The Society of Australian Cinema Pioneers was founded by Stanley N. Wright on November 29, 1933 and now has more than 2,900 Members. We are a not for profit association dedicated to the recognition of people who have provided 20 years or more of service, employed in the Australian Cinema Industry – encompassing Exhibition, Distribution and Production.
Overseen by a National Executive Committee, each Australian State has its own local branch of the Society which conduct local functions and activities, as well as the annual National Dinner.
The Society provides members with a means to stay in touch with industry colleagues, and be connected via newsletters, social media and gatherings.
(Compiled by NSW member William Gray in 1995, this documentation mainly covers the beginning of the Society, and the annual National Dinner functions held in Sydney each year.
This work is yet to be expanded to include the history and functions of the branches once they were established in each state).
IN THE BEGINNING:
First established in 1933 after years of thought by several prominent members of the motion picture industry, the gentleman who finally made the move and brought together a sufficient number of interested people was George Clements who was the Branch Manager of Fox Films in Sydney. He was a veteran of 23 years in the film business, starting back in the days when Waddington flashed his first movie on his first Australian screen.
Fired by the success of Waddington’s enterprise, others started in opposition and Clement’s selling days began. He recalled how, accustomed to a programme of a dozen films averaging 300 feet, the exhibitors refused to countenance the early 1000 footers, and how it wasn’t until Waddington again blazed the trail that they were willing to try them on a public even then hard to please.
For 10 years Clements was manager of Australasian Films, and then linked up with First National, serving eight years as Branch Manager of Warner First National. He had a personal friendship with every exhibitor in NSW – a friendship of a lasting sort. In 1932 he moved into exhibition, joining Exhibitor Crane in partnership of the Hurlstone Park Theatre. He returned to distribution in August 1933, becoming the Manager of Fox Films.
The idea of forming an association of veterans of the film industry came about in 1931.
Fred Gent, one of our real pioneer distributors, wrote a letter from London dated 22 July 1931 to Archer Whitford, Managing Director of Everyones (a trade magazine) in which he said:
“Your revival of old memories has recalled an idea of mine which was talked over several years ago and finally brought to fruition by others here. It is the Cinema Veterans’ Association. We meet only once a year, a dinner to yarn and talk over old times. It has become quite an institution. It keeps the veterans in touch with one another and is eagerly looked forward to by all of us. There is only one strict rule – members must be able to prove that they were actively connected with some branch of the industry not later than 1903.
I think you could dig up in Australia and N.Z. quite a batch of old timers who would rally to such a function if ‘Everyones’ were to sponsor it.”
Gayne Dexter, Editor-in-Chief of Everyones wrote an article in reply:
“Now How About That?”
“Perhaps 1903 is too early a period to deal in veterans but suppose those who have been in the game for 21 years were decided upon as eligible who would gather around the festive board? Who among our film fellows of today were bio-blokes in 1910. Let’s nominate a few: Edwin Geach, Jack Jones, Stan Crick, Archer Whitford, Cecil Mason, Gus Mcintyre, George Clements, Monte Simmons, E J Tait, Arthur Gregory, Dick Garner, EJ and Dan Carroll, Bill Scott, Martin Brennan, Teddy Bedford, Lorrie Brown, Terry Taylor. They are just part of the Sydney contingent. There must be many others to say nothing of the interstaters who date back further than 1910. Will somebody please send in their names so that we can summon an ancestral gathering and grab a column or two of reminiscences from the night when the boys get together?”
No further comment was reported in Everyones until 4 November 1931 when Editor Gayne Dexter wrote the following in his column:
“Fred Gent now the motive power behind the Veterans’ Association of England suggests a number of names as foundation members of a similar association in Australia. Motoring in the mountains a few weeks ago we discussed the formation of an Old Timers’ Club and had no idea that such a strong contingent could be added to the list of names already published, we being only of the 1914 vintage. As soon as our industry comes down to earth, ‘Everyones’ will start that club.”
It was not until the 2 November 1932 issue of Everyones that Dexter wrote in his column a further comment on the subject. The item referred to an interview he had with Alan J Williamson, the Australian representative of Gainsborough Pictures of England. (Williamson’s association with the Australian industry went back to 1910.)
“In those days, he brought London experience to Australia and for three years was associated with the activities of Cozens Spencer. He conjures up colourful visions of those days and particularly interesting is a mention of his producing activities in association with Raymond Longford. The trials and tribulations which marked the making of such old-time gems of the cinematic art as ‘Captain Starlight’, ‘Captain Midnight’, ‘Margaret Catchpole’ and ‘The Fatal Wedding’. He remembers vividly to this day the moment that he mentioned the colossal sum of £800 as production costs to the late Spencer’
“In 1897 Mr. Williamson was a screen actor. His father was one of the real pioneers of England.
Alan is a member of England’s Veterans’ Association. He suggests that the formation of a local association should prove a good move and thus endorsed a scheme along lines outlined in ‘Everyones’ some time ago. Like the English body which meets at a dinner annually, such a linking up of the pioneers of the trade should prove an interesting highlight of the year’s activities.”
In Dexter’s column in the 5 July 1933 issue of Everyones he wrote:
“The General Theatres Managers Club and the publicity boys of The 47 Club held a combined luncheon that was a great success. One of the guests of honour was Alan Williamson and he commented once again about the London veterans’ club of which he is a member with 80 or 90 others who have been in films since 1903 or before. Incidentally, it is fitting to suggest that something similar should be operating in this country.”
On 1 November 1933, Everyones featured this story.
“Old Timers Will Form Social Club.”
“Who has been 20 years or more in the motion picture business? The ‘Old Timers Club’ is forming and its first function will be held during the last week of November. On several occasions ‘Everyones’ has advanced the idea and last week George Clements of Fox took action by inviting a few veterans to his office to discuss ways and means. The quick muster included Bill Howe, Bill Szarka, Ted Betts, Archer Whitford, Herb Crispe, Stanley Wright, Gayne Dexter and Arthur Gregory. Idea is to inaugurate the get together of old timers at a dinner.”
(William Gray’s excellent chronicle of the Cinema Pioneers was written in 1995 and appeared in “Kino Magazine” that year. Reprinted here in 2017, it will now be the future task of another dedicated member to continue this documentation of the Society’s activities, growth and history for future reading and prosperity.)
From a small beginning with only an idea and a vision, the Society of Australian Cinema Pioneers has grown to an Australia-wide organisation. Membership is a rewarding thing for the veterans of the motion picture and allied industries. Besides having cinema passes that enable them to maintain their interest in the current movies and new theatres, it also provides generous concessions for them. There is, too, the opportunity to renew acquaintances with old comrades in the spirit of fellowship and mutual respect.
Herbert G Hayward has written:
“Whether in the field of production, distribution or exhibition the society regards the cinema industry as a continuous process of adaptation to changing market requirements. For this is a creative and financially hazardous industry, operating on a vast international scale, activated by the powers of imagination and constantly dependent upon its ability to generate new ideas, new methods, new processes and devising new approaches to themes and subjects in production, distribution, marketing and presentation of entertainment.
“In the scheme of things it is reasonable to say that the function of the Society of Australian Cinema Pioneers is not simply to preserve a pride in the cinema industry’s past achievements in this country. It also has the function of guidance to our industry by keeping alive the bright lights of experience, so that it may shine alike on paths not yet attempted as well as on the roads already travelled.
“In short, the memories of its members serve to give safe direction to the cinema industry. They give knowledge to impart to those who follow – a knowledge of its character, its strengths and weaknesses. Our memories also serve to give timely warning and to sound our high hopes for the future.”