Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Were Tivet and Wilber, the first operators of a movie house in Davis, gays?

In his latest Davis History Today blog, John Lofland posts a long story regarding the history of movie houses in Davis. The piece was published in The Davis Enterprise in 1950, and, Lofland thinks, was likely written by former Enterprise editor and publisher William H. Scott, just a year before his death.

The occasion at hand in 1950 was the opening of the second version of the Varsity Theatre. That Streamline Moderne building, a City of Davis Landmark, is now used as an art house cinema. It replaced an older Varsity Theatre building located on Second Street, a block east of the current structure.

Here is the article’s opening:

“The very first regular movie house in Davis was established about 1909 or early in 1910. The event attracted little attention at the time and was not recorded in the paper, although it is well remembered by many of our older citizens. The site was a one-story brick building on the west side of Main Street at the corner now occupied by the Truffini Gas Station.”

I’m not exactly sure where this version of the Truffini Gas Station was. I’ve read later references to Joe Truffini (1907-1984) owning a station on B Street. If I had to guess, it was probably between 1st and 2nd on G Street (then known as Main informally and OIive Street formally).

The sentence in the article which caught my attention was this: 

“The promoters were Tivet and Wilber, two baby-faced gentlemen who were promptly nicknamed Pansy and Violet by the children of the town. The names stuck, and many never knew them by any others.”

Of note, it seems likely that Tivet and Wilber either were a couple of gay men or they were perceived to be. The reason that seems probable to me is that “pansy” is a derogatory term for a gay or effeminate male. I don’t know if “violet” had that same connotation. However, since pansies are in the violet family of flowers, pairing those two terms together may have been used for “a couple of gays.”

Regardless, Mr. Tivet and Mr. Wilber had a rather primitive operation in 1910 which, according to the 1950 article, only lasted a couple of months in Davis:

“Their equipment consisted of a projector and screen, some backless wooden benches and an ancient phonograph with a large horn. Their stock of records was strictly limited. Many who attended some of the shows still laugh about the song, ‘Over the Waves,’ which was played and replayed at every performance.

“The show did not last long — some say not more than a month or two — and the only distinction of the promoters is that they started something. While there may have been transient movie exhibitions in some of the village halls previous to them, none could lay claim to the intention, or at least the hope, of permanency.”

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