Early Corsicana Movie Theaters
Discussed by Richard Lancaster For the Navarro County Historical Society
October 13, 1971 as Reported in The Corsicana Daily Sun
Originally published in "The
Navarro County Scroll", Vol. XVI 1971
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society
A history of early movie theaters in
Corsicana was reviewed for members of the Navarro County Historical Society by
Richard Lancaster, who has taught English and drama at Navarro Junior College
for the past six years.
Lancaster's presentation was part of a
tandem program given at the society's October meeting held Monday evening in the
Flame Room of the Lone Star Gas Company. Nelson Ross, also a member of the
Navarro faculty and vice-president of the society, presented a series of
anecdotes from East Navarro County prepared by the late C. E. McWilliams,
longtime Corsicana attorney and former teacher in county schools.
Lancaster prefaced his review of
Corsicana movie houses by presenting a few facts regarding the development of
motion pictures, the first of which were shown in America in New York City April
23, 1896. The audience was fascinated to see people moving on the screen
and the actual motion of waves striking the shore, he said.
By 1905, the nickelodeon had developed
through the efforts of a man named Harris in Philadelphia. Setting an
admission price of only five cents for his marvelous moving pictures, he started
a trend that was to spread across the country. Based on this information
plus research and interviews with local residents of the era, Lancaster
conjectures that the first movies were seen in Corsicana some time between 1896
and 1900. He stated that R. W. Wiggins remembers as a lad going down to
the Houston and Texas Railway station some time before 1900 to see motion
pictures projected in a baggage car at the back of the train. Subject
matter was simple - bathing beauties frolicking in the ocean or a moving train
captured on film were enough to delight audiences.
Sheppard's Great Novelties were brought
to the Merchant's Opera House around 1902 or 1903, and in 1903 Edwin S. Porter's
"The Great Train Robbery" brought the first thread of a dramatized
story to the motion picture screen.
Joel Trimble recalled to Lancaster the
experience of standing on a muddy lot at the end of Beaton Street where
Lorimer's Station is now located and trying to peer above the tall men around
him to see pictures that moved.
By 1909, there were operating in
Corsicana two theaters the Bijou and the Majestic, according to advertisements
in the Corsicana Daily Sun. The Bijou may have been located on North
Beaton about where McLellan's now stands or somewhere in the 100 Block on West
Collin. Based in his research, Lancaster opts for the Collin Street
He believes the Bijou may have been an
early name for the theater bought by M. L. Levine after he came to Corsicana in
1911 with $600 in his pocket to invest in a business.
The Majestic, located on Collin at the
present site of the Children's Shop, is well remembered by many present-day
Corsicanans. It was purchased by J. S. Stout in the late 1800's. An
early owner was a man named Boone, a one-armed man who delighted the young
fellows with the way he could roll a Bull Durham cigarette with his one hand.
W. T. Carringan was another owner of the
Majestic which was managed by his brother Lafayette in 1909. It was later
owned by a man named Sappington, who was described as "friendly", and
a Charles St. Clair.
T. D. Garner was the best remembered
owner. He bought the Majestic Sept. 1, 1911 and paid around $5,000
for it. Under his management the theater did well. He enlarged the
seating capacity to 400 and called it the "House of Features".
There were amateur nights featuring guitarists, gymnasts and jugglers, and
contestants would come from miles around to compete for the ten to 20 dollar
Garner himself was a colorful figure.
A contortionist, he had traveled with Ringling Brothers and had even given a
command performance for the royal family of England.
The Majestic has been described as the
first "elegant" movie theater in Corsicana. It boasted sloping
floors and a carpeted foyer and was the first theater to have an organ.
Garner sold the theater to J. S. Eubanks, who sold it to his father-in-law,
Thompson, and the property passed into the hands of M. L. Levine in 1917.
In 1910 a young boy of 12, John Remonte,
came to Corsicana from Fort Worth and went to work in the theater owned by A. J.
Stopple, operating a phonograph which played the Edison and Columbia cylinder
records. There was even a volume speaker to attract passersby to the
In 1911 when Max Levine got off the
train in Corsicana with $600 to invest in a business he found the Stopple
theater available for $1,600. After consulting his father-in-law, Goodman
of Waco, he purchased the theater located about where Dyer's show department now
is and named it the Cozy Theater.
John Remonte, an inventor by nature,
continued to work for Levine. He jury-rigged an electric motor to the
projector to avoid having to crank it by hand and was forthwith arrested for
violating the fire code. Since film was highly flammable special
precautions had to be taken to protect the theater audience from danger of fire
in the projection booth. Remonte was finally able to convince the fire
chief that his invention was not a hazard.
Shows at the Cozy usually involved three
reels of 20 minutes each, two features and one new reel or serial, such as
"The Perils of Pauline". Young Remonte even tried his hand at
writing scenarios, but without success.
In the period from 1900 to 1913
everybody wanted to get into the theater business, Lancaster said. The Gem
was located at 114 N. Beaton and was operated in 1913 by Robert Huff and Fred
Newman and was sold about 1914 to Billy Kutchigus.
The Queen Theater opened on March 17,
1913. It was managed by T. D. Garner and owned by J. T. McClure, a
dairyman. The Queen had chorus girls who lived in "The Rookery"
above Kiber and Cobb on the J. M. Dyer corner.
