The Grand Old Liberty
While going through my parents memorabilia, I came across some old newspaper clippings. One of them addressed one of the mainstays of our early life in Heavener. If any of you missed the article or would just like to read it again, I've included it just as Ms. Johnson wrote it. I've included the photos (old black & white), and you can "click" on them for a larger view. I was there the day Monte Hale visited Heavener... a long time ago.
The Grand Old Liberty
by FRAN JOHNSON
(published in the August 8, 1990 issue of the Heavener Ledger)
For over six decades, the Liberty Theatre sold the hottest tickets in town. The huge movie house in the heart of downtown Heavener filled regularly, with folks lining up outside for hours, waiting for their turn to get in.
So many people turned out for a showing in 1926, that it filled the house to overflowing. That day, nine reels were shown throughout the evening, and 10 prizes were distributed to the holders of lucky numbers. Admission was ten cents to all. Prizes awarded included five dollars in gold, fifty pounds of flour, a set of silver teaspoons, a pair of ladies hose and a pair of ladies fancy garters.
When G.D. Hughes bought the Liberty Theatre Dec. 13, 1918, from Dave Jackson, the showhouse had been closed for six weeks due to a major flue epidemic. Hughes bought the business on Friday and was permitted to open the show the next day.
At that time the place had but one projecting machine and there were waits at intervals while the operator changed films.
After Hughes took over, equipment was improved and the switch from one film to another was not noticed by the audience.
"Mr. Hughes is never contented with makeshifts--he wants the best", Ledger Editor Frank Richards stated.
In 1920, Hughes installed a Hertner transverter, the very latest equipment in moving picture machinery. Cost was $850. "The Liberty is now showing pictures that are a credit to towns of ten times the size of Heavener", the article said. "Mr. Hughes is sparing no expense to give Heavener the very best in moving pictures."
Those who can remember the original Liberty building, may recall the steps leading up and into the old building, necessary in order to allow the floor to slant back to ground level. Excavation took care of this feature when Hughes erected a new building in the late 1920's.
The original Liberty, early 1900's, with crowds standing in line to get in
From the time Hughes took over ownership, he provided the best in entertainment for local audiences. In June of 1919, he booked Hockwald's famous Royal Hawaiian Troupe for a one time showing.
"In this day of little change in styles of entertainment, this is a welcome announcement, " editor Richards stated. "As a special attraction, a pretty Hawaiian girl, Miss Kumulea, with a wonderful sympathetic voice, will sing the old Hawaiian love songs, " he added.
Hughes was always looking ahead. "The prospects for the future growth of Heavener leads me to think my present show house will not much longer accommodate my patrons, " he said in August of 1920. The summer before, he purchased the two business lots between the F & F Garage and the Liberty Theatre building with future expansion in mind.
Plans got put on hold for several years in the 1920's, but in March of 1927, Hughes formally announced his plans to build a new theatre building.
Located next door to the original show house, architectural plans showed the building to be 50x130 and a story and a half in height. An awning, described as "fine and modern" extended clear over the sidewalk.
Two store buildings would be located in the front part of the theatre, located on each side of the lobby. The building was planned to seat about a thousand people, including both the first floor and the balcony.The new Liberty Theatre was all decked out for the holidays and it's 30th anniversary in the early 1940's. Special showings during the holidays were a special feature.
A ladies rest room and babies cry room were to be located in the front part of the building.
The stage was constructed to take care of the largest of road show, a new innovation for Heavener at that time. Dressing rooms were located on each side. Below that was an orchestra pit, capable of taking care of the largest orchestra.
The plastered walls were finished in what was described as "the new celetose, " which took away all vibration and made the acoustics of the building perfect.
The new theatre featured an Arctic New Air cooling system, which changed the air in the theatre every two minutes.
Seven Spanish windows gave an added touch of beauty.
Construction on the new theatre took about eight months due to several unforeseen delays. The last seat was not set in place in the building until ten minutes after six the night the formal opening was held in November.
Crowds jammed into the new theatre building to witness the opening performance.
The Heavener Lions Club adjourned their meeting early so that members could attend the show.
Dedicatory services started at 7:30 sharp, with the first picture program at 8:00.
The program was opened with a prayer by Rev. M.L. Sims, pastor of the Methodist Church, followed by a brief address by Rev. E.W. Westmoreland.
Following that was musical entertainment by a quartette comprised of C.B. Johnston, Lewis Johnston, J.D. Arnold and A. Netherton; a violin solo by Miss Mabel Morgan; a dance by Barbara Joan Stettmund and a talk by Rev. E.R. Hall, pastor of he Christian Church.
"The Drop Kick", a college football story starring Richard Barthelmess was the feature film that night and described as "very appropriate".
Rules on the opening program stated: Don't spit on the floor; don't throw peanut hulls on the floor, if you must eat peanuts, put the hulls back in the sack; don't put your feet on the seats.
Government rules included that if a child was five years old, it must have a half-fare ticket, with a full fare necessary for those12 years or older.
Management personnel on opening night included owner Hughes, his son, Ray, manager; cashier, Mrs. G.D. Hughes; projectionist, Earl Kelso; assistant projectionist, Clyde Olive.
Hughes continued to keep up with the times, installing talking equipment in the Spring of 1930. Hughes, O.L. Kemp of Poteau and H.T. Head of DeQueen all purchased the DeForrest Phonofilm Talkies for their show houses.
Hughes said at the time that he thought DeForrest Phonofilm had the best talking equipment on the market. DeForrest, inventor of the original talking equipment, produced the sound on film and not on disc, as was the case with similar equipment used in other show houses.
As the years passed, Hughes, along with his son, Ray, who took over management of the theatre in the late 1920's, kept the theatre equipped with the most up-to-date equipment on the market.
Movie star Monty Hale visits with Ray Hughes, right.
In January of 1960, Ray Hughes leased the theatre to Paul Maxwell.
The theatre changed ownership in the 1970's, with Joe and Martha Johnson buying it in 1973. Bill and Mary Gibson continued to run the theatre, and Johnson had his real estate and insurance in a portion of the building. The Northside Barber Shop, owned by Myron Davenport, was in another section of the building.Below, Buck Stewart (left), Orley Duncan and Katherine Brown pose with Monty Hale (check out that feather in Ms Brown's hat).
End of an Era
In October of 1979, fire consumed much of the Liberty. The blaze destroyed the roof and completely gutted the interior. The walls, however, were left standing. The theatre was owned then by Charlene Wiles.
The days of theatre were over for Heavener. Good memories, however, remain. Memories like throwing pickles and popcorn at the smoochers in the back of the auditorium, winning a coveted free pass, attending a matinee for the first time, keeping up with the serial movies every week and laughing now about how Theo Eskridge, one of the projectionists, used to edit the 'R-rated' movies before showing. Those happy memories, and many more, of the grand old Libery will be with us forever.