The old movie theater was located in North Lewisburg on south Sycamore Street, just south of the present (2011) tire store, in a building which I believe was owned by Mr. Lloyd Glendening. The theater was previously managed by a Mr. Huffman, but by the mid-1950s it was managed by my parents William Robert "Putt" and Kathleen Impson Forsythe. Mom generally served as the ticket seller, and then concession stand attendant as the movie got under way. Putt worked primarily in the cleaning and maintenance of the theater, and managing the concession stand inventory, which consisted of popcorn, various candy bars, assorted boxed candies, and bottled pop. He also worked in the consession stand as part of the evening chores.
The popcorn sold for 5 cents per bag; the bottled pop...in those old 6 oz glass bottles...sold for 10 cents. Candy prices varied from 1 cent to 10 cents, depending upon the item.
Candy and bottled pop were purchased from wholesale distributors who delivered the product to the theater on a regular basis. The tins of popcorn kernals were purchased from James Claude Dunham, father of Claudine Dunham Vallery, who sold the popcorn out of his house in Woodstock. We would drive the short distance from North Lewisburg to Woodstock on a regular basis to pick up two or three large tins of the kernals, and the cooking mixture which gave the corn its great flavor. An old-fashioned electric drum-type popper was kep busy preparing the delicious treat. The fresh-popped odor traveled throughout the theater, and brought lots of patrons to the concession stand.
Popcorn was sold in those pre-printed, white paper popcorn bags...the product scooped out of the popper using a large metal scoop. It was generally salted while popping, with a salt shaker standing by for those patrons who wanted a little more salt on the finished product. Extra buttery flavoring was liberally poured onto the popcorn for those who requested it.
Soda pop...Coca-Cola, root beer, orange and other flavors was sold by the bottle. There was a deposit on each bottle of soda (which I believe was 1 or 2 cents at the time). Empty bottles were retrieved and placed in old wooden storage racks which held 24 bottles. The clanking bottles were returned to the pop distributor when he returned later in the week with his dolly to cart them back to his truck. My folks received "credit" from those returned bottles toward that week's pop purchases. The bottles were then trucked back to the bottling plant where they were cleaned, to be used again and again (an old-time recycling practice).
The bottled pop was "ice cold" when sold at the concession stand. They were stored in an old refrigerator just for that purpose. There were no cups, no lids, nor ice with which to contend. The metal cap was popped, and straws were provided to those patrons who required them to sip their favorite beverages.
The movies were in 16 millimeter format. They came to the theater via a distribution route which included deliveries in North Lewisburg. The films for the next day or two came in large, flat, metal canisters which displayed the title of the film, the film number (like "1 of 2"), and other details. Large advertising posters were delivered at the same time, and placed in the glass-enclosed frames at the front of the theater, or in the lobby. There were also smaller flyers which listed the movies to be shown over the next week or so...coming attractions. These flyers were reproduced at an area print shop, and were cheap enough for distribution to the general public. The posters were the property of the film distributor, and were taken down and returned along with the film at the end of its run. Sometimes these posters were not returned, but were collected by fans. (Some attics, basements, garages and barns within the community may yet hold some of these old, collectible movie posters!)
The projectionist usually arrived at the theater about one hour before the night's showing. He loaded the first reel of film into the old arc-lamp projector, which was housed in a projection room at the rear of the theater, above the concession stand area. There was a young man who usually ran the projector. Unfortunately, I don't recall his name now...but I believe he lived in the Whitehead house on north Sycamore Street. He generally walked to the theater from his home.
The price of the movies at the time was probably about 35 cents. A ticket stub was issued to each patron from a large roll of tickets kept in the "booth," which sat directly in front of the theater. These stubs had printed numbers on them, and were used periodically for special prize drawings during some movies. The stubs were mixed in a hopper, then drawn out individually. The stub number was called out, and the patron who had that winning number was awarded some inexpensive prize...like a free bottle of pop, popcorn, candy, or a free pass to the theater.
Prior to the time my folks managed the theater, similar drawings had been held, but with a few differences. Between features, the house lights would come up and a stub drawn out of a large box or hopper. The number was called out, and the winner was asked to go to the stage at the front of the theater. Displayed there was a large, wooden, A-frame board. There were several brightly colored discs which hung on pegs attached to the board. The lucky winner then selected one of the discs, and received the prize which was located behind it. The prize was often a free pass to the movies, or a crisp $1, $2, or $5 bill!
