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The Punch & Judy Seals the Fate of Pointers for Generations as Snobs, Elitists

There are many reasons why Pointers are pegged as snobs, but the Punch and Judy Theatre debut in 1930 caught national attention.

I’ve always wondered why Grosse Pointers were viewed as elitist snobs by the rest of the world. 

When meeting a new acquantance, have you ever hesitated to say you were from Grosse Pointe and instead said, "the Detroit area?" 

I’ve grown up with so many hard working families in all five Pointes that the title never seemed to fit the bill.  Although Grosse Pointe was a bastion for the wealthy of the Detroit area beginning in the late 1800s, there seems to be a very specific event that catapulted Pointers from extravagantly wealthy to the stratosphere of the elite.

The Great Depression apparently didn’t mean much to some Pointers

Wednesday, Jan. 29, 1930, 60 days after Black Friday changed the lives of millions of Americans beginning the Great Depression; one of the most elite grand openings of the newest “Talkie” theatre in America took place--in Grosse Pointe Farms.

The Punch and Judy Theatre, which still stands on Kercheval Avenue between Fisher and McKinley Roads has long since been transformed into business offices, but for a brief moment in time, it was the playhouse to the mega-wealthy.

Funded privately as a “pet project of the wealthy young social set of Grosse Pointe,” according to the Grosse Pointe Civic Review, published Jan 23., 1930, the playhouse was funded by “Edsel Ford, Arthur Anderson, Wendell W. Anderson, Lawrence D. Buhl, Roy D. Chapin, J. B. Ford, Jr., Phelps Newberry, Wesson Seyburn and Charles Wright, Jr.”

To put things in perspective, a movie ticket in 1930 usually would have cost one 10 cents.  According to the Grosse Pointe  Civic Review, Tickets to the premiere movie shown at the Punch and Judy, Disraeli, were $5 each, and sold out long in advance.   That is a mark-up of 4,900 percent--two months into the worst economy to hit the United States.

Normal ticket prices after the premiere weren’t quite so high, but were still significantly above average—a more modest 650-900 percent above normal.  On weekend evenings, $0.75 was the going rate for a ticket in the main theatre, while $1 reserved a spot in the loge—a balcony area with plush seats that allowed smoking. 

The rest of the world chimes in

According to Edward W. Morrison, a special correspondent to the Standard Examiner out of Utah,  “No longer will it be necessary for the residents of Grosse Pointe, Detroit’s millionaire Lake Shore colony, hungry for a movie, to brush elbows with Mami, the cook, and Oswald, the chauffeur.  The elite of Grosse Pointe have turned up their noses at the rest of the world and gone in for movies of their own.”

Whether  Morrison added the “hungry for a movie” phrase as social commentary designed specifically to judge wealthy Pointer’s and get his digs in will forever remain a mystery.  

The fact remains that in 1930 many American’s still couldn’t even afford the basics.   According to a website on the great depression maintained by the Lonestar College System in Texas, the unemployment rate in 1930 was 25 percent.  One of the most basic staples, milk, cost $0.14 a gallon.  That means that each attendee of the premiere of the Punch and Judy could have bought 36 gallons of milk for the price of their $5 ticket. 

To put that in perspective, if one were to assume that a family of four would consume roughly 2 gallons of milk per week, then one ticket to the premiere would have provided  milk for a family of four for  18 weeks, or 4 ½ months.   

The Punch and Judy sold out of 600 tickets at that price, roughly equating to 21,600 gallons of milk in 1930.

Morrison, further irritated by the extravagance of the theatre, paid close attention regular ticket prices after the premiere,  further noting, “There will be no .10-cent shows, although pictures shown at the theatre, will not always be first-run exhibitions.  Not on your life, not 10 cents nor even 50 cents.  The price, night after night will be $1.50.”

An advertisement in The Grosse Pointe Civic Review dated Jan. 30, 1930,  the ticket price is listed at half the amout about which Morrison wrote, which either means that Morrison was given misinformation, or the owners of the Punch and Judy, dually aware of the dire economic circumstances that were undoubtedly negatively affecting even a few Pointers, then “slashed” the prices by 50 percent to accommodate the needs of those struggling in the early depression era.

