Cadiz, KY


Looking back at the old picture show

Wednesday, February 08, 2017 - Updated: 2:12 AM
BY DAN THOMAS Contributing writer

The first public motion picture in Cadiz was an outdoor projection viewed evenings from the front lawn of the old Trigg County Courthouse in November 1913. Local residents W.C. Brewer and Alex Blane brought the new and exciting entertainment to Cadiz and other small rural towns without a theater. Seated in front of the courthouse, patrons were afforded a treat as the brick wall of Cowherd's Grocery just across Monroe Street was used as a screen. Riding in a two-horse wagon with an engine, dynamo and projector mounted in the wagon bed, the two men traveled the South showing movies and delighting audiences.

The next month, Cadiz had its first indoor movie house when Van and Blair Alexander opened the Gem Theater on the second floor of their grocery on the south side of Main Street. Films shown were limited to short subjects and newsreels. The first full movie shown in Cadiz was "Boy of Flanders" starring Jackie Coogan in 1925. A second Cadiz theater, the Strand, was opened in the mid-1920s. Both the Gem and the Strand were closed by 1930.

In 1935, local Post 74 of the American Legion decided to operate a movie theater as a fundraising venture. They converted Woodruff's former woodworking shop on Main Street across from Cadiz Christian Church. It was remodeled with an inclined floor seating approximately 200 on the main level, a separate 25-person balcony seating area and a fireproof projection area. Two projectors were used allowing seamless running between reels along with the latest in sound equipment. Movies were shown each night of the week except Sunday with matinees on Saturdays and on second Mondays, when the county court met, and many citizens came to town to shop and trade with each other.

Appropriately named "The Legion Theater," the new theater's first movie "Ruggles of Red Gap" was shown June 13, 1935. It starred Charles Laughton, Mary Boland and Zasu Pitts. Other movies shown the first month included child actress Shirley Temple in "Now and Forever," "Wagon Wheel" a western with Randolph Scott and "It Happened One Night" with Clark Gable.

In 1939, the Legion sold its theater business to "Andy" Anderson, who ran movie houses in several Kentucky towns. Anderson renamed it "The Kentucky Theatre," and began showing movies on Sunday nights, a first for Cadiz. In 1944, the business was sold to Richard S. and Thelma Newman who operated for about a year.

In 1945, Freeman and Martha Jane Smith purchased the theater and continued the Kentucky Theatre name. Mr. Smith had managed theaters in other Kentucky towns and had been the first president of the Kentucky Theater Owners Association. Five years later, he died at age 37. His widow, with five children, continued to operate it until 1958 when she sold the theater at public auction.

The new owner, Virginia Alexander, had worked for Martha Jane Smith as an evening cashier. Her sister, Doris Skinner, and nephews, Steve and Bobby Skinner, assisted with the operation of the theater. She retained two employees who had been there since its earliest days: "Kayo" Dunning as projectionist and Eugene McCormick, who had been projectionist, cashier, concessions and usher. Virginia Alexander operated the theater from 1958 until 1966. By that time widely available TV entertainment -- including the advent of color programming -- and increased travel to nearby larger towns negatively impacted attendance and profitability. The theater was given a brief reprieve when it was leased for a year by Eugene McCormick. Financial reality forced its final closure on June 2, 1967.

The picture show, as everyone called it, was an integral part of life for so many in the community for 32 years. It had air conditioning long before most homes in Trigg County. The darkened and cool theater was a welcome escape from the summer heat and humidity. Multiple generations have fond memories of their time there. Some will remember it as an escape to a fantasy world, others as a romantic spot to steal a kiss, and for kids a place to meet buddies. The movies ranged widely from dramas and romances, to shoot 'em up westerns, Tarzan adventures, scary movies such as Frankenstein and Dracula. Who could ever forget the shower scene in Hitchcock's 1960 movie Psycho?

Sydney Smith, whose family owned the theater for 13 years, and had his choice of seats, said that the best seats in the house were up in the segregated balcony where he would sit to watch the movie.

Virginia Alexander described her time with the picture show as one of the joys of her life. In addition to providing entertainment to many, to others it had a service function. She told the story of Frances DeName bringing her a tin of homemade candy and offering as explanation, "your picture show is the cheapest babysitter I've ever had."

The old building at 28 Main St. in Cadiz has had several lives in the nearly 50 years since the theater closed its doors. For many though, it will always be "the old picture show."

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