The night's entertainment usually consisted of a series of previews of coming attractions, or "trailers." These previews were followed by a black-and-white newsreel of that week's major state, national and international news. The mood in the theater changed as a colorful cartoon..."Tom and Jerry,""Mickey Mouse,""Goofy,":Andy Panda," or "Woody Woodpecker"...flashed upon the screen. These humorous antics were then followed by the feature attraction. Sometimes these were in black-and-white; other times, they were in color. (I vividly remember watching the most recently-released Abbott and Costello, Ma and Pa Kettle, or similar comedies). There were many dramas and adventure films, as well as the traditional westerns with the familiar faces of John Wayne, Tim Holt, Lash LaRue, the Durango Kid, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers.
On some weekend evenings, an additional late-night feature rounded out the evening's entertainment...but usually not on school nights.
There were also occasional solicitations in mid-evening for various worthy causes. A short film was shown...possibly one to deal with polio and the March of Dimes, or muscular dystrophy, or even the old actors' home in California. After some tear-jerking scenes, commentary, and sentimental background music, the house lights came up. Volunteers who were assigned to do so passed up and down the theater aisles collecting freewill donations - often nickels, dimes and quarters - for the various causes.
The featured movies were often seasonal in theme. Holiday movies were shown primarily in the time span between Thanksgiving and New Years. War movies were generally booked around patriotic holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day. Sentimental movies were shown early in the week when crowds were generally light, the patrons were older (or more romantic), and young people were involved in other activities. The "blockbuster" movies...the ones which cost little bit more to rent and show...were held in reserve for the weekend movie-going public.
Very little in life was as satisfying as a "full house" with every seat in the theater filled. Sometimes, a second showing of the feature took place immediately following its first conclusion so other folks could see it. Occasionally, there was "standing room" only as the seats and aisles filled up to accommodate the crowds who showed up to see a new western feature.
At the end of the night, the projectionist rewound the films and put them into their metal canisters. Other materials were gathered up. Everything was set out in front of the theater for the distributor to pick up later, or first thing in the morning.
The theater closed for good sometime between 1955-1957...I'm a bit hazy on the exact time frame. Mr. Glendening had decided to sell or donate the old building to the community for use as the new fire hall and civic center. (It sits abandoned today, much as it appeared in the late 1950s). The projection equipment, the guts of the theater, and everything that was part of that wonderful world, was torn out and discarded to make way for storage of the fire engines.
I was heartbroken that I would not be able to walk the short distance from home each evening to enjoy the free movies! A consolation came to me in the form of all of the unsold candy and pop inventory. Most of these things were taken to our house and placed in a spare bedroom. The pop was stored in our covered back porch...the wooden cases stacked almost to the ceiling. My family, friends and I enjoyed that bounty of goodies for many, many months!
The old movie theater provided a much-needed escape from the cares of the everyday world. For a few hours, we gathered there with family, friends, and other townsfolk to see - via the flickering images on the great, silver screen - news from around the world, documentaries, hilarious cartoons, and entertaining "moving pictures." We escaped...and let our imaginations soar with new adventures - and at affordable prices.
Today's movie theater experience, in contrast, is not so much an escape as it is production-line entertainment. First, there's the unrealistic price of admission, with tickets selling at $7 or more! A 5-cent bag of popcorn now markets at $4.50...and comes in a big, laminated tub which 1) can't be blown up and popped behind some unsuspecting girl's head; and 2) just doesn't taste the same. Candy is an expensive luxury, even for the old, familiar brands we grew to love - like Juju Fruits, Dots, and Boston Baked Beans. Now, they are much too expensive to toss at the back of the head of that friend half-way across the theater. And the theaters, themselves...no longer the big, big room with the wide aisles and wall-to-wall seating. Now, we are forced to sit in rooms the size of crackerboxes, with small screens which rival the size of our flat-screen televisions at home.
But, maybe there still exists out there, somewhere, a very, special person - someone who is not interested in making a huge profit, but who would like to restore some nostalgia to the lives of a whole generation of new movie-goers. Maybe there is someone who will build a smalltown theater in North Lewisburg, with reasonable prices, quality popcorn and sodas, and some good, old-fashioned movies, cartoons and documentaries. Build it...and we will come!