“Old theaters are irreplaceable. They could never be duplicated at today’s costs – but more importantly, their spirit could not be duplicated because they remind us of a day when going to the show was a more glorious and escapist experience. I think a town’s old theatres are the sanctuary of its dreams.”
Roger Ebert, Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic
In September, 1945, James Frank Hyde and Annie Marie Watson exchanged more than 40 letters. He was in New Orleans, awaiting discharge from the Navy following his World War II service as a Seabee and she was working at the Fort Polk Army Base in Leesville, Louisiana.
The letters chronicled the daily lives of the young man and woman as the war came to an end. They also revealed a blossoming courtship between the two. Movies were mentioned frequently by both of them. Frank wrote of passing the hours by watching picture shows at the recreation center, and Marie often told Frank about going to the Vernon Theater to watch the show with her sisters.
At the same time, more than 400 miles to the east, the Palace, Queen and Dixie theaters in Bryan, Texas were busy showing many of the same movies Frank and Marie talked about in their letters. “Anchors Aweigh,” “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and “A Song to Remember” played to audiences ready to celebrate and relax in the post-war era.
“Going to the show” continued to be the vernacular used by most folks into the 1970’s. In the small East Texas town I grew up in, going to the show was part of the ritual of growing up. Our movie house wasn’t fancy, but it was the place to be on a Friday night. My friends and I went to the show not so much to watch the movie, but to hold hands with our boyfriends, eat popcorn and dill pickles, and talk about everything and nothing.
Old theaters hold memories that become the stuff of stories passed along through the generations. The Queen has her share of stories, many of which we will share in the coming months. We’ve got stories of young love, wartime patriotism, shooting rats (I know you can’t wait for that one!) and much more.
Oh – those letters between Frank and Marie? I don’t think it’s coincidental that they talked about movies in them. It’s kind of fitting, since I now oversee a vintage movie theater and I knew Frank and Marie by other names – Mom and Dad.
See you at the Queen – we’ll help you write your story.
Sandy Farris - Executive Director