Forgotten Trails: Ritz Theatre's anniversary noted this week

Published 7:51 am Wednesday, September 17, 2008

By by Lydia Grimes
A couple of weeks ago I began writing about baseball and promised a continuation of the series. Instead I am now working on a bigger article that will appear in The Brewton Standard at a later date.
This week I want to shift gears and tell you about what I found in an old bound volume of newspapers from 1937. I was looking for material to go with my a story and just happened to find other things. One of those was the account of the celebration of the first anniversary of the Ritz Theatre.
The old bound volumes are a treasure trove of information. It is also an adventure to see the changes made over the last 80 years in the newspaper business. In 1937 there were very few photographs. I assume that it was a time when local photographers were not available. Anyway, many things made the front page, including obituaries and sports. You have to pay close attention to what you are looking for or you can get side-tracked very easily.
See, I got sidetracked myself. Now, back to the anniversary of The Ritz.
The theatre opened its doors for the first time on Sept. 14, 1936. It was one of 63 theaters owned by Roy E. Martin, and was headquartered in Columbus. Ga. On the first anniversary, big plans were made for the employees and the public. Special movies were planned and there was a four-page advertisement in The Brewton Standard.
The manager was Ernest L. Outlaw and other employees were Hallie Tippen, Jerry Tippin, Bascomb Tippen (twin to Jerry), Jimmie Martin, Lutie Mae Strong, Kilby Garrett, Tom Piggott, Hugh Martin, Frank Watson, Mae McGill, Helen Williamson, and Jeremiah Chappell. Imagine this many people employed at a movie theatre.
The films (picture shows) scheduled for the week of the celebration were A Star is Born, with Janet Gaynor and Frederick March; Topper with Constance Bennett and Cary Grant; Another Dawn with Kay Francis and Errol Flynn; Ever Since Eve with Marion Davies and Robert Montgomery; Oh, Susanna with Gene Autry; Reported Missing; and West Bound Limited.
Along with information about each of the employees, photographs of each are included. It must have been an exciting birthday for the theatre. Many businesses bought ads to express their good wishes.
One other note that I found was an article about a stage fire that occurred in December of 1937. The fire and water put on the fire caused extensive damage to the stage, including the “lovely red velvet curtains.” The film of the day went on as scheduled, running about an hour late. According to the historical marker located at the site of the old theatre, the place was the “hub of the Brewton community.” The last film to show was “Yours for the Taking,” and the last one was “Crocodile Dundee” in 1987. Along with the films that were shown, there were many live performance that took place in the theatre. The theatre had a seating capacity of 761, and it was the place to be for many of the local children. A dime would get you a seat on Saturday afternoon and ticket holders were treated to a movie along with a cartoon and news of the day. In fact, during World War II, this was the prime source of information coming from the battlefields.
This account and many others in the old volumes are so very interesting, I could spend days looking through them if I only had the time. The photo of the theatre below was in the section of the paper that included information about the anniversary. The movies listed on the marquee of the theatre was 10 days of Shirley Temple movies. I am told that the two bottom windows were where the bathrooms were located.
I hope you enjoy this walk down memory lane. Until next week, happy hunting.

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