Date of Award

Fall 11-4-2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Kathryn Fuller-Seeley

Second Advisor

Dr. Alisa Perren

Third Advisor

Dr. Angelo Restivo

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Greg Smith

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Richard Maltby


This dissertation explores the development of commercial entertainments and film exhibition in the urban South around the turn of the last century through the growth and decline of Jake Wells Enterprises. A former professional baseball player, Wells invested in a wide variety of public amusements, with the core of his early business centered on establishing and organizing a string of vaudeville, popularly priced, and legitimate theaters throughout the largest cities in the region, a network he later transitioned to showing exclusively motion pictures. A thorough analysis of period newspapers, trade journals, and some business records covering Wells’ career provides much-needed evidence for film and cultural historians wishing to understand the genesis and evolution of public amusements in the region, and its negotiation of traditional social and cultural institutions. In the 1890s, Wells played and managed several professional baseball teams in the South. The sport educated players and spectators alike to both the values and creed of New South progress, and to rising tensions confronting the intersection of modern and traditional forms of culture. Using his experiences and contacts gained in baseball, Wells helped foster a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation required for the progress of media industries in the region, establishing social networks of knowledge and improving distribution flows of entertainment. The dissertation explores how race and the genteel emerged as regional characteristics most influential to the success of this conversion in many urban areas. Protestants and evangelical culture served as the bulkhead supporting opposition to new amusements. Wells’ expansion plans and violations of Sabbath day laws evoked a “spatial” battle between commercialism and religion where political, social, and cultural power drawn from place and identity were challenged and reconfigured. Another chapter explores the exhibition and reception of early Civil War films in the region. Wells and other exhibitors were influential in their production and circulation nationwide, and positioned cinema as an alternative shrine to commemorate the Lost Cause in many communities. The last chapter shows how Wells failed to meet local demands and consumer desires in competition with the rise of national chain theaters and Hollywood’s vertical integration.


Included in

Communication Commons