44. The Arts-Story Shows
The Picture Play & Ben Hur
The “Picture Play” was invented by Alexander Black, and was a series of lantern slides that changed every 15-20 seconds to illustrate a full-length story narrated by a single person. The images were not drawn but were photographs of live actors. Albert Armstrong later used the same technique to dramatize Lorna Doone. The color photograph is a postcard taken from one of the show’s slides.
A. C. Derr and Earle Wilfley were other performers who told stories on screen, though not with picture plays. Their combination of a lecture and a dramatic reading of Ben Hur, was almost certainly illustrated with Beale’s images, supplemented by others.
Ben Hur was the most popular American novel of the 19th century, and one of the top entertainment lantern shows. It retains its popularity today. Though what people remember of the story is the chariot race, Ben Hur had a strong religious element that kept it alive.