it was until July 14, 2007, after 10 years of volunteering restoration, under crew chief Bob Martin’s supervision, that the 1,799 pipes of the Jersey Loew’s “Wonder Morton” Theater Organ played again.
“The cinema organ is designed purely for the purpose of entertaining an audience, and its effects must be essentially pleasing.” Writes cinema organist Ben M. Hall in his book “The Cinema Organ”.
It was with the cinema organ, under the control of a single performer, that the first real virtual orchestra was created; it contains all the orchestral effects, drums and cymbals, chimes and glockenspiel, Xylophone and vibraphone, and all the extraordinary colors that were ideal for accompanying films.
Since the improvements on the theater organ developed by Robert Hope-Jones at the beginning of the XXth Century, every cinema organ includes a toy counter; which is a small section of its console that controls all the sound effects such as a door bell, phones ringing, trains strumming, sleigh bells, and sirens. Sounds that were the backbone of silent film screenings.
“You should have a big opening, where they show the title of the film, a very loud impression, and then, you drop back a bit and let the film take over.” Affirms Mr.Fahner, with a strong suggestive voice.
Mr. Fahner is a passionate organist that believes his job can only be fulfilled if he manages to capture the attention of at least five new listeners after every performance at the Loew’s Theater. Not a hard task if you consider that for $8 you can attend a classic silent film screening with live accompaniment inside a palace theater that still preserves its golden decorations, chandeliers, mirrors and Exit sign, a reminiscence of the beginning of a now endangered form of art: Silent film screenings with live theater organ accompaniment.
The Jersey Loew's theater will have the following screenings during December 2010
Friday Dec 10 8PM “The muppets take Manhattan” $6 adults; $4 Kids & Seniors
Saturday Dec 11 starting at 6:30PM
Live concert and old fashioned Sing-Along followed by the 7:30PM screening of “Scrooge”
$7 adults; $5 Kids & seniors
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