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Jim: A Brief History of Early Cinema in Columbia, Ky., IV c. 1903 to late 1922

(Part 4 of 6): Segue, part III: Mr. Edgar Winchester (E.W.) Reed, Jr., in love; in the service of his country; and back home

By "Jim"

Sometime around the middle of 1916, E.W. Reed, then 21, and Madge Rosenfield, about 25, commenced a courtship that continued through his decision in May, 1917 to enter the officers reserve corps and then his entry into active service in August of that year. By the following September (1918), E.W. was stationed in New Jersey and Mrs. Jo Rosenfield, Madge's sister-in-law, lived in Petersburg, Va. In the latter part of September, 1918, Madge went to visit Mrs. Rosenfield and while she was there, E.W. took furlough and went to Petersburg where he and Madge were made as one, a union kept secret until the news reached Columbia in July, 1919.

The July 23, 1919 News commended the young couple thus:

They arrived from Louisville Friday night after the announcement of their marriage, and both went to their respective places of business Monday, Mr. Reed to the office of his brother, Mr. G.R. Reed, and Mrs. Reed to the Telephone Exchange where she has been a popular operator for several years.

By May, 1920, E.W. & Geo. R. were partners in the business that brother George has started in 1912 and which still carries their name, Reed Bros. Insurance.


As mentioned previously, movie halls frequently were used for other activities, and such was the case of the Paramount. The November 22, 1916 News advised readers that

The ladies of the Self Culture Club are attempting to place a series of concerts before the people of Columbia. These programs will not only prove enjoyable, but elevating to those who hear them. The first one will given on the evening of [Friday] Dec. 1, 1916, at the Paramount Picture Show. The artists for the evening are Miss Bernice Wimberly, violinist, and Miss Angela Sweeney, reader.

(Apparently, the Self Culture Club later became known as the Woman's Club, as noted below.)

A year or so later, the Paramount served as venue for a number of productions of "the Lyceum course." An article in the December 5, 1917 paper stated in part that

The first number of the Lyceum course was given at the Paramount Theatre last Friday evening, the hall being filled to capacity, due in a measure to the efforts of the Woman's Club, of Columbia, who put forth every effort to make the start of the Lyceum Course a success. The program started a little before 8 o'clock and for an hour the audience was delightfully entertained with the harp, readings and songs.

(The following four paragraphs are from "Cyrus in a pickle: a question of Paramount importance," published in ColumbiaMagazine on February 23, 2006; used with permission.)

"An example of [the Lyceum] form of entertainment is a musical variety show presented in early 1918. Readers of the Adair County News were urged to 'Be at the Paramount Theatre Wednesday evening Jan. 23, and hear the American Girls.' A copy of the evening's program appeared in the same issue and indicated there would be skits, music (much of it 'novelty'), dancing, and readings. The individuals comprising the American Girls were identified as Virgie Hyatt, Vera Miller and Grace Hyatt.

"In the April 3, 1918 edition, readers of the News were informed 'Miss Evelyn Bargelt, the noted cartoonist and sand painter, will appear at the Paramount Theatre, April 9, at 8 o'clock.'

"In June, there was another change of fare at the theatre. An article in the June 19 News read thus:

"Chief Red Fox, who is a full blooded Indian, entertained here last Friday night at the Paramount theatre. He was born in Rosebud, South Dakota in 1870. His father, who is dead, was Black Eagle. Red Fox speaks English fluently, having been educated in a government school. He has done much work for the Red Cross in the Blue Grass section of the State, showing that he is loyal to the Stars and Stripes. His entertainment here consisted of four reels of pictures, exhibiting the customs of the Indians in the far West. He also delivered a lecture and gave the Indian war dances."

In May, 1918, Miss Alice Walker's students gave a 4 p.m. Saturday piano recital there, and in the April 16, 1919 News reported that

The man and woman of mystery were at the Paramount Theatre last Friday and Saturday nights. Tie them with ropes and chains and also handcuff them, and in a twinkling they would throw off their shackles. Their performances attracted good crowds and they were pronounced exceedingly clever in their performances.

Not all live performances were quite so wholesome. In early April 1919, the proprietors of the Paramount, Geo. Nell and his then-partner, Ezra E. Cheatham, felt compelled to offer a public apology for what had transpired there a few days previously:

Nell & Cheatham desire to state that the traveling troupe that was at the Paramount Theatre, Monday and Tuesday nights, was a disappointment to them as well as to those who attended. This company was recommended to them as having a clean, moral show. In the future they promise that they will not be "taken in," and hope the show-going people will accept this apology.

Feature presentation (6th reel): More winds of change, Snow White, propaganda (October 1917 - Spring 1921)

As mentioned earlier, E.W. Reed went into active military service in the summer of 1917. In early October came the announcement that Mr. L.M. Young had sold his interest in the Columbia Amusement Company to Nell & Son, who had purchased a one-third interest in the Paramount in January, 1917. (The reference here to the Columbia Amusement Company is most likely an error on the part of the News, that having been the legal name of Mr. Nell's short-lived venture. The legal name of the Parlor Circle business firm, presumably that of the Paramount as well, was the Columbia Entertainment Company.)

(Guy Yates Nell was the younger half of Nell & Son, he being the oldest child of Geo. H. and Maggie Yates Nell. The Nells had removed to Columbia from Gradyville in early September, 1912, and Nell & Son first appeared as a business entity in April 1916 when they opened a soda pop bottling plant in Columbia. They also owned and managed a farm, among other enterprises.)

