Letters to 101 Trongate
By Maria Velez-Serna
Commercial correspondence related to showbusiness is hard to find in archives. In the eventful lives of many entrepreneurs, record-keeping was not always a priority, and the history of popular entertainment was not considered respectable enough to be preserved until recently. Although we only have one volume of letters received by Pickard, dating late 1911 to early 1912, these 250-odd bits of paper are an invaluable source.
The first thing that becomes evident is that spam mail is not a new thing, but it was done by hand – there are many notes asking Pickard to subscribe to good causes, or to purchase some good or service from insurance to oil field bonds. There are also utility bills and contractor’s estimates related to Pickard’s first purpose-built cinema, the Casino, thus giving a direct glimpse into the nuts and bolts of the business. Contracts with film distributors and litho poster printers needed to be negotiated, cigars and alcohol supplied, and civic regulations adopted.
As the well-known, visible proprietor of several venues, Pickard received complaints from the public about venue management, and many requests for employment, from experienced projectionists and front-of-house staff, to a keen 16-year-old who says he will “do anything from washing the stairs to mashing the leading lady star”.
And then there are the more specialised offers: Would he like to buy the iron gratings of Glasgow’s old jail? Or to book a Burmese magician from India? Or the Elastic Skin Man from Munich? Would he buy a wax figure of a two-headed child, or a set of sound effects? It was certainly not a dull job, nor an easy one, but Pickard was the right man for it.