Portland Majestic Theater Owner Censorship Public Statement

Edwin F. James was a highly regarded businessman who moved from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon to open the Majestic Theater on June 11, 1911. The theater sat 1,100 people and was the first palace in Portland to show silent feature films and was later the first to add live organ music to silent films viewings. With over 3,000,000 guests in the first three years of opening the doors at Majestic, Edwin James had grown to win the respect and approval of many fellow businessmen in Portland at that time.

Mr. James proved to put in a great deal of effort and concern into the films that were shown at the Majestic. He privately pre-screened every film and would cut scenes that would possibly prove to be controversial or be criticized by the public or newspapers. He also seems to be dauntless when speaking out to the public about his views and his role in the motion picture seen in Portland. One specific instance was James’ public statement responding to Mayor Albee’s incursion on James film choice.

On July 19, 1914, the Sunday Oregonian in Portland printed an article,” Film Man Replies… Censorship Move Cause” that features Edwin F. James’ public statement in response to the Mayors proposed new ordinance. The content of the article suggest that Mayor Albee proposed to pass an ordinance that would revoke theater owners the right to discern movie content that can be viewed by the public. Furthermore, the article states that “the Majestic is responsible for the drastic censorship ordinance proposed by the Mayor and the censorship board.”

Leading up to this article, Mayor Albee caught wind of Mr. James plan to show a photoplay called “Sapho”. IMBD describes the film to be about “A woman with a notorious past enchants a student preparing for the foreign service.” The Sunday Oregonian article implied that Mayor Albee finds this film to be inappropriate to the public eye, in which the Mayor called James’ office and “refused positivity to permit [Mr. James] to show this picture”.

Edwin James response in the newspaper argues that any theater owner and manager would not force entertainment on their viewers that would be detrimental to their business interests.  He expresses his recognition that 70 percent of his viewer are women and children and that all content we always be appropriate for all age groups.

Furthermore, James’ statement to the public included letters from highly regarded businessmen in Portland that expressed that all films they have viewed at the majestic have been appropriate for all women, child, gentlemen, educated and uneducated. J. C. Ainsworth supported James by stating “I am an occasional visitor to the moving picture theaters of this city, and I cannot remember a single film being shown that should be considered immoral or indecent. Your very truly, J. C. Ainsworth”.

The article does not give any final decision on the approval of the proposed ordinance. But what we can conclude from this article is that Edwin F. James is an advocate for the Portland theater industry at this time. His stance is to allow “censorship to a large extent… remain with the managers and owners or to a committee of good, solid, substantial businessmen that would… be responsible for the kind of entertainment that is provided to this city.”