Bob Mitchell: Who showed movies here?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Thinking about movies in Cassville brought to mind those who were in the projection rooms of the theaters during the eras of the Ozark and Hall theaters in town. Folks came from far and wide to enjoy the entertainment, and they always appreciated no film break interruptions, which required an experienced operator overhead to make this happen.


Both Mrs. Nolan at the Ozark and Glen and Clariece Hall's theater operations were fortunate to have experienced and knowledgeable folks in charge of their projection equipment.

In the case of the Ozark, projection facilities were accessed via a ladder that was on the exit side of the ticket booth. Youngsters climbing the ladder were discouraged from doing so although the trap-door access was kept locked from the inside of the facility room.

One of the initial projectionists was the late Denzil Leach, who matriculated from the Ozark Theatre to the Hall Theatre in his tenure. He often remarked how the improved equipment was at the new theater, not only the ease of operation, but the programming for the movies shown.

Later operators

One of the operators to show movies in following years was the late Max Fields, who was in the photo business with his parents. Max actually enjoyed anything that involved film and equipment.

Another operator of film equipment was Raymond Strickland, who no longer resides in this area.

A couple of the projection room people who are still around include Spiz Stephens and Don Bowen. These operators were involved in both the downtown location and the drive-in operations in Cassville.

Ticket booth

An important part in theater operations was selling of tickets for revenue to keep the doors open. For many years, both at the Ozark and Hall theaters, holding down this position was Bonnie Ennis. She later became the bride of Buster Hawk and gave up the ticket-selling job.

Early days continued

Virtually all movies at the Ozark were black and white films with presentations of newsreels. Most of the time, a comedy was thrown in for good measure. During World War II, the theater was full most of the time, as weekly availability of news reels were shown, which included progress of combat operations. Audience reaction when enemy parts were shown brought resounding boos from throughout the crowd.

Equipment in those days didn't have the highest quality sound and would cause film breaks at times that resulted in unscheduled stoppages.

Stage presentations often included game nights when spinning wheels would reward cash prizes or merchandise from local merchants.

An interesting thing with Mrs. Nolan's theatre was being vigilant at the entrance the nights that CCC Camp personnel were in town for a movie. Some of the guys were hung-up on chewing tobacco and would attempt to bring their "spit cups" into the movie house. This was absolutely prohibited, with the cup returned as the owner departed if he chose to have it back.

If she caught anyone spitting on the floor during a movie, his name would be forwarded to camp officials, and he would remain at Roaring River State Park for a number of movie night trips. Her ability to spot this possible problem at the front entrance, just beyond the popcorn machine counter, was uncanny, to all those who were employed there in those days.

Off the spike

Back to some 1955 ways of thinking:

* There was no sense going on short trips in those days for a weekend. It cost nearly $2 a night ($17.96 in today's money) to stay in a hotel.

* No one can afford to be sick anymore, at $15 a day in the hospital ($134.69 in today's money), it's too rich for most folk's blood.

* Hair clippers were popular in those days, as some vowed not to pay 30 cents ($2.69 today) for a haircut.

A thank you

A big belated thank you is due Lennis Rose, a premier turkey hunter in these parts, ever since the Missouri Conservation Commission stocked and later opened a season on the birds.

His tales of bringing home the big birds from several states have been enjoyable for many years. A special thanks is due for his gift not long ago. One of his handmade "scratch box" calls is going into my collection of other hunting devises. His advice on the wooden box is "Good hunting, always call them close."

This particular piece of equipment, although treasured because of the maker, will probably go to Colorado where Bruce hunts in the mountains with his bow. It would be interesting to learn how an Ozark manufactured call would be successful in that western location.

There might not be the experienced callers with this type equipment on location there to make the correct squawk or peck to be successful.

Whatever happens to the call will be interesting, one way or the other, Lennis!

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.