The fifth Avenue Theater was a Negro
enterprise managed by a black man named Reed Conner. One anecdote
concerning the theater is that a man named June Flowers who was in the audience
during a western film drew his gun and shot at the villains on the screen during
one exciting point.
By 1912, Max Levine was ready to build a
new theater. His Cozy Theater only had a seating capacity of 200, and when
it was completed his Ideal Theater seated 500. On April 6, 1912, he
purchased the property on which to build the new plant for $3,140, and the Ideal
Theater opened its doors at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, 1913.
The theater boasted an orchestration as
big as any church organ in town, and it also had a player piano equivalent to a
ten-piece orchestra. John Remonte rigged an electric clock to
operate a synchronized arrow outside the theater to indicate the point to which
the program had progressed. Louis Levy was also one of the theater's
In July 1917, Levine hired architect M.
T. Horn and J. E. Metcalf, contractor, to remodel the theater and add a roof
garden at a cost of something over $29,000.
It was at this point, the beginning of a
new era, that Lancaster chose to end his story. The Ideal Theater, now
under condemnation, was the scene in his boyhood of many happy hours watching
the adventures of Johnny Mack Brown and Randolph Scott.
Lancaster confessed that his research
was the result of a recurring dream about the Ideal Theater. He became
obsessed with the idea of finding out something of its early history.
2/1/2004 IRVIN SAMUELS: Many memories of movies in Corsicana from yesteryear
It seems that my memories of the old movie
houses in Corsicana created quite a bit of interest. This being the case, I
thought that I would elaborate (as much as my memory will allow) on the other
forgotten movie theatres that once stood.
On Collin Street, where the Children's
Shop is now located, stood the Majestic. Before my time it was called The Cozy.
I can still picture the huge blue flickering klieg light of the projector. Like
our TV's, it extended from the rear of the projection booth and was easily seen
on the outside of the theatre.
Picturing the Majestic in my mind, it was
not very large. There were two aisles consisting of three seats on each side and
the middle section had about 10 seats. It was approximately 20 rows deep and had
an orchestra pit. The price of admission was 5 cents for children and 10 cents
for adults. The theatre was always full. The length of the shows were shorter
than today's movies. The Majestic showed nothing but westerns and changed
features daily. The famous western stars in that era were Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson,
Buck Jones and William S. Hart. The famous canine stars then were Rin Tin Tin
Movie projection was not what it is today.
Each reel had to be changed manually. This meant a two- to five-minute delay in
the continuous showing of the movie. The audience accepted this as routine.
However, many times the film would break and of course had to be spliced. The
time it took to do this would vary. The younger audience would show their
impatience -- by clapping their hands, stamping their feet, and whistling.
Later in the afternoon a three-piece band
would appear in the orchestra pit and would accompany the film. I think the
musicians were late as they had other jobs and were moonlighting. The band
consisted of a bass, a violin and a piano. The trio also played for a few dances
around town. In the summer they would go around town serenading, which is
another story in itself.
I will never forget the first movie
cartoon that I saw at the old Majestic. It was "Felix the Cat." How many of you
remember that old comic strip? At that time I thought that cartoon was the most
wonderful thing I had ever viewed. Sometimes after the movie, if we had any
change left, we would go to the corner (where the late Dyer's department store
is located) to Kiber and Cobb's Confectionery. There we would have homemade ice
cream -- I can almost taste it now. This was indeed a real treat! You see, we
had no real refrigeration in those days. We could not open a door and dish out
ice cream whenever we desired it. We either had to purchase it at a commercial
shop or turn the crank on the wooden bucket of our ice cream freezer.
During this era there was one other
theatre in Corsicana -- The Grand. It was on Beaton Street where the Grace
Sewing Machine Co. is located. The Grand has a special place in my memory. Every
Friday and Saturday, they would run a serial. The serial would follow the main
feature and would be about two reels in length. Sometimes the serials would have
from 10 to 16 episodes. "The Pearls of Pauline" was the most famous serial of
Pauline would get into the most terrible
predicament -- like being strapped to a log in a lumber mill which is moving
closer to the huge rotating saw, going over a waterfall tied in a canoe, tied to
a railroad track with the locomotive moving closer, etc. Between binding the
serial heroines to sundry props and cowboys trick lassoing, lots of rope was
used in Hollywood during the early days of movies. Of course, you would have to
wait until the next weekend to see if Pauline would be saved. She always was.
Pauline was played by Ruth Roland. TV was never this exciting.
Other actors in the silent movie era were:
Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Wallace Berry, Clara Bow,
Norma Shearer, Ramon Navarro, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Ben Turpin, The
Keystone Kops, Dorothy and Lillian Gish, and of course Rudolph Valentino. Who
could forget his movie "Blood and Sand!" Movies played an important role in our
lives. Radio was in its infancy.
The old movies were different from
today's. A kiss never lasted over five seconds, bathing suits were below the
knees, ladies necklines were almost up to their chin, "Gosh" was almost a swear
word and cowboys never kissed their girls. The big difference in today's movie
that I see is that the good guys may wear "A Black Hat."
The Irvin Sameuls column originally
published May 17, 1994 in the Daily Sun.