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

(Part 6 of 6) Feature presentation (7th reel): The Paramount goes gently into that good night (spring 1921 - September 1922)
Sadly, at this writing (February, 2011), the Rialto is long gone, the Drive-In has long since been demolished, and the Columbian sits darkened and empty, patiently awaiting the coming of Columbia's third golden age of cinema. - "Jim"

By "Jim"

In the spring of 1921, the Paramount changed hands again, Mr. Gordon Cheatham selling the picture show to Messrs. Elsie Young and Jo Jones, those gentlemen to take possession the first of July. The announcement was accompanied with the solemn assurance that

The new owners inform the News that some improvements will be made and that there will be only two shows a week, Tuesday night and Saturday nights. It will also make a deal with a reliable firm to furnish films, and only high class pictures will be used.

(Elsie Young was Gordon Cheatham's uncle. Mr. Young and Gordon's mother, Mary Cheatham, were half-siblings, their father being Mr. J.H. Young. Gordon's parents had passed earlier in 1921. Later that year, the Tola Walker building which housed the Nell & Cheatham store burned in a great conflagration on the Square; and in October, Gordon's residence burned. In the spring of 1922, he, his wife, and sons removed to Campbellsville.)

Shortly after Young & Jones took over, the July 12, 1921 News ran a somewhat cryptic piece:

The people who are running the picture show, will put up a nice building at the Fair Grounds in which to give their entertainments, and the building will be erected at once. Payne Garvin, who operates the machine, says that there is not any danger whatever of a fire where it has been showing for several years.

The owners, however, can not pay a tax of $200 per year, the amount the present board of trustees has fixed. A picture show brings business to the soft drink stands, and they will feel the removal more than any one else. The board may think that their action is well taken, and we do not say that it was not, but it is generally known that a majority of the town people want a picture show.

The statutes say that a picture show must be operated on the first floor. Admitting that is true, the owners of the show should have been given reasonable time to make arrangements for removal. In this town or any other town of its size, $200 license fee is believed to be prohibitory. We hope the whole matter will be settled satisfactorily to all parties.

This was the first and last direct mention found both of the proposed Fair Grounds building and the burdensome $200 per annum license fee. (Two hundred dollars for a license to operate the Paramount was quite a staggering leap from the thirty dollar fee paid in previous years.) However, the "Additions Locals" column in the same edition of the News noted that "Until the matter is legally settled, the picture show will continue as heretofore." The statutes regarding the first floor requirement would rear its ugly head again about a year later and strike the death blow of the Paramount.

In mid-August, 1921, the proprietors announced that "the contest for the automobile is now on, at the Paramount Theatre." Unlike many of the previous contests, however, this one drew but little interest, as the November 29 edition carried this unsigned announcement:

The Drawing

Thursday night will be your last chance to get a free chance on the money that has been taken in for tickets sold on the automobile. Owing to my inability to sell all the tickets, [I] have decided to give the money to the lucky man, woman or child. The contest will be drawn out Thursday night at [the] Paramount Theatre.

The following week came the announcement that Mr. Claud Combest had won the cash ($80) and "credit of $60 on an automobile at the Buchanan Lyon Co., if he decides to buy a machine." At the time, a basic Ford bought through the Buchanan-Lyon Co. cost $415, f.o.b. Detroit.

A number of good quality movies were shown in the first half of 1922, including The Lamplighter, a dark melodrama released in 1921 and Shirley Mason in the lead role. The News referred to it as

The best show that was ever thrown upon the screen in this place...It featured the goodness of mankind, told in the most pathetic words. Shows of such character would be endorsed by Church and State.

Another was Robert Warwick in Secret Service, and a third was Rip Van Winkle, "an engrossing moving picture." The latter probably was the 1921 remake starring Thomas Jefferson, who had also appeared as Mr. Van Winkle in the 1914 version.

Sandwiched between the showings of Secret Service and Rip Van Winkle came yet another change in proprietorship, with Mr. Elsie Young selling the Paramount to Nell & Son in May, notwithstanding the elder Mr. Nell's earlier public avowal to never again engage in the moving picture show business.

