Memphis THEATRE SHOWMEN

...The Early Theatre Impresarios and Moguls

Theatre troupes began touring Memphis as early as the 1800s.  And the first real theatres were built in the city around 1850.  The pattern of building new theatres increased well into the 1900s opening the way for well know performers and entertainers to visit the city.  The Victorian era in America marked the first "real" theater for Memphis.  Great actors had risen to fame,  like Lillie Langtry, Otis Skinner, Edwin Booth and Sarah Bernhardt.  They all performed in Memphis during this rise of theaters and opera houses.  And Memphis had its share of  “impresarios,” that is, the person who organized entertainments for the public.  Many of them ran highly successful theatres for years and with the later arrival of vaudeville, they quickly combined Opera, Drama, and Vaudeville acts.

These early impresarios were the first to recognize the possibilities of film as a popular medium.  In the early 1900s a few canny producers, began to intersperse short films among the live acts, seeing the potential for drawing a larger audiences, including people who wouldn't think of entering a vaudeville house.  Because the early shows cost only a nickel or dime,  they became the dominant form of mass entertainment.  And new theaters began to open on every block along Main Street.  Some blocks might have several theaters.  To keep up with the demand, the impresarios oversaw and developed a constant flow of new entertainers each week to make sure that the crowds continued to come  back regularly.  They had to run a tight, and possibly stingy, ship.  Perhaps they were able to do this because so many were immigrants or had been actors themselves.   This is their story - the managers, impresarios, and moguls.

 
 

 

Click on small photos to enlarge them.  

 

W. H. Crisp ...and Crisp's Gaiety Theatre

 

W. H. Crisp

Eliza Crisp - wife

Crisp's Gaiety

NY Herald - 1857

Jenny Lind

The W. H. Crisps immigrated to the United States in 1844 from England.  Although they were classical actors W. H. Crisp primarily managed theaters and theater companies  in New Orleans, Savannah, Augusta, Memphis, and Nashville.  During the Civil War, he served in the Confederate Army, teaching the troops a skill he had learned as an actor - sword fighting.  His son Harry became a popular New York actor,   Another son Charles, became a judge and Congressman.  His daughters Cecilia and Jessie formed their own repertory company and toured.   His Memphis Theatre was called Crisp's Gaiety and was one of the two  theaters listed in the earliest Memphis Directory of 1859.   Crisp's Gaiety was on Jefferson, near 3rd.  It was constructed in 1857 at a cost of $40,000, and was lavishly decorated.  Crisp booked famed Opera Diva Jenny Lind, who first sang in Memphis at this Theatre, during her first American tour.  The Crisps moved to Texas in 1870.  Eliza died in 1873 and William died in 1874.

Their son, Charles F. Crisp, born in England, settled in Georgia with his parents.   Acting was not a career choice for him.  He became a prominent politician ... Congressman from Georgia and Speaker of the House.  The letter (below) was written by William to his son, Charles in 1854.  It is in the collection of Francis J. Crown, Jr., who has shared it with this website.

Crisp Bulletin 1860

Detail 1960

Crisp Envelope 1854

Crisp Letter

 Letter, page 2

Crisp's son



Leubrie Brothers - Ellis, Louis, Jacob
                                                       ...and Leubries Theatre ... New Memphis Theatre

Photos of

Louis, Ellis &

Jacob  Leubrie ???

 

Leubries - New Memphis

Bernhardt 1880-81

Wilde 1882

NY Mirror 1884

Ellis and Louis Leubrie were brothers from St. Louis who purchased the building at 82 Jefferson and renamed it Leubrie's Theatre.  Oscar Wilde lectured at Leubrie's in 1882.  Sarah Bernhardt's first American tour played there in 1880-81.  Opera was the biggest draw:  Abbott's Opera Co appeared in 1880, 1882 and 1887.  Weber's Opera in 1883.  Ford's Opera Co appeared in 1884.  The Leubrie brothers had a major business reversal around 1887 and were compelled to sell the theatre.  After it was sold, the theater was renamed "The New Memphis".  Ellis then became manager of The New Memphis.  Several other managers associated with Leubries and the New Memphis are Frank Gray , Joseph Brooks,  and T. W. Davey.   In 1876-77, the Leubrie brothers were involved with other businesses in Memphis - "Fancy Goods" at 222 Main, Cigars and Tobacco at 235 and 277 Main.