Morrison wasn’t through, however.  From his writing desk in Utah, he continued to express his clear disdain towards the new theatre, its owners, the secretive elitist nature of the venue. He called the Grosse Pointe residents who would attend the shows, “The owners of the Punch and Judy theatre aren’t going out of their way to announce the existence of the house to the rest of Detroit.  They do not care whether anybody outside their own huge mansions along the winding boulevards adjoining Lake Ste. Claire ever enters the place.  They hope the admission price will be high enough to keep the rest of the world away."

Our Utah compatriot wasn’t the only out-of-state journalist to write about the Punch and Judy.  Sam Mindell, an international news services staff correspondent wrote about the new theatre for the New Castle News in Pennsylvainia. 

From an issues dated Jan. 1, the headline shouts, “Rich Folks of Detroit Await Homey Theatre”

Mindell described the theatre to his readers, saying, “It will be a residential theatre, dedicated to the needs of those who live in th fashionable vicinity of Grosse Pointe.  Its door will open sometime in January and numbered among those who are directly responsible for its erection are Grosse Pointe’s most influential citizens.”

On a slightly mor favorable note, The Punch and Judy, according to Mindell, “is the first of its kind believed erected.”

Unlike the papers in Pennsylvania and Utah, The New York Times wasn’t quite so hard on the theatre.  The headline for Jan.30 reads,  “Detroit Opens Talkie House for Wealthy.”

In commenting about how the premiere was handled, the article continued, “The opening tonight of the Punch and Judy theatre in the exclusive residential district, Gross Pointe Farms, was a success from every standpoint.”

The timing wasn't good for a gala at the new Punch and Judy, but the owners went ahead with it, anyway.  Were they all dedicated elitists? Edsel Ford, the man who created the $5 working day, and Henry B. Joy, the man who concieved of and implemented the first transcontinental highway--these men were simpleton socialites?  Should they be judged as such?

These 'wealthy benfactors' privately funded the construction of an extravegant theatre--for pubic use--prior to the market crash of 1929.   They chose to go ahead with its grand opening during a very bad time in American history.  The timing may have been bad, but clearly the economy wasn't about to get in the way of a good time.

The only theatre left in Grosse Pointe

Grosse Pointe no longer has its residential theatre like the Punch and Judy—but the colonial inspired shell designed by Robert O. Derrick still remains intact protecting the business offices inside. 

The city of Grosse Pointe Park, interestingly, does have its own theatre that has similar qualities of the original Punch and Judy.  It is for residents only, so don’t forget your park passes.  For other Pointers, you can see a movie there, too.

On one designated night per week and in the summer months only.

Currently, the Okulski Theatre located in the Park’s Windmill Pointe Park is showing True Grit. Ticket prices are very reasonable:  $4 for Matinee and $6 for adults in the evening. 

Much like the owners of the Punch and Judy, Grosse Pointe Park has not gone out of its way to advertise its theatre to outsiders…. And by outsiders, of course, I mean other non-Park Pointers.

History has a funny way of repeating itself.