Despite the changes, patrons kept attending the Paramount. Come July, the News reported that a group of young people had enjoyed a post-movie treat of cake and ice cream at the Royal Cafe. The group included Misses Mabel Sinclair, Mabel Rosenbaum, Lula Phelps, Mary Sinclair, Julia Phelps, Willie Rosenbaum, Kara Caldwell, and Lucile Winfrey, and Messrs. Paul Gilliam, Clyde Wood (of Hopkinsville), Marvin Sinclair, Morris Epperson and Will Ol Sinclair. In September, 1922, the Paramount was sold for the last time; the purchaser was Columbia businessman and entrepreneur N.M. Tutt. Without a doubt, the precipitating event was that "An official of the government was here a few days ago, and Mr. Nell was given thirty days to remove the outfit to the first floor of some building."

And, with this sale and removal, the Paramount quietly slipped away into history.

Feature presentation (8th reel): The advent of Tutt's Hall (Late summer & early fall, 1922) Several months before the final sale of the Paramount, a February edition of the News carried this article:

New Building Going Up

Mr. N.M. Tutt has started quite an extensive building on the alley, left side, just above the Baptist church. The foundation has been laid and the lumber is on the ground. It will be 80 feet long and 40 feet wide. At this time Mr. Tutt does not know for what it will be used. It will suit for a picture show, or a tobacco factory, and the floors could be made for a skating rink. It would also make quite a commodious machine shop. The work will be completed this coming spring.

(The Baptist church building mentioned here was the one completed in the latter part of 1914.) The first named occupant of the Tutt building was Mr. Jack Cundiff, who advertised that "I repair all makes of watches, clocks and typewriters...I will be at my place of business, in the new Tutt Hall, the first Monday of July and every week thereafter."

On a Saturday evening in early August, a large crowd attended a vaudeville show in Tutt's Hall, and the troupe was again to appear "with entire change of program" the following Saturday. The entertainers mentioned by name were Mr. Owen, "a fine performer on the Guitar," and Miss DeVernon, "the dainty dancer," who was to appear in "new dances in costume."

Two weeks later, the News brought forth the news that "A picture show, to run regularly, will be opened at Tutt Hall in a few nights," and then in mid-September came the announcement that Mr. Tutt had bought the Paramount. The article also stated that "The Tutt Hall is large enough to accommodate five hundred people. It is well lighted and comfortable and of easy access to the whole town."

Despite the statement that a picture show would run regularly in Tutt's only one movie was mentioned between mid-September and the end of 1922. However, the Hall did not go unused. For example, the December 4th News stated that

The dance at the Paramount Theatre last Wednesday night was very well attended...It did not start until after the ball game...[and] wound up about 3 o'clock Thursday morning. (The basketball game was Monticello v Columbia High; the latter won 31 to 25.)

Later in the month, the pupils of the Columbia High School did a production of the play, The Kingdom of Heart's Content, there. (Another source noted that the play was a comedy in the three acts, had 18 characters--twelve females and six males--and ran about two and a half hours.)

And that one movie mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago? In mid-November, Prof. Henry Hardin Cherry of the Western Kentucky Normal School (now known as Western Kentucky University) organized a "School Rally" (Cherry-speak for "intense recruiting mission") in Columbia. Among the events listed in advance was a "picture show for children" to be shown Tutt's Hall.

The "children's" part is questionable, however, as an ex post facto article a week later stated that

Prof. Cherry, of Bowling Green, delivered a very learned address which was highly appreciated. He brought with him a picture reel which he put upon the screen, at Tutt's Hall, showing the beginning and the ending of schoolroom work.

Segue, Part IV: Fade to Black

And here doth end the saga of the history of early cinema in Columbia.

Not too many years later, however, the Rialto opened and held sway until the latter part of the 1940s. Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Marshall opened the magnificent Columbian Theatre in February, 1947 (with Miss Doris Doan, Hollywood starlet, in attendance!) and ushered in Columbia's second golden age of cinema. Later still, in the 1950s, came the Adair County Drive-In Theatre.

Sadly, at this writing (February, 2011), the Rialto is long gone, the Drive-In has long since been demolished, and the Columbian sits darkened and empty, patiently awaiting the coming of Columbia's third golden age of cinema. - "Jim"

This story was posted on 2011-05-23 02:36:04
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