NY Mirror 1888

NY Mirror 1890,

NY Mirror 1890,

New Memphis 1886-88

NY Mirror 1882

NY Mirror 1884

NY Mirror 1903

NY Mirror  1885



Along with "real theatre", another type of theater was developing  - "Variety Theatre".  It flourished in Memphis and catered to large stag audiences.  The programs were similar to Vaudeville (song, dances, dumb acts, specialty numbers, sketches), but the Variety Halls added a liberal supply of song and dance girls, and pretty waitresses serving drinks.  The Memphis Halls soon acquired the name "low varieties".  With these halls opening and closing on a regular basis, managerial careers were often short and unprofitable.  A successful manager had to be forceful and wear at least  three hats - host-talent booker, bouncer, and saloon keeper.    Many very successful managers of the period learned their  trade or served their apprentice-ship  in the Variety Halls.



Frank Gray   ... and the Grand Opera House ...Leubries ...Memphis ...Lyceum Theatres

Frank Gray 

Grand Opera House

Lyceum  Theatre

Lyceum Season

Lyceum

Frank Gray was a Memphis newspaperman, who was interested in Theatre.  He began his work in the Theatre as an usher at Leubries, becoming a Business Manager, and then Acting Manager, and Manager.  He was manager at all of the leading theaters of Memphis.  Gray was considered a clever and capable manager who booked only the best attractions, and he was known as the "Dean of Southern Theatre Managers".  Check the impressive list of bookings (below) he made for the Lyceum's 1907 season.

1891 Directory The Memphis Lyceum 1907 Season Lyceum  1891 Gray Obit -Variety 1922



... and these early Theatre Managers    
       
  C. H. Broom (Broom's Opera)

.

Sol Dan  (Theatorium)
  T. J. Boyle (Grand Opera)

.

T. W. Davey  (Memphis)
  Joseph Brooks (Memphis)

.

 


Col. John D. Hopkins ... and Hopkins Grand Opera  ...Lyceum Theatres

Col  Hopkins

Hopkins Grand Opera House Hopkins Stock Co. Hopkins 1906 Hopkins Obit - 1909

The Grand Opera House was built in 1890 and John D. Hopkins purchased it in 1899 - renaming it Hopkins Grand Opera House.  Hopkins' background was in Vaudeville and Minstrel Shows.  He had vaudeville theaters in Chicago and in St. Louis, and his own Vaudeville troupe name "Hopkins Transoceanic Star Specialty Co."  Once he took control of the Grand Opera,  he immediately hired his own resident Stock Company, and went about changing the house into a Vaudeville Theatre.  He replaced the gas lighting with 586 sparkling lights and changed the color of the foyer from a drab olive to a brighter gray and gold.  He completely renovated the house in 1903 and the color scheme was changed again to rose and gold, with the boxes accented with green and yellow.  Of course the primary fare was Vaudeville, but in 1906, the most popular act was the great Sarah Bernhardt.  When the Grand Opera opened in1890 there were a series of managers (including T. J. Boyle and Frank Gray) during the first 10 years.  When Hopkins took over, he installed Anderson B. Morrison, who was the manager for the next 6 years.  Morrison was considered one of the most popular managers in Memphis.  Hopkins was a wheeler-dealer.  Around 1906 he was involved in a lawsuit because he planned to sub-lease the Opera House to a Burlesque Circuit.  This suit may have led to the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit being able to take over the house in 1907.   