Before the end of October, 1917, the News reported that the Nells had become sole proprietors of the Paramount, having purchased Mr. Reed's interest in the concern a few days earlier. A mid-November ad told readers of the paper

Three shows at the Paramount Theatre this week. A serial starts Thursday night, Paramount Pictures Friday and Saturday nights. These shows will be first class, and the pictures are expensive. If the town wants good shows it must attend.

By this time, the ads for the Paramount generally consisted of only a few lines of text, such as the one above, instead of the larger and catchier block ads of before. A month later, even a fairly "big" show drew only six lines of type, including an incredibly unimaginative headline:


Capt. Nemo, Mighty Wizard of the Deep. Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. First and only Submarine Photo-Drama ever filmed. To-night, Tuesday, at Paramount Theatre.

(By 1917, there were at least three screen versions of the Jules Verne novel, but odds are the one showing at the Paramount was the 1916 Universal Film Manufacturing Co. film which featured rather elaborate sets and special effects. Allen Holubar led the cast as the mysterious Captain Nemo.)

Two months later, in February, 1918, Barksdale Hamlett, Sr., newly arrived in Columbia as editor of the Adair County News, penned an epistle of praise for the Paramount. At the time, Mr. and Mrs. Hamlett's middle child, Barksdale, Jr., had just turned nine, and their youngest, little Miss Margaret, was two and a half.

Our Movie Theatre

We wouldn't live in a world where there were no fairies and no children, and we couldn't live in a town where there was no picture show. The children of Columbia should be grateful to Guy Nell and the management of the Paramount Theatre last week, and tell him about it so as to encourage the presentation of more pictures like Marguerite Clark in that incomparable, pure and beautiful child story,
Snow White. We would gladly pay double the price to have our children see such pictures, and we hope that the bringing of these excellent pictures to Columbia will soon justify the management to move into some more commodious quarters on a ground floor, or into a new theatre built for this and other purposes, such as the enterprise and civic pride of Columbia should call for and support.

Snow White was the Friday evening feature. Thursday's presentation had been two-reeler, Shorty Unearths A Tartar. It was among the last of the 35 "Shorty" shorts.

One must wonder what the weather of the winter of 1917-1918 did to attendance. Wrote Cyrus (in part) in ColumbiaMagazine (posted January 28, 2006; used with permission):

"Snow fell on the night of December 7, 1917, and by Monday, January 15, 1918, a total of twelve snows had fallen since winter's onset. Even more fell after that, and the good people of Adair County didn't see the ground until February.

"And with the snow, came cold--breath-taking, bone-biting cold.

"The temperature in Columbia on Saturday morning, January 12th, fell to a frigid sixteen below zero, and the next edition of the Adair County News noted it was the overall coldest patch of weather in thirty years."

Things cinematic remained on steady course through the summer of 1918, but a large ad in the September 4 paper reflected the tenor of the times. It read, in part:

A Real Blood Boiler

If you haven't yet found out why America entered the War and want this information; if you want your hair to stand on end at the atrocious crimes of the Huns; if you want to know why 100,000,000 red-blooded Americans are united in the common fight against autocracy; if you want to know much of the inside "dope" on the Prussian deviltry and diplomatic cunning...then you had better see the great film version of James W. Gerard's famous expose, My Four Years in Germany...

This picture will make your blood boil; it will fill you with righteous indignation. It will make you think of the part that you should be playing in the big scrap, it will put the characteristic American "fight" in a fellow--well, it puts so much into a man who sees it that it can't be described....

Two weeks later, the News reported that

The picture, My Four Years in Germany, made the greatest hit that has yet been made by the big features that Messrs. Nell & Son have been putting on at the Paramount for some time...It is very expensive to secure these special pictures for Columbia, but the public have been so liberal in their patronage and support of these pictures at the higher price necessarily charged that it is hoped that Nell & Son will bring them weekly, if possible. Mr. Nell is doing a splendid and patriotic service in featuring these big shows, all strictly along the one big idea of America today, patriotism, and winning the war.

Four Years was based on a book by the same title written by James W. Gerard, who served as the US ambassador to Germany from 1913 until early 1917. Other such patriotic movies shown in 1918 included The Slacker (to be called a slacker was tantamount to being called a traitor) and Draft 258, billed as "The appeal to the youth of this country to crush the internal menace that threatens the very foundation of American ideals." Another, The Man Without a Country, originally scheduled for October, 1918 had to be rescheduled for the following April. One ad for the latter-named movie encouraged people to "Come and see the German submarine sink the ship...:"

The "higher price" charged for this series of these patriotic photo-plays was 25 cents for matinees and 35 cents for evening screenings.

Of course, the Paramount continued to show movies purely for entertainment. For example, the September 18th edition advertised Seven States, starring Marguerite Clark; the price of admission was five cents.

Early October, 1918, saw yet another change in ownership, as G.H. Nell sold to Ezra E. Cheatham for $500 a half-interest in the theatre; Mr. Cheatham also bought a half-interest in Mr. Nell's mercantile and general merchandise store, the store previously operating under the name Nell & Son. (Mr. Cheatham and his family had removed from Cumberland County to near Columbia in January, 1918.)

The above notice appeared in the October 9 edition of the News--and not for three months was the Paramount mentioned again. Finally, in mid-January, 1919, an ad for Nell & Cheatham's store stated that the theatre would soon open and asked readers to watch for the announcement.

Copyright February, 2011

This story was posted on 2011-05-16 07:19:42
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