In America, the slang expression “movie” began to get circulation in newspaper comic strips in 1909, and within a year it was well on its way to nationwide usage.
But the motion picture industry in the U.S. made a serious effort to kill the rise of the word “movie”. One theater management team stated in their local newspaper,
“It is unpardonable slang, emanating from the gutter, and its use is deplored by everyone who wishes to see the photoplay occupy the dignified position which it deserves.”
What Else Were “Movies” Called?
By 1910 the motion picture industry had run through a series of experimental terms and words.
In the vaudeville days of the screen it was:
– Cinematograph and
Then, in the early days of the screen theater, common terms were:
However, all those names turned out to be awkward misfits, and simpler terms like “moving picture” and “picture show” had crept into common usage.
England and most of Europe had rather settled on “Cinema” in some form of spelling.
However, Germany arrived at “Wandelbilder” (wandering pictures) “Lichtbild” and “Lichtspiel” (light play).
So…They Held a Contest
In 1910, by which time many people had begun to use the term “motion picture” instead of “moving picture”, the Essanay Film Company offered 25 dollars for a new name for the motion picture. The winner of the contest was Edgar Strakosch, a musician and exhibitor in Sacramento, CA, who coined the term “Photoplay”.
Use of the Winning Term
In 1911, a new motion picture fan magazine was launched called Photoplay.
In 1912, movie tie–in editions of novels began to be referred to as “Photoplay Editions”.
Movie studios and production companies still use the word “Photoplay” for various purposes.
Pop Culture Wins
By 1915 the word “movie” had become so recognized and accepted that, in that year, Louella Parsons published her manual for scenario writing under the title How to Write for the “Movies”.
During the next decade widespread use of such motion picture synonyms as “Photoplay“, “Pictograph“, “Photodrama“, “Picture Show“, and “Flickers” faded from day–to–day use, and people throughout America were going to the “movies”.
Interested in more trivia? Find out when the first movie was shown on television by clicking here.
The Mary Pickford Foundation sponsors a website called Media History Digital Library. They have an interesting page dedicated to Fan Magazines. You can read digitized copies of magazines from dozens of different publications. Click Here to be taken to their Fan Magazine archive.