Hopkins Description

Variety 1906

The Lyceum Theatre

The Choctaw 1899

Hopkins Bookings    

Lease Opera House to Burlesque? For Sale Unsold 1894 Bigamy Lawsuit 1899

Obit 2      

Daughter's notice 1909

NY Clipper 1905

Hopkins Transoceanic 1898 - 1900

 

 

Trans-Oceanic Token  

Ethel Hopkins - daughter

 

Trans-Oceanic Poster



A. B. Morrison   
              ...and the East End  ...Hopkins Opera  ...Orpheum ...Jefferson ...Lyceum ...Pantages Theatres

A. B. Morrison was the first Vaudeville manager in Memphis.  He became a popular, experienced theatre-man who knew the business intimately.  He was especially appreciated for his quiet personality and his efficiency in business. 

It appears that Morrison may have successfully managed most of the early theatres in Memphis - going back to the East End Playhouse around 1900.  He was instrumental in getting The Jefferson Theatre (Lyric) built and became its first manager.  At other times, he managed Hopkins Opera House, The Orpheum,  The Lyceum and became manager of The Pantages in 1925

A. B. Morrison        

Billboard 1905 - East End

Billboard 1913 - East End

Billboard 1948 - Obit

     

 
Billboard 1909 - East End

Billboard 1909 - Jefferson

 

Morrison 1905

East End Playhouse

Hopkins Grand Jefferson Lyceum Orpheum Pantages


 

Benjamin M. Stainback    ...and the Auditorium  ... Bijou Theatres

Photo of
Benjamin
Stainback

  Bijou Auditorium 1901 1917 Switch Theatres Bijou 1909

The Auditorium was probably the first real Cinema in Memphis and where, in 1897, the new Cinematograph was first demonstrated in the city.  Edison's Concert Phonograph also had its Memphis debut at The Auditorium.  The Auditorium opened in 1894 and lasted until 1903. It was located at S. Main and Linden in a huge barn which had been used as a garage for horse-drawn carriages.  When electric trolleys replaced the carriages, the building was converted to a theatre.  The Auditorium building was extensively remodeled in 1903 and renamed  the Bijou.  The building burned down in 1911.  Sometime after 1918 it was supposed to have been rebuilt.  We can find no record of that in the City Directories. Benjamin M. Stainback started out managing the Auditorium and continued a very successful operation when the name was changed to the Bijou Theatre.  A particularly important booking was the United Confederate Veterans Reunion of 1909.  The Bijou was located near the Orpheum, approximately on the site of the Chisca Hotel.  After the Bijou, Stainback is listed as manager of LOEW'S Lyceum in 1920.

NY Clipper - Fire 1911

NY Mirror - 1903

1900 Directory 1920 Directory 1902 Description

NY Mirror - 1915

NY Mirror  .  1911



Charles Dinstuhl  ...and the Theatorium Theatre
 

Billboard 1908

C. M. Dinstuhl    

Theatorium

1908 Directory

Billboard 1909

Billboard 1908

Charles Dinstuhl was a "candy man" - and a clever one.  He realized a connection between "snacks" and theatres, so in 1905 he opened The Theatorium at 156 N. Main,  next door to his confection Shop.  This is generally considered Memphis' first Nickelodeon movie theatre and the first theatre where films were the main attraction.  Between films, singers sang as slides were projected on screen.  It was a huge success and in a short time no less than twenty of these theatres were scattered around Memphis.  The city recognized a good thing and imposed a license of $400 per year on these theaters,  payable in advance.  This put several out of business but The Theatorium was successful.   Films shown at The Theatorium included "The Great Train Robbery" and the theater became part of the "Crystal Circuit.  There may have been 3 different Theatoriums in the city.  Sol Dan and W. H. Wassman are other managers associated with The Theatorium.  In 1908 The Theatorium at 156 N. Main was purchased by Frank Montgomery and was renamed "Majestic #1" - the first in a chain of Majestics.  Charles was born in 1898 and died in 1981.  The Theatorium is long gone, but the fifth generation of Dinstuhl's is still making fine candies in Memphis.

Does a photo exist of the THEATORIUM Theatre???



Jack Amick  ... and the Palace Theatre - Amick's Vaudeville Exchange.

