Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week. I was talking to old friend Jim Allen the other day and he gave me an idea for some future columns that I’m going to use just as soon as I collect my thoughts and do a little research to back it up. The last time I was in the Valley I passed the vacant lot that once housed the Grand Theatre and I thought of all the happy hours that I had spent there.
The Grand actually went back to about WWI and Mr. Alf Walker owned it until the early twenties. Then a young man named William Shine Tyson bought it and operated it until 1944. In the early thirties he had enlarged and remodeled it until it was on a par with a city theatre.
It would seat about seven hundred and fifty including the balcony. Young people today would find it incredible just how much the movies meant to us back then. We could pay a dime on Saturday and for an hour be lost in the fantasy of a West that wasn’t at all like we imagined.
We all had our cowboy heroes and we even knew the names of their horses. Several of the stars started in the silent days and some were able to make the transition to talking pictures. William S. Hart was one who unfortunately never made it into talkies. Fred Thomson died young before the transition but Tom Mix had several good years before he retired in 1935. A young man named Charles Gephardt had been a silent actor and after changing his name to Buck Jones had a career into the forties.
In the late thirties the singing cowboy came on the scene. A young recording star from the National Barn Dance in Chicago named Gene Autry – his real name – became the biggest singing cowboy of them all. He went into the Air Corps during WWII and the title passed over to Roy Rogers who had started life as Leonard Slye and was a founder of the Sons of The Pioneers singing group.
That group with all new members is still performing at Branson, Missouri. A friend of mine in El Paso, Marvin Fulkerson, would tell me of his days working on the William Fox Studio lot and one of his co-workers was Marion Morrison who became John Wayne and one of the great super-stars.
The children today have TV, video games, and DVDs that make our simple movie pleasures seem like a scene from another world. A kid back then could take fifteen cents and see a cowboy movie and have a bag of popcorn, and if he had another dime he could see the second show which followed.
What we really got into was the serials. The first one I remember was the Lone Ranger. It had started out in Detroit as a radio show and when it was sold to Republic Studios in Hollywood for a movie, it became a big hit for those days.
They had five rangers and killed off one every episode or so until the last chapter one was left and we could hardly wait to see which ranger it was. Of course by the time it made it to television, we were older and it seemed so juvenile that we wondered how it could have enthralled us when we were kids.
The Grand burned in the early fifties and was never rebuilt although the Valley Theatre operated in a former store building for a few years, but the magic was gone forever. I’m sure that many of you out there share the same memories, a first date at the Grand, the Friday night cash drawings, the stage shows from time to time so share them with us.
I had a telephone conversation with David the other day and they are looking forward to the move to new quarters. I believe it is the same building that once housed the Arthur Walker barber shop that you’ve heard me mention over the years.
I’ve enjoyed the interviews recently, particularly with Paul Parker, Bill Trusty and Rodney Childress and Commander Kelley also Jack Gurner’s articles and the accompanying pictures. Keep up the good work. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.