ORPHEUM (The New Orpheum)    .    MALCO    .    ORPHEUM
 
ORPHEUM (The new Orpheum)   Opened 1928 .  2500 seats
 

There's been a major Memphis Theatre on the corner of Main and Beale for over 122 years.  The Grand Opera House opened at the famous corner in 1890.  The name was changed to Hopkins Opera House in 1899.  Vaudeville soon became the bulk of the acts at the house and in 1907 the theatre was renamed the Orpheum Theater that same year.   In 1923, a fire broke out during a vaudeville show at the old Orpheum and the Theater burned to the ground.

 

Five years later, on the foundation of the old Orpheum theater, a new Orpheum Theater was built at a then-staggering cost of $1.5 million. Twice as large as the old theater, and much more ornate and luxurious, decorated in the style of Francois I, the Memphis Orpheum was beyond anything the builders of the old opera house could have ever dreamed, with brocade draperies, enormous crystal chandeliers, gilded moldings, and that mighty Wurlitzer organ.    It opened on November 19, 1928.  The auditorium, which seated 2500, was decorated in shades of gold, red and cream, and included a huge stage, orchestra pit, balcony and domed ceiling.  The grand lobby had twin staircases, enormous crystal chandeliers and gilded plasterwork. The Orpheum Theater also contained a nightclub called the Broadway Club, as well as smaller lobby spaces to the sides of the grand lobby. 

Orpheum 1928

The complete program of opening night is posted below.  The Orpheum is listed in the Memphis Directories from 1929 - 1939. 

 

Fire -1923

Marquee 1923

 Fire 1923

1928 Opening

Stage 1928

Staircases 1928       

 
 

Interior

Interior

Lobby 1934

Snack Bar 1934

Vintage Photo

 

 

1930

1930 Night photo

1938 ad

1928

1937

1939

Mae West 1938

 

ORPHEUM ... under Construction 1927-28

This very rare photo of the Orpheum Theatre under construction has recently been located.  It's amazing that with only the steel frame in place it easily captures the look of the finished theatre.  The photo dates to circa 1927-28 and is by Memphis photographer Oscar M. Goodman of Goodman Photography  .
 ... Collection Gene Gill    >

 

Orpheum under Construction

 

Update - April 8, 2016:  Truly amazing!    >
Nathan Ashby, Creative Director of the Orpheum writes that during the 2016 remodel of the upstairs administrative offices, behind a layer of plaster, that 80+ year old Coca Cola advertisement on the brick wall was "unearthed".

 

Check the Coca Cola sign ...

 
 
 




<
   Opening Night:  New Orpheum Souvenir Program . November 19, 1928


This very rare Opening Night Orpheum Souvenir Program is posted in its entirety
(40 pages).  Of particular interest is the section of excellent vintage photos of the entire Keith-Albee-Orpheum Circuit Theatres.  Many have never been published before.  ... Collection Dave French

     November 1928  
 
     

   

ads showing Orpheum AND Malco

   
 
 
 
 
 
MALCO   Renamed MALCO 1940  .   Closed:  1977   .    2500 Seats
 

By 1940, after the heyday of vaudeville, the Orpheum Theater was purchased by the Malco chain and switched to a movies-only format. The renamed MALCO Theater continued to run first-run films until it closed in 1977.  After the closure, there was even talk of demolishing the old theater to build an office complex.  In 1977, the Memphis Development Foundation purchased the Malco and began bringing Broadway productions and concerts back to the Theatre.  Fifty-four years had taken a toll on the grand old Theatre.  It closed in 1982 to begin a $5 million renovation to restore its 1928 opulence.  The MALCO is listed in the Memphis Directories from 1940 to 1977.

 
 

Malco 1946

Malco 1959

Malco 1959

Malco 1970

Main-Beale 1955

         
         

Colored Entrance

Auditorium

1941 Night

Milton Slosser

Brides of Dracula 1960

  Ad-1960

1950 Ticket

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 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.

 

M. A. Lightman

Malco logo

Brides of Dracula  1960

Brides ... - 1960

Uniform Patch

Milton Slosser

Ad 1953

        Elvis  - 1956

Premiere 1941

Malco Ad 1955

Vintage Malco

Malco lobby

 The Wurlitzer
         
         
       
 
 
ORPHEUM  Re-opened as Orpheum  1984
 
"Friends.." - 1981

When the Memphis Development Foundation acquired the Malco Theater in 1977, they began bringing Broadway productions and concerts back to the theatre.  As "Friends of the Orpheum", they closed the theatre in 1982 and undertook a $5 million renovation project which brought the palace back to its 1928 glory after decades of decline. In January 1984, a grand reopening ceremony was held.  This signaled the rebirth of entertainment in downtown Memphis. 

Today, the theatre has been re-named the Orpheum Theater and is Memphis' premier venue for touring Broadway shows. The Orpheum Theater has hosted more touring Broadway productions than any other theater in the US. In addition to its stage shows, the Orpheum hosts concerts and everyone from the Vienna Boys Choir to Patti LaBelle to Harry Connick, Jr. has graced the stage. It is also the home to two of the city's finest local arts organizations, the Memphis Ballet and the Memphis Opera.


The theater is still managed by the Memphis Development Foundation and presents 10-12 Broadway shows each year.  It's a non-profit organization and has flourished because of the support of the community.
 

Orpheum Today         

Orpheum

Orpheum Auditorium

Orpheum  Lobby

Orpheum Stage

 
 

"Memphis"

Wurlitzer

"South Pacific"

Mitzi Gaynor 1984

 Carol Channing

 
 

Miniature Model

75th Anniversary

2017

2017

2107

"Dolly"   

           
 
 

See the  "Grand Opera . Hopkins Grand Opera . Orpheum" page for the 1st Orpheum Theatre

 
     
 
 
 
 

Donald Canestrari, Memphis:  "My father loved the movies and vaudeville and would take my mother and my two older brothers and me  to the Orpheum to see a vaudeville show and movie.  He would park our 1936 Plymouth or our 1930 Ford Model A Coupe on Beale Street and we would walk up to the Orpheum passing Tony's Fruit Stand on the northeast corner of Beale and Main.  In those days, there would be an hour long vaudeville act followed by a new movie.  We always liked to sit in one of the loges off the mezzanine on the south side of the theater.  A Memphis orchestra under the direