For a small town on the edge of the North Sea, St Andrews has long attracted film stars from around the world. While more recently (since 2001) the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship has brought celebrities such as Samuel L Jackson, Bill Murray and Michael Douglas to town, in the first half of the twentieth century Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Astor, and Laurel and Hardy could all be found wandering the streets and fairways of St Andrews.
This week, as part of a collaboration between Dunhill and the University, we are celebrating this history through a small exhibition at the Old Course Hotel (From Silver Screen to the 18th Green – yes that was the best title we could come up with). The six images selected, kindly supplied by Special Collections, reveal the establishment of St Andrews as a ‘star site’ as film stars engage with, and contribute to, the culture, heritage and economy of the town.
We see crowds watching Bing Crosby practising for the British Amateur Golf Tournament in 1950 (see image). Crosby lost his first round match to local amateur J K Wilson, but would be back in 1971, and again a year later, with Wilson to award the inaugural Bing Crosby Trophy. In another picture, the popular entertainer Will Fyffe adopts a familiar pose on the bridge at the 18th with British star Patricia Roc. The pair had recently worked together in the Hebrides on The Brothers (1947) and were visiting The Rusacks Hotel, which Fyffe had invested in. A few months later, Fyffe would fall to his death from one of the windows of his hotel (a point we will try not to emphasise at this hotel exhibition). Other images show Bob Hope and Sean Connery (who won the Crosby Trophy in 1995) and, a personal favourite, Rita Hayworth playing a round in 1959 with her (fifth) husband, writer and producer James Hill.
The exhibition is part of a larger project (Cinema St Andrews) in the Department of Film Studies, which examines the history of cinema in St Andrews. The project has uncovered evidence of the first appearance of moving images in town at the Grand Fancy Bazaar of August 1895. This University event was intended to raise money for the Students’ Union and included, as The Citizen termed it, ‘Edison’s three latest marvels – the Phonograph, Kinetoscope and Kinetophone.’ It also represented the first appearance of what we might understand today as ‘sound film’ within the United Kingdom through the Kinetophone.
The Grand Fancy Bazaar would mark the advent of the town’s interest in the moving image; an interest that over the next 117 years has seen film played in strange and wonderful places from a converted church (which doubled as a skating rink!) to purpose-built cinemas. Film societies have grown and disbanded, while film-makers, both amateur and professional, have used the town as a location for their films (and I’m not just talking about Chariots of Fire). The project website contains articles, materials and timelines examining the town’s rich cinematic heritage. It also contains a questionnaire and we would love to hear from anyone who has memories or materials that shed light on this important part of our local history.
Tom Rice, Lecturer in Film Studies.
Dr Tom Rice and The Cinema St Andrews project was granted a Russell Trust Development Award (Staff) to pursue their goals of celebrating the role of cinema in St Andrews.