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Sixty-four years ago, Misses Hayworth & Doan came to town

The Opening of the Columbian TheatreA funny thing happened on my weekly trek to 1911 -- I pulled up lame 36 years short of my destination. However, it's might nigh impossible anything from a century ago could come close to the Grand Event of exactly threescore and four years ago, the day the stars came to town. -JIM

By Jim

February 20, 1947:
The day Misses Hayworth & Doan came to town

Sixty-four years ago today ranks in the upper echelon of Columbia's red letter days. The lead sentence in an article found in the February 12, 1947 News sets the stage:

Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Marshall announce in this issue that the new Columbian Theatre, which has been under construction for many months, will be formally opened to the public on Thursday, February 20, 1947.

In the early autumn of 1945, the Marshalls, in one of Columbia's biggest ever downtown land deals, had purchased a block of property formerly known as the John W. Butler (and later, the Mrs. W.E. Bradshaw) property. The Marshalls immediately sold several lots, including the concrete building on the corner of the Square and Greensburg Street (then occupied by the Motor and Electric Supply Co.); a brick residence fronting on Greensburg Street; and a lot fronting on the Square, between the Electric Supply Co. building and the inside corner of the Square.

However, the most exciting news came in this paragraph:[Mr.] Marshall plans to raze the old frame building now occupied by the Jot 'Em Down Fruit Store, and extend the sidewalk in front of the Dillon Building [modern-day 130 Public Square] through to the alley which runs between the Bradshaw property and the Baptist church, to Greensburg Street. Facing this extension of the sidewalk and located next to the Dillon Building, which is occupied by Moore's Confectionery, he plans to erect a large and modern movie theatre at an early date.
Come late February, 1946, excavation had just started on the site with Mr. Mont Willis overseeing the job. At the time, the News indirectly quoted Mr. Marshall as saying the building would be a modern fireproof structure of concrete and brick, and that the theatre, when completed, would be up-to-date in every respect. The News made no more mention of the entertainment palace-to-be until very nearly a year later when the February 12, 1947, edition announced the theatre would open on the 20th. No doubt, the word spread like wildfire. and it's unlikely an entertainment venue had created this much buzz in Columbia since the first movie house, the Parlor Circle Theatre, opened there almost exactly thirty-five years earlier.

That article went on to describe the grandeur that was the Columbian: seating capacity of 569 (main floor and balcony combined), a "beautifully decorated and handsomely carpeted foyer," a ladies' powder room, a mens' room, and a drinking fountain. The theatre also featured "sound equipment of the latest type," and the Marshalls promised they had contracted for excellent pictures and that the program would change four times each week.

A full page ad in the same edition of the News stated that "Patrons of the Columbian Theatre will be assured of good pictures and a comfortable seat each time they visit this new fireproof theatre."

The News farther reported that Mr. and Mrs. Marshall would be assisted by their son Bobby in managing the theatre, and that Russell Countian Lanier Burchett, a Navy veteran then attending Lindsey Wilson Junior College, had been employed as projectionist.

(As an aside, Mr. Burchett and Adair County's own Avanell Sapp, a 1946 CHS graduate, were married the week before the Columbian opened. Lanier went on to become a well-known voice on early Adair County radio.)

Sadly, for those of us for whom minutia matters, the article didn't indicate who ran the popcorn machine or who served as chaperons (the latter cleverly disguised as ushers, of course).

The first movie shown in the Columbian was a 1946 film noir, the black-and-white Gilda, starring sultry, sensuous Rita Hayworth. (The News remarked simply that the film provided good entertainment.) The picture was shown four times that terribly inclement Thursday, beginning at two in the afternoon, with every patron receiving a free 8 x 10 photograph of Miss Hayworth. Apparently, the photo offer trumped the weather, as the Marshalls "were well pleased with the large crowds attending each of the four performances."

The seven-thirty screening that fateful February 20th was preceded by words of praise from Cotton Durham, who said of the theatre, "It is an asset to the community and something of which the citizens of Columbia may be justly proud."

Mr. Durham then introduced the out-of town-guests, chief among them Miss Doris Doan, "movie starlet of Hollywood," a member of the United Artists studio. (This appearance may well have been the apogee of Ms. Doan's movie career.) Other guests included the Columbian's architect, J.M. Ingram of Louisville; representatives from R.K.O. Pictures, Columbia Pictures, and United Artists; and representatives from movie houses in Greensburg (Franklin Theatre), Jamestown (the Mary Agnes), Springfield (Springfield Theatre), and Campbellsville (the Alhambra and the Cozy theatres).

In addition to Gilda (which was also screened multiple times on Friday, February 21st), the movies shown at the Columbian that first week of operation were:

Saturday (February 22nd): Throw a Saddle on a Star (a western), plus a short comedy and the first installment (of 15) of a serial, Jungle Raiders. (Of the latter, one eagle-eyed latter-day reviewer grumbled there was no jungle to be seen in the entire series.)

Sunday & Monday (February 23rd & 24th): The Enchanted Forest (Filmed in Cinecolor. There were two Sunday matinees and one evening presentation. A boldface note advised that "the night show begins after church, at 8:30.")

Tuesday & Wednesday (February 25th and 26th): Blondie's Lucky Day, plus an R.K.O. newsreel. (Matinee at 3:15 and evening showing at 7:30. This was the 17th of the 34 Blondie movies made between 1938 and1950, most starring Penny Singleton as Blondie and Arthur Lake as her bumbling husband, Dagwood Bumstead.)Related CM articles: Compiled by yr. humble scribe, "Jim", February 20, 2011

This story was posted on 2011-02-20 06:59:25
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