• U.S.

Cinema: Bank Night

5 minute read

In Minneapolis last week one I. J. Carr sued the manager of the Fall Theatre for $2,000 damages because of humiliation he claimed to have suffered when the theatre had failed to pay him a $150 prize after announcing that he had won it on Bank Night.

In Augusta, the Supreme Court refused to review a Superior Court decision that Bank Night was not a violation of the Maine lottery law.

In Los Angeles, a municipal court ruled that the Strand Theatre pay $400 to the winner of a Bank Night prize who had failed to claim it in the specified three minutes, although he had been in the Strand Theatre at the time the prize was announced.

Cases like these, inconsequential in themselves, served last week to bring to public attention the latest and most spectacular dodge of U. S. cinemansion proprietors to draw crowds to their theatres. “Bank Night,” invented by a Colorado theatre manager in 1931, is now prevalent in 4,000 of the 15,000 U. S. cinemansions. Most important news of Bank Night last week came from Des Moines where the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Bank Night was not illegal. Three hundred theatres, which had discontinued Bank Night five months ago pending the decision, promptly prepared to resume it.

Bank Night works simply. In his lobby a theatre owner places a large book. Persons who wish to do so may enter their names in the book opposite numbers corresponding to which the box office keeps a book of tickets. On Bank Night, usually Monday, when receipts are normally lowest, the tickets are placed in a drum on the stage. One number is drawn from the drum and announced. If the person whose name is entered for that number in the lobby book appears on the stage within a specified time, usually three minutes, he receives a cash prize of, say, $150. If the winner fails to appear, the cash prize is increased to, say, $200 and the performance repeated a week later. If still unclaimed, the prize is increased and the drawing repeated. The value of Bank Night to the exhibitor is obvious: it helps fill his theatre on off nights, permits him to run cheap films to packed houses. It evades most State lottery laws because the patron does not pay for his number and may conceivably win the prize without buying a ticket to the theatre, by waiting outside while the winning number is announced by a loudspeaker in the lobby, then running in to claim his prize.

The simplicity of Bank Night makes all the more remarkable the way in which it has functioned, not merely to the advantage of theatre owners, but also to that of its shrewd young promoters. Charles Urban Yaeger devised Bank Night when he was assistant to Frank Henry (“Rick”) Ricketson, Rocky Mountain division manager of Fox Theatres, as a means of increasing patronage. It worked so much better than Amateur Night, free radios and the like, which cinema exhibitors have been foisting on their patrons ever since the industry began, that Promoter Yaeger soon resigned from Fox, copyrighted Bank Night and organized a company, financed by Ricketson, to disseminate it. Theatre owners who want to run Bank Nights can do so only by buying the right from the holders of territory franchises who have bought these from Promoter Yaeger’s Affiliated Enterprises, Inc. Even if the authorities find some way to punish theatre owners for holding Bank Night, Promoters Yaeger and Ricketson remain comfortably out of danger. In Danville, Ill. last week. Bank Night owners dropped an infringement of copyright suit against the McCollum circuit when the circuit agreed to substitute Bank Night for the “Cash Night” it had been running. In Bangor. Me. Affiliated Enterprises won a suit brought by a Bank Night salesman on the grounds that if anyone owed him commissions it was Roy Hoffener, New England “Bank Night Distributor.”

Major flaw in the scheme of Bank Night from the point of view of Affiliated Enterprises, Inc. is that the copyright is easy to infringe. Proprietors of drugstores, dance-halls, delicatessens are likely to be incredulous and indignant when warned that they are trespassing. A variation of Bank Night is currently popular at Manhattan’s Stork Club, where patrons get free chances for substantial cash prizes. Imitations of Bank Night called “Dividend Night,” “Buck Night,” “Cash Night,” “Screeno,” are flourishing in cinema houses all over the U. S. Handing down his opinion in Des Moines. where Bank Night has been so popular that police and fire departments had to be called out sometimes to control theatre crowds, Justice Leon Powers last week showed a more than judicial understanding of the matter. He pointed out that a grocer could legally give away candy to children to increase his trade, might determine by lot which child to give his candy to. so long as no consideration was required of any of the children for sharing in the chance to get it.

Suits to determine the legality of Bank Night are currently proceeding in New Hampshire, Texas, Massachusetts, and New York, where the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court last week found one Charles Cranides guilty of breaking the lottery law by spinning a wheel in his cinemansion to determine cash awards. In New Orleans the four major newspapers (Times-Picayune, States, Item and Tribune) recently discontinued theatre advertising containing mention of Bank Night.

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