Screening (Salem): The Boy Mayor

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Among the thousands of motion pictures held by the Oregon Historical Society’s moving image archive is The Boy Mayor, a 1914 silent film made by Universal and starring Eugene J. Rich, the actual “Boy Mayor” of Portland. Now, thanks to a generous grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation and the work of Preservationist Michele Kribs, OHS’s copy of the Boy Mayor has been completely restored and digitized. Directed by Henry McRae, The Boy Mayor dramatizes a unique interlude in Oregon’s history. The film originated during the Progressive Era, when cities throughout the U.S. experimented with methods to control what was then called “vice.” In an effort to provide guidance to boys in danger of delinquency, Progressive Portlanders established the Newsboys’ Home and Clubhouse at SW First and Hall Streets. To raise funds for the home, the organization’s leaders began the “Boy Mayor” contest in May of 1912, coinciding with the Rose Festival and modeled on a similar campaign from the previous year. Candidates were chosen by the public schools, and the final election took place through ballot boxes placed throughout the city.

In July 1914 Eugene J. Rich was chosen as Portland’s Boy Mayor. He ran on a platform of public ownership of utilities and better playgrounds, and he took office with four junior commissioners, a junior district attorney, and a boy auditor. Later that year, the Universal Film Manufacturing Company brought Rich to Hollywood, along with Earl R. Goodwin, a Lincoln High School football star, who played Rich’s secretary in the film. The Boy Mayor premiered in Portland at the Star Theatre at SW Washington and Park in December of 1914.