Movies in the Mountains: Film series at Tijeras library

Frank Cullen started his collection of Vaudeville and movie memorabilia when he was 10 years old, and his passion for film is now coming to the East Mountains with a film series at the library in Tijeras.

Cullen has the kind of stage presence that seems to bring the stage with him—with a mellifluous voice, clear enunciation and a Boston accent. He has run a film series at the Guild Theater in Albuquerque since 2007.

Living in Edgewood with his partner Donald McNeilly, the pair has authored numerous books, including the definitive encyclopedia of Vaudeville (“Vaudeville Old & New, An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America,” a two-volume set available at amazon.com) and a series of mystery novels featuring Vaudeville and early movie themes.

Mae West. Photo courtesy of Frank Cullen.

Cullen and McNeilly co-founded the National Vaudeville Museum in 1982; the largest personal collection of its kind in the United States, Cullen said, it is now housed at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He was given the New York Theater Museum’s Award of Excellence for preservation of theater history.

Throughout his life, Cullen has worked at jobs running the gamut from newspaper boy to gallery owner, newspaper columnist reviewing theater, university lecturer and radio DJ; he says that he got his education in libraries and museums. His first book was published at age 70.

Once Cullen starts talking theater, he builds up a head of steam—his passion for and knowledge of the subject is clearly evident.

Cullen is curating a monthly film series to be closer to home.

Each month the film series will bring a free show to the East Mountain Library in Tijeras, dubbed “Movies in the Mountains.” Screenings will be the third Saturday of each month, at 2 p.m., hosted by the library and the American Vaudeville Museum.

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Photo courtesy of Frank Cullen.

The first show is Nov. 17, with the showing of “Great Vaudeville Acts on Film,” featuring tap dancers the Nicholas Brothers; the Wiere Brothers, with song, dance and comedy; Ed Wynn & The Three Stooges skit; jazz singer Ethel Waters; singers Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields; The Banana Man, A. Robins; pantomimist Georgie Carl; and trick cyclist Slim Rhyder.

The Nicholas Brothers did “the greatest tap dance sequence ever shown on film,” Cullen said, adding that Wynn was one of the first comics who never did television.

The Red Shoes, to be presented Dec. 15, is “a fantasy film, and rather dark, about a young ballerina getting in the clutches of someone who uses her as a tool for his own artistic expression,” Cullen said.

Following that, the January showing is Spy Who Came in from the Cold, starring Richard Burton.

A film called Lost in Paris featured husband-and-wife comedy team Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel, about a librarian (Gordon) who gets called to Paris by an aunt. Cullen described it as “a funny, decent film in this current fetid atmosphere of nastiness.”

Ethel Waters. Photo courtesy of Frank Cullen.

Other films in the series are Dinner at Eight, starring John Barrymore, Jean Harlow and Lionel Barrymore; Animal Crackers, featuring the Marx Brothers; Murder, She Said, an adaptation of an Agatha Christie Miss Marple mystery novel; Excalibur, a 1984 adaptation of the Arthurian legend starring Helen Mirren and Liam Neeson; Cabin in the Sky, one of two all-black films from 1943; She Done Him Wrong, starring Mae West and Cary Grant; The Search, starring Montgomery Clift; Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein, starring Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi; Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes; and a Christmas program of comedy shorts planned for December 2019.

The Nicholas Brothers. Photo courtesy of Frank Cullen.

Cullen will introduce the movies and talk about their histories at each showing. All movies are free and open to the public. To learn more or to be added to the email list featuring background information and upcoming films, email Cullen at announcements@vaudeville.org.