Jack Amick      Jack Amick Palace on Main Amusing Memo Palace - Billboard 1908

Jack Amick was perhaps the first real "showman-manager" of Memphis.  He owned the Palace Theatre at 135 N. Main, which premiered in 1907.  It opened as a moving picture house, but later Jack added vaudeville acts with seven performances daily - 30 minutes each - three in the afternoon and four in the evening.  This innovation met with immediate success and the Palace drew crowds each day.  Jack had been an actor and after forming the Amick Vaudeville Exchange, he created a circuit of theaters in the South and operated theaters in Meridian, Hattiesburg, Biloxi, Mobile, Pensacola, New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport.  The performers he hired spoke of him as being one of the best managers in the business.  In 1908 Jack Amick also became the first manager of The Lyric Theater in Memphis.  He never completely gave up performing and later moved to Chicago and New York where he continued managing theaters as well as performing.  As an actor-manager, Jack Amick was one of the first to take advantage of major advertising - not only for his theaters, but for himself.  A true showman!

Billboard Ad - 1907 Billboard Ad - 1908 Billboard Ad - 1908



Huddleston Brothers  ... and the Ruby Amusement Co.

Please help us
locate a photo
of Huddleston Bros?

 

Ruby Theater

Billboard Ad - 1909 Billboard Ad - 1909
We have not been able to locate any biographical information on the Huddleston Brothers.


Frank Montgomery * and the Majestic Theatres - Majestic Amusement Co.

Frank Montgomery Majestic Majestic Majestic - Interior Montgomery - "Button"

Frank Montgomery, 'the Moving Pictures Man of Memphis" was the ultimate "showman".  In 1908 he purchased The Theatorium from Charles Dinstuhl and renamed it the Majestic #1.  It became the first of many Memphis theaters owned by Frank Montgomery.  According to numerous references in vintage periodicals of the time, he owned 4 to 8 Majestic Theaters and The Columbia (Princess).  He also owned theaters in Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Chicago.  Montgomery was considered a master of advertising.  It was said of Frank that "Here was the beginning of class and quality which made the Montgomery name famous throughout the South".  He first announced that his theaters would feature nothing but pictures - no vaudeville.  Frank reasoned that the public had never really seen first class films - that they were accustomed to seeing old films, painfully blurred and with frequent breaks of the film.  He organized "The Majestic Amusement Company" and proceeded to order new films. purchase the best of equipment, develop better lighting and give the patrons better ventilation.   And it pleased the ladies when Frank decorated the exterior and interior of the house with plants.  Frank also demanded the best service from his operators, doormen, cashiers, and all other employees.  In effect, he put real snap into his shows by engaging an orchestra instead of the usual lone piano player.  If the Majestics weren't enough, the Majestic Amusement Company also managed all the Empire Theaters in Memphis.  In 1919 the Majestic Amusement Co became "Memphis Enterprises" and in 1921 "Consolidated Enterprises", taking on partners R. C. Tarlton and C. T. Bridges.  Frank Montgomery spent money and made money.    He was a class act!

1909 Ad

1917 Ad

1909 Ad        Majestic-Strand Montgomery Bus. Card 1909 Ad

* Frank T. Montgomery has comprehensive coverage on another page of this website >  Click Here.



Charles A. McElravy  ...and Ellis Auditorium + others

Charles McElravy Ellis - 1930 Dedication McElravy Group Meeting Sad Day 1999
 

Charles A. McElravy (1878 - 1961) was General Manager of Ellis Auditorium from its opening in 1924 until his retirement in 1951. His many responsibilities included booking the talent, drafting the contacts, insuring each shows success, etc. Ellis was profitable the last 22 of his 27 year career. In his honor, 'The Charles A. McElravy Award' was created in 1963, honoring this International Association of Auditorium Managers pioneer and citing current members "for contributions to the IAAM and the profession of auditorium management."  It is a very prestigious International Award.  But McElravy's career hadn't begun with Ellis.  He came to Memphis in 1904 to manage several amusements at the old East End Park.  In 1906 he was general manager of the distributing branch of the American Film Corporation.  In 1908 he became the general manager of Frank Montgomery's Majestic Amusement Company, where he managed 4 theaters until 1919.   By 1921 he had 16 theaters under his direction, including several in Jackson, Chattanooga, Johnson City, and Knoxville.  For 4 of these years he was also president of the Motion Picture Exhibitions League of Tennessee - where he became affectionately known as "Mac of the movies".  In spite of these early successes he was never satisfied to let conditions remain as they were.  He constantly strived for improvement and it was said that "Memphis had the finest run motion picture theaters in the entire south". 