Elena Kerasiotis February 20, 2011 at 08:37 PM
We are holding a scholarship fundraiser tomorrow at 6:00 at the Tompkin Center and Lanvin Theatre in Grosse Pointe Park, MI. $25.00 for 4 course meal, dessert table, and viewing of the Opera LaBohme by Puccini. This complex is a wonderful opportunity for non-profits and guests to join together for a wonderful cause. Contact Olga Tecos, 313-423-0087 at Aretee Spa.
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods February 20, 2011 at 09:05 PM
Hey, Liz. Don't know if your old man remembers it, but the Punch was a great place in the mid-1940's for us young kids from Denby to take a dates for a Friday night movie and sit in the Loge (who the hell ever knew what that word meant? Or "elitist," either, for that matter) in big easy chairs that had ash trays attached so you could (cough, cough) smoke during the double features - when you weren't trying to make out with your female companion, of course. Then we'd head for Cupid's Drive-In (now the Harvard Grille) and pick fights with the rich kids from Grosse Pointe South. Wendell Anderson, Edsel Ford, Roy Chapin and Larry Buhl? Names on the Society Pages. Incidentally, could be wrong but I think it was Edsel's dad, Hank the First, who introduced the $5 day.
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey February 20, 2011 at 11:50 PM
Elena, just FYI you can always add events like this to our calendar: http://grossepointe.patch.com/events/new Thanks for reading Patch!
Gary M. Wilson, Esq. February 21, 2011 at 02:36 AM
Don't forget the Punch's longtime manager, Mr. Frank Krueger. I think he was there forever, and retired sometime in the very early 1970's(?). My grandparents were very close friends with him and Mrs. (Irene) Krueger, and as a kid I spent time at their cottages in Higgins Beach, Maine, which gave me a lifelong love of New England. As recently as 1993 I rented one of them from his daughter, Mrs. Barbara Deryck of the Park-a perfect cottage about 150 feet from high tide. My late great-aunt Tess Moffat took me to see The Yearling there, must have been about 1970. In 1979 the theater had become infamous for its Sunday concert movies and its Friday and Saturday midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Farms council told the manager, Tom Shaker, to get some security in there for the crowds, which usually stretched down past Kent Drugs-now PNC bank. Two pals of mine (Tom Donahue and Malcolm McKendrick) and I approached Tom and pointed out that the council never siad licensed or bonded guards, so we had these very stylish windbreakers silkscreened with a drawing of the Punch on the back, and our names and "Staff" on the front. We "monitored" (as well as 3 17 year-olds could be expected to) the crowds, often watching from the projection booth up on the third floor (above the Loge) under the sometime watchful eye of the projectionist, Norm Kight.
Gary M. Wilson, Esq. February 21, 2011 at 02:54 AM
The last projector was an old carbon arc model that had these welding-type rods on a prongy-type thing that fed the rod into the electric source and caused an arc that illuminated the film. One of us would usually hang around the booth to help Norm watch for the cue marks so he wouldn't miss the reel change, as the audience would get a bit miffed and cause a stir if the screen went white. I remember the dressing rooms below the stage (we were certain, even in our late teens, that they were haunted), and also walking on the catwalk, looking down three stories thru the ornate plaster medallions that adorned the ceiling. (My late and dear Mother is spinning in her grave as I write this.) The office was above the lobby and had a real fireplace that the mgr. would let us light during the winter evenings. There were live concerts including The Romantics, Tanya Tucker, Katalenic-Kwec Band (I did not make that up), and Detroit's own Adrenalin featuring the Pastoria brothers (who also owned Mr. Tony's subs on Mack (now Einstein's) and Mike "Flash" Haggerty, now of Grosse Pointe's Direct Plumbing (and now owner of much less hair than he had then. Sorry Mike-couldn't resist) It was a magical place to work. Thanks for evoking the wonderful memories, Liz!
dave bourgeois February 21, 2011 at 03:14 PM
I saw the movie Meatballs there in like 1979. I was about 8yrs old and remember the balcony being about the coolest thing ever.. and Mr. Tony's was my favorite growing up.
Fred Landsiedel February 21, 2011 at 04:30 PM
I worked at the Punch and Judy in the mid to late 60's as an usher. What a great place to see a movie, especially the Loge. I had to seat people because the tickets were numbered. It was generally an older group and they would sometimes sneak an adult beverage in to go along with their smoking. Plush high back chairs and thick carpeting made it very comfortable. There wasn't another theater like it anywhere. Of course you couldn't buy pop or popcorn. Too messy on that nice carpeting and plush chairs. Another memory of the old days: they had a doorman in full attire opening the car and theatre doors for the ladies.
