Thursday, August 27, 2009

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
(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."

Original Liberty

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.

Cry Room

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.


At August 30, 2009 at 9:26 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who hasn't seen a movie at the old Liberty theater? Any Heavenerite has seen many a "flick" at the grand old place. I'll never forget going as a youngster, seeing all the westerns, etc.

I remember my dad telling me that anytime a tornado was coming, you would see (and I can't remember now) that person going home. One time I was in the movie, and went to the lobby for popcorn, and that particular person was running out the door. So, I knew something was up.
Maybe that was time that the twister hit Howe (again, I can't remember). The old memory just isn't what it used to be.

Ah, but the times I remember going to the Liberty for a Saturday afternoon matinee, or taking a girl there for a date ... a lot of memories. Thanks, Chuck, for stirring up good memories.

I didn't realize Theo edited R-rated movies before they were on the big screen. I don't remember any R-rated movies in those days. Maybe, again, my memory is failing me!

At August 30, 2009 at 2:05 PM , Blogger Kathy Bain Dunn said...

What memories! I fell in love while Jonathan Livingston Seagull played on the screen. I fell out of love while American Graffiti played later that same year. I also have tons of memories about growing up in the little house that was attached to the side of the Liberty where my Mother worked for Dr. Hogaboom. She took me to work with her every day. The worst part of having a working Mom was having to deal with Dr. Hogaboom's tarantulas. I don't think I have seen a tarantula in about 40 years, but that man had new ones all the time and he kept them in a fish tank there at the office. He teased me without mercy using the tarantulas to terrify me! Later his office moved out on the Highway, but he took the tarantula tank with him.

At August 30, 2009 at 6:38 PM , Blogger Glen Lazalier said...

Thanks for the blog, Chuck. My first memories of the Liberty are from the time of WWII. There was always a patriotic clip in front of the newsreels that featured wave after wave of airplanes flying over and ships plowing through the ocean.

When I was in my "nearly teen" years I would mow the yard (not lawn--we just had a yard) for a quarter and walk down town for the Saturday matinee. It cost 10 cents to get in and another dime bought a big Baby Ruth. Cokes were a nickel and we could make those items last through a double feature (shown twice), an installment of a serial (e.g., Rocketman, G-Men), and two cartoons. The cool air was a real blessing in the heat of summer since no one had home air conditioning. The Liberty and Tate's dry goods store were the only two air conditioned places down town.

The biggest "star" during my times at the Liberty was Chill Wills but I delighted in the Roy Rogers and Gene Autry films. Fortunately I was long gone from Heavener when it burned so I didn't experience the same sense of loss. I think the first color film I saw was "The Solid Gold Cadillac" although there was a color sequence in "The Wizard of Oz".

At August 30, 2009 at 10:02 PM , Blogger Chuck Hudlow said...

Glen reminded me of how special those Saturday matinees were. Like he said, a quarter would go a long way at the movie in those days. I can still see the lady (can't remember her name) behind the snack bar. There was only room for one person, but she could reach the popcorn, candy, and soft drinks without having to take more than two steps..or was it one. Rocket Man was my favorite serial. I thought he could "fly" more realistically than Superman.

It was also a special Saturday if the Bowery Boys or Three Stooges shorts were playing between features.

At August 30, 2009 at 11:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chuck, the lady 'behind the snack bar' you were making reference to was Fanny Mae Langston, I think. Maybe she was the ticket-taker. Her name sticks out, for some reason.

At August 30, 2009 at 11:41 PM , Blogger Chuck Hudlow said...

You're right, John. I remember that name, also. Like you, however, I can't remember which she did...sell tickets or work behind the snack bar.

At August 31, 2009 at 8:10 AM , Blogger Glen Lazalier said...

Fannie Mae sold tickets.

At August 31, 2009 at 9:25 AM , Blogger Chuck Hudlow said...

That's what I was thinking, but wasn't sure. Thanks, Glen.

At August 31, 2009 at 7:47 PM , Blogger Kathy Bain Dunn said...

Fannie Mae had red hair?

At September 1, 2009 at 8:44 AM , Blogger Glen Lazalier said...

Yes, she had red hair.

At September 1, 2009 at 10:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come on, just a few more comments, and there will be as many as the one before.

At September 1, 2009 at 6:15 PM , Blogger colin said...

I'm not going to make a comment because I don't want Chuck to get more comments than I did.

At September 1, 2009 at 8:41 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The lady at the snack bar was Margurette (?) West, sister of Charles West, who also was a projectionist.

Bo Shupert

At September 6, 2009 at 4:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, I'll be the tie-breaker. This blog now officially has more comments than any other.

At February 1, 2014 at 1:43 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My grandmother, Bertie Johnston, worked the concession stand in the late 60's/early 70's. Sometimes she would let me help her, what a thrill that was! We would pick up Theo the projectionist on our way to the theatre. Many wonderful childhood memories for me at the Liberty!


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