Sousa Hepburn Martin Rachmaninoff Duncan Elvis Barrymore

It's no wonder that he was picked to head Ellis Auditorium when it opened.    Under his management Memphis welcomed such legendary performers as Katharine Hepburn, Mary Martin, the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, John Barrymore, and dancer Isadora Duncan.  It was under his leadership that Elvis first played to his first sold out crowd.  Almost all Memphis High School graduations were help at Ellis.  Numerous touring productions also appeared and there were six decades of Memphis music  filling the halls.  Charles McElravy was well-respected.    The first talking motion picture "The Jazz Singer" was originally shown at Ellis Auditorium because the downtown movie theatres were all still in the process of converting their equipment to sound.  It cost them $20,000 each to convert to sound.

First "Talkie"

 



... and these Theatre Managers    
       
  Clarence Weiss (Lyceum)   . John H. Robb (Lyceum)
       
  John Mahoney (Lyceum)  

.

Pete Pate (Lyceum)
       
  Samuel Dillard (Lyric) . Max Fabish (Orpheum)


Robert Church  ... and Church Auditorium

Robert Church Robert Church Church Auditorium Beale Auditorium (Church Auditorium)

Robert Church was a business leader, philanthropist, and a millionaire.  He was also African-American.  Born in 1839 to a white father and a black mother, Robert learned business from his father.  Real estate was his main interest but he was involved in other enterprises, including a hotel, a restaurant, a billiard hall, and a saloon.  His first-class Memphis hotel at Second and Gayoso was the first hotel exclusively for blacks in the U. S.  It was furnished with the best equipment of that day.  In 1899, Memphis didn't provide recreational facilities for African-American citizens.  So Church opened "Church's Park and Auditorium on Beale Street.  The Auditorium was well equipped and had one of the largest stages in the South, completely furnished with all modern equipment, including a fire-proof curtain, and could seat 2,000.  Beneath the stage was a large banquet hall.  All popular African-American  theatrical troupes performed at Church Auditorium, including Black Patti Troubadours and the Fisk Jubilee Singers.  W. C. Handy was employed as orchestra leader.  President Theodore Roosevelt was a guest at a reception attended by over 10,000 citizens in 1902.  The Auditorium was hugely successful.  Robert Church went on serve as a Republican delegate for Memphis and founded the Solvent Bank and Trust Company, which became the largest African American bank in the country.  During a later period of political squabbling, the city took control of the Auditorium and demolished the building and built a replacement called Beale Auditorium.  It is no longer there but Church Park remains. 

Church family Beale Auditorium dedication Teddy Roosevelt speaks Church Auditorium 1902 Church Mausoleum - Elmwood


Sam, Paul Zerilla - Joe Maceri  ...and the Pastime ...Old Daisy ... New Daisy Theatres
 

Please help us
locate a photo of
Sam & Paul Zerilla?

  Joe Maceri 1973 Pastime#1  Location Pastime #3

.New Daisy

Italian immigrant Sam Zerilla, a clarinetist in the John Philip Sousa band, opened The Pastime Theater  in 1909.  It was the first African-American movie house in Memphis.  And then he opened the OLD Daisy Theatre in the 1920s.  His relative, Paul Zerilla, along with partner Joe Maceri opened the NEW Daisy Theatre across the street in 1941.  It replaced two older theaters and was originally a move house, but occasionally had live music.  This group was the first to organize the Black theaters into regional chains in 1909 when Sam Zerilla and the Barrasso brothers combined their Memphis theaters to form the hub of the Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOBA). In 1921 they merged with Consolidated Circuit and the next year with the Managers-Performers Circuit.  This gave the organization 100 theaters.  To their credit, TOBA provided experience and exposure for innumerable black entertainers and musicians who might not have had an opportunity to break into show business otherwise.  And almost all black entertainers remained with TOBA even though the wages and working conditions inspired the well-known definition of TOBA:  "Tough on Black Asses!".  