Elizabeth M. Vogel February 21, 2011 at 04:45 PM
Great stories! Thank you for all of the comments! While this article focused very specifically on the opening night (and how the rest of the nation perceived our town for a brief moment in time), the Punch and Judy has a long and colorful history. Keep sharing memories! I would love to write follow-up articles about the Punch and Judy theatre throughout the years... one of my colleagues just told me she saw the Ramones perform there in the early 1980's. If anyone has any pictures, artifacts (ticket stubs? posters?), or stories, please let me know. Fred, Gary, Peter: I'll be sure to include your memories and comments in my next article on the Punch, but please encourage others to come forward! The more the merrier. Regards, Liz
Gary M. Wilson, Esq. February 21, 2011 at 06:53 PM
Fred, I wonder if you worked with my late brother Jeff (GP High '70)? I guess I was an accidental legacy having worked there and forget that Jeff had also until I read your post. Your comment about "adult refreshments" amuses me. One of our duties as "security" during The Rocky Horror days was to frisk the patrons to make sure that contraband wasn't carried in. "Contraband" in the context of Rocky Horror's huge audience participation included rice (a wedding), noise makers, confetti, toilet paper ( a main character was Dr. Scott--get it?), squirt bottles (rain), newspapers (rain gear), playing cards tossed in the air, toasted bread ("I propose a toast"), and hot dogs and prunes to toss at the screen (?). Needless to say, we had a crew to clean up immediately after each show, and the place was a mess. Contraband also meant adult refreshments. Upon our discovery of the stuff we urged patrons to return it to thier vehicles. The lines stretched to Fisher, though, so most people just tossed it a garbage can in the lobby. We had two: one for bad stuff (eggs, water balloons, etc.) and one for cans and bottles. The second one had a garbage bag in it, under which we strategically placed bags of ice. That can was lugged up to the projection booth once the film began. I have no recollection of how it was disposed of, but through the fog of memory I believe we donated it to a soup kitchen or something. Liz, I will try to dig up some photos
Dawn Parker March 16, 2011 at 02:12 PM
I have very fond memories of the Punch - getting scared out of my mind by "The Fall of the House of Usher" on Halloween when I was 10 (Liz Shipton, where are you??), popcorn and ginger beer, films in French during high school and the all-time best - a double feature of The Who's "Quadrophenia" and "The Kids are Alright". The place was rockin'. I still miss it, but I look back fondly. Cheers, Dawn (Locniskar) Parker.
Edward McLean December 18, 2012 at 10:39 PM
It was interesting to read your comments about my Grandfather Frank Krueger, as well as my Aunt Barbara. My first movie at the Punch and Judy was "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". My Grandmother as you probably know was born in Portland, Maine, and Ii also grew to love New England through my childhood vacations to Higgins Beach. My wife and children still go to Higgins Beach today. Thanks for the great comments about my Grandfather. Also, Tess Moffat sounds very familiar?
Gary M. Wilson, Esq. December 19, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Edward, I'd like to catch up and learn more. Your grandmother was wonderful. I can still see her smile, even with half-dozen kids bringing a good bit of the Beach into the cottages. Please give me a call. I'm easy to find. Tess (nee Macnab) Moffat was my great-aunt. Aunt Tess and Uncle Collier Moffat lived on Hampton or Hawthorne in the Woods. Her sister was my grandmother, Bernadette (aka "The Duchess", or just "Dutch") Wilson, so named because of her regal bearing. Grandfather Norman Wilson and Dutch were very close with your grandparents. They played a lot of pinochle, I believe. Hope to hear from you!
Rich Kingston December 22, 2012 at 11:43 AM
I came across your article searching for Wendel Anderson. I worked for his Company for 39 years until retiring 2 years ago. I went to GPH (69). Cant say I had many memories of the P and J. I was a Woods guy. Yep, many of these guys kept the life style going when things were bad it appears but they did a lot of good too! Always wondered why a show never cropped up again? Kind of know why and I throw that theory with why Rose terrace was torn down rather than kept like Edsels place and Meadow brook. By the way when I told someone the other day where I grew up the guy's response was "Cake eater!!! Good stuff, Rich
Bob Frapples December 22, 2012 at 02:18 PM
This is the type of story I like seeing here. Less bitching about politics and taxes, more of a mix of lighter topics and a look at the history, reminding me why I chose to move here over a decade ago. Well done, Ms. Vogel.

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