As a theatre, the Criterion spanned the "silent" and "talkie" eras and was a stage. As a venue it hosted a variety of - at times quite odd - events and entertainment. It would be re-purposed for a second life of retail, but its history shows there was more on its biography than just movies.
The Criterion was opened by Charles Mason in 1915 as a silent film theatre.
Although, delving into its programs - printed in each edition of the Mudgee Guardian - shows that it didn't only screen items from the fledgling movie industry.
There were newsreels, serials, sports, historical moments, and more - if there was footage, you needed a screen to watch it on, this was long before the days of television of course.
Vision of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles to bring an end to WWI, along with the parades and marches that accompanied it, was shown at the Criterion in 1920. And in 1932, you could watch Phar Lap's final victory, the Agua Caliente handicap.
A curious piece shown in 1928 was the "visit of trackless train, refuelling at Kelletts". The advertising promotion was a collaboration between Texaco Oil Co and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Pictures and indeed featured the vehicle at the prominent Mudgee family establishment.
The 1921 screening of Fit to Win carried the somewhat bizarre recommendation "for men only". And if you're wondering why, according to IMDB it was "a film on venereal disease made by the United States government".
The Criterion was adapted for sound and the arrival of the "talkies" brought much fanfare. A poster inviting locals to "see and hear" read, "it is with pride and pleasure that we announce the inauguration of talking pictures in Mudgee".
"At enormous expense, we have acquired the Australtone Reproducing Equipment, the product of Australian brains and Australian capital - scientifically built in Australian laboratories by Australian engineers."
To mark the occasion they played The Donovan Affair, "the greatest all-talking picture yet screened". The poster promised, "14 of America's best known artists appear in the production and it is a 100 per cent talking picture, in which every star speaks".
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Being a theatre, the Criterion obviously lent itself to stage and musical productions as well.
In 1926 the Guardian heralded an upcoming performance by Humphrey-Bishop Comedy Co at the venue. The article read "at last the Mudgee citizens will have the pleasure of seeing the metropolitan company of talented artists, as this famous English company present their number one programme".
It hosted The Great Theodore - magician, hypnotist and juggler - in 1929. When he was "challenged to escape from a box securely nailed shut".
Lectures were another natural fit for the venue and in 1923 one of "special interest" was by Mr H.M Somer, secretary of the Royal Agricultural Society. The preview read, "Mr Somer will give his impressions of American life, gathered during a recent tour of the land of the almighty dollar".
However, the Criterion wasn't restricted to events that only required attendees to sit and watch. In fact, its concrete floor meant that rollerskating was held there.
Dances were popular occasions as well. One of note took place in 1917 - during WWI - as a fundraiser for the Anti-Conscription League, which was reported to be "a success from both a financial and social point of view".
Several decades later, it hosted a 'welcome home' for local service personnel returning from WWII and "the mighty struggle for freedom". The report on the event, which was held by the Mudgee Municipal and Cudgegong Shire councils, said, "when the lads proceeded to the stage, they were accorded a great reception".
Not exactly a beauty contest
Perhaps Mudgee was letting down its hair after the trials and tribulations of the war years, but in 1946 a truly strange local fundraiser was held - the ugly man competition. And the Guardian reported that the Criterion Theatre was where the "crowning ceremony" was held, to conclude the campaign to find "the ugliest man of the town and district".
It was all in good fun though and in aid of a rehabilitation centre in Mudgee to assist returned service men and women. In the end it raised £3034 - an amount not to be sneezed at for the time.
The title was bestowed upon George Moufarrige - a man who would later be the Mayor of Mudgee and the namesake of Moufarrige Mall and Moufarrige Park. He said "it was a great honour to be acclaimed the ugliest man in the town and district", having raised £1600 of the total to opponent Wal Rayner's £1434, and the competitors were presented with a bunch of carrots each.
After passing through a number of sets of hands in its early days, the Criterion was bought by Ivan Adams in 1921. It was under his stewardship that improvements were made to the theatre's seating, along with the aforementioned installation of the equipment to bring the "talkies".
However, he would also go on to open the Regent Theatre, and as the Criterion was now old hat screenings were curtailed. Adams intended to continue running two cinemas and in 1940 successfully applied to the Theatre and Films Commission to build a new facility in Mortimer Street - originally to be called the "New Criterion" but later re-dubbed the "Civic".
In this correspondence he said the Criterion site had "become one of the most valuable in Mudgee and there is big demand for this building by a number of business people". Later occupants would include; the furniture department for Loneragan's store, then Wilkinson's Furniture One; KFC; and now Just Jeans occupy the largest space.
- This article was produced from the archives of the Mudgee Historical Society and the Mudgee Guardian/The Weekly.
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