But TOBA did offer entertainers the chance to perform before African-American audiences throughout much of the country. And there was the allure of fame and fortune. Like the black minstrel shows it superseded, black vaudeville was one of the few means by which African -Americans could acquire wealth and status. Overflow crowds flocked to the black vaudeville shows and lavished applause on the featured entertainers. The shows became a major cultural activity in the black communities, and their headline acts became cultural heroes and heroines. Thus, it's understandable that aspiring black performers took to vaudeville at this time with such a passion and in such large numbers.

T.O.B.A.  - 1927  Doc  

1917 Directory

1921 Directory

Old Daisy 1970

Mercurio Maceri Certification

Sam Zerilla Certification



Anselmo Barrasso - Lorenzo, Angelo and Nello Pacini
               
 
... and the Metropolitan  ... the Venus  ... the Palace  ... the Savoy Theatres
 

Anselmo Barrasso Marie -daughter Venus Theatre Venus Ad - 1923 Palace Theatre Palace Ad

Anselmo Barrasso was associated with the Savoy Theatre as early as 1912 and the Metropolitan as early as 1917 and then the Venus in 1923.  He built the Palace Theatre, circa 1919-1920.  From 1913-1918, the Venus property was called the Metropolitan Theater.  By 1920 it was called The Venus, but around 1922, it became The New Grand.  This theater worked well along side the Palace, which was the largest vaudeville house for Blacks in the South.   Every major African-American entertainer performed at the Palace.  Angelo, Lorenzo and Nello Pacini were co-owners of The Palace.  Anselmo continued to manage the Palace until 1964.  He died in 1967.  After his death the theater fell into disrepair.  The top floor was removed in the 1970s, and the building was later demolished.  

   

Lorenzo Pacini was born in Valdottavo, Italy in 1865 and immigrated to the U.S.   He died in Memphis  in 1939.  Joseph A. Pacini was born in Memphis in 1898 and died in 1952. The Barrasso brothers (F.A. Barrasso) were instrumental, with Sam Zerilla in organizing a circuit for Black performers (TOBA).  Although TOBA did nothing about the low wages and poor working conditions, it did offer work for black artists when there otherwise might have been none.

 

Lorenzo Pacini 1930

"Joe" Pacini 1924 Pacini Family 1924 Nello Pacini

    Anselmo Barrasso - 1908

 

   1912 - Savoy

1917 - Metropolitan

1920 Palace

1923 Palace - Venus

1938 - Palace

Metropolitan-1913   

 


 
 
Dave Lebovitz       ... and the Georgia  ... Ace  ... Harlem Theatres
Dave Lebovitz built the Georgia in 1920, the Ace in 1930, and the Harlem in 1935.  He died in 1988.

Please help us
locate a photo
of Dave Lebovitz?

 

  Georgia Building today

Dave Lebovitz Marker 1937 Harlem List 1943 Ace List


Michael and Augustine Cianciola ...the Rosemary ... Luciann ... Rosewood Theatres

Augustine Cianciola A. Cianciola Family 1952

Rosmary

Luciann

Michael Cianciola built the theaters and his son Augustine managed them.  The Rosemary is named after Michael's sister Rosemary.  The Luciann is named after Michael's sisters Lucy and Ann Cianciola.  The Rosewood is named after ?  Dates of opening:  Rosemary 1930...Luciann 1939...Rosewood 1950. 

Please help us
locate a photo of
 Michael Cianciola?

   

 

Augustine Cianciola '55

   

 Theatres 1955

    Rosewood



Alfred and Irene Suzore  ... and the Suzores #1 ...Suzores #2 Theatres

Please help us
locate a photo
of Alfred Suzore ?

  Suzores #1 Suzores #2 Suzores Tile floor

Alfred Suzore was born in 1888 and died in 1975.   The Suzores were "movie people" and  had an apartment over their Jackson Avenue theater where they often stayed.  They also had a farm near Shelby Forest.  In addition to their own theaters, they had managed the Bristol for some time.   By all accounts, Alfred was not the most agreeable personality and was considered quite "stingy" and "cheap".  His movie houses were not well maintained.  In 1952 there was an auction of the Suzores #1 on Jackson to pay off a $14,000 judgment against Alfred Suzores, which a circuit jury awarded to James Rutherford, who was shot by Suzore in 1950.  Suzore claimed self-defense.  This must have been resolved at a later time, because the Suzores were still operating the #1 theatre much later.  The Suzore Theatres will always be remembered as the favorite theatre of the young Elvis.  And those who attended the theaters have their favorite stories of mice running around their feet. 

Lawsuit           

1915 For Sale

Suzores #2 Billboard 1949 1940 1953 Ad Suzore Certification


M. A. Lightman  ... and the Malco ... Memphian ... Crosstown Theatres

M.A. Lightman Joe Lightman Memphian Malco - 1959 Crosstown

Morris A. Lightman was the son of Hungarian immigrants.  Although he held a degree in engineering he thought of himself more as a showman and entertainer.  When he saw a long line of people waiting to get into a local theatre, he decided that he wanted to operate a movie theatre.  In Atlanta he made a contact in the theatre business and learned the art of movie exhibition.  By 1915 Lightman had opened his first theatre in Alabama, and within 6 months had opened 2 more - immediately selling them and receiving a 50% share of a theatre in Little Rock.  Then he partnered with his father, Joseph, a stone construction contractor, to build a Theater in Nashville.  But in Little Rock , Lightman partnered with M. S. McCord and M. J. Pruniski and formed the Malco Amusement Company.  They began building a theatre chain by buying and building single screen cinemas throughout Arkansas.  In 1926 they took on two more partners, W. F. McWilliams and L. B. Clark, which gave them 32 theatres.  1926 marks the year the company began installing sound equipment in all their theatres.    In 1929 Malco Theatres purchased their first location in Memphis and opened the Memphian Theatre.   By 1940, after the heyday of vaudeville, the Orpheum Theater at Main and Beale was purchased by the Malco chain and switched to a movies-only format. This opulent movie palace became the base of operation for Malco Theatres. The renamed MALCO Theater continued to run first-run films until it closed in 1977.   In 1951, Malco Theatres opened The Crosstown.   The Malco company always displayed a passion for the movie business and was on the cutting edge of technology in presentation, seating and sound.  M. A. Lightman was highly respected throughout the industry.

Of course the name MALCO comes from M. A. Lightman Co.  The legacy of the company, now in its fourth generation, has been passed to Stephen Lightman, Jimmy Tashie, and Bobby Levy.  The three share ownership responsibilities and insist their ability to work together throughout the years has saved the family from separation.   The Lightman family is known for owning Malco Theatres, but the Lightman Bridge Club was named in honor of M.A. Lightman, who was an excellent player and played in many national tournaments.  u

Linden Circle Princess Ridgeway 4 Studio on the Square
 


Chalmers Cullins . Edward Cullins . Nate Evans
                                                            ...and the Savoy ... Idlewild ... W. C. Handy Theatres

Chalmers Cullins Father-Son Chalmers c-1980s Chalmers -1956 Marker

Born in 1892, Chalmers Cullins was a member of a theatrical/movie family.  While working as a stage hand at the first Orpheum Theatre he helped save the costumes of the headliner, Blossom Seeley, from the fire which destroyed the building in 1923.   Nate Evans was an orchestra leader and conducted the pit orchestra for all shows and acts at the old Orpheum from the 1920s up to the early 1940s.  He co-managed the Orpheum from 1936-1941.  He became partners with Chalmers to build the Savoy in 1937, and Edward Cullins joined them later (and others), as partners in building the Idlewild and the W. C. Handy..     

ChalmersDaughter Chalmers Wife Emily 1917 Chalmers Draft List Directory Chalmers Obituary

Idlewild Theatre Handy Theatre Ed Cullins -Dale-Roy Rogers Nate Evans Obit


Kemmons Wilson and Bob Bostick 
                                                 ... and
the DeSoto ... Princess ..., Airway ... Handy Theatres

Wilson-Popcorn Wilson crew Princess Theatre Handy Theatre Contract

Kemmons Wilson was a creative thinker who always loved the movies and often did odd jobs at the Memphian Theatre in return for free admission.  When he realized the theater offered no snacks he saw the opportunity to create a market for himself.  Management agreed to let him sell popcorn, so he purchased a popcorn machine for $50 and sold popcorn for 5 cents a bag - and quickly was earning $40-$50 per week.  The rest is history.  Kemmons soon purchased his own theatre - The DeSoto, built the Airway Theatre, purchased the Princess, and was partners in the Handy and others.  Of course he was better known for building the Holiday Inn empire at the same time.  Bob Bostick was Kemmons partner in the Movie Theaters.

Airway Theatre  


Arthur Groom  ... and Elvis at the Loew's State Theatre

Loew's State Arthur Groom - Elvis

with Wink Martindale

with "Hoppy"

Groom - seated, left

Long time Loew's State manager Arthur Groom stepped into the history books in 1950 when he fired usher Elvis Presley for either "being late" or "fighting with another employee" - depending on the legend you read.  Years later, both of them were good sports about it and posed for the above photo with Elvis' old uniform.  Indeed, most of Elvis' movies premiered at Loew's State.  Business was always good.

Micki Groom Creamer:  "My Dad was the manager of the Loew's State from 1949 till the mid 1960's, not too sure. As many may know, my Dad did fire Elvis Presley when he was an usher scuffling with another usher in the early 50's, but eventually hired him back. Truly amazing....a kid is an usher and about 5 years later, he is coming back to see himself up on the screen. That was quite a night. My Dad held a private screening for Elvis, his parents, and friend visiting from Hollywood, Nick Adams, and of course the Groom family was there in full force!   I was a candy girl at the Loew's State during my high school years and met my future husband who was an usher at Loew's Palace".



...Lloyd T. Binford  ... Memphis Censor

Pearl Bailey Ingrid Bergman Lena Horne Charlie Chaplin Our Gang Jane Russell

Lloyd T. Binford - notorious censor of Memphis.  50% of the city loved him, the other 50% hated him.  Hollywood detested him.  No one knows why Binford was picked by "Boss" E. H. Crump to head the Memphis Censor Board in 1928.  His background in Insurance certainly didn't qualify him to become an arbiter of public taste.  His reasons for banning certain films and plays was just as confusing.  He banned all Charlie Chaplin films, cut Lena Horne's scenes, banned all Ingrid Bergman films after her affair with director Rossellini, banned "Our Gang" because a black child played with white children, cut Peal Bailey scenes, and Jane Russell in "The Outlaw" really caused him to lose sleep.  Because he had once been involved in a train robbery, he banned any movie containing a train robbery, and he banned the road show of the musical "Annie Get Your Gun", because there were blacks in the cast who mingled with whites.

     

But some Memphians actually thought he wasn't tough enough, even after Collier's Magazine, Time, Variety, and The New York Times denounced him and ridiculed Memphis for giving him so much power.  But Binford stayed at it until 1956, when he resigned, shortly before his death.  Ironically nothing has been "Banned in Memphis!" since that time, although the musical "Hair" did cause quite a stir.
 

 
 

* New Memphis.Memphis.Crisp's Gaiety.Leubries Theatres are on another page of this website >  Click here

* National.Varieties.People's.May's Bijou.Gentry's.Olympic are on another page of this website >  Click here

 



Memphis Showmen Memorabilia
 
 
 
 

       

Re:  Blue Laws

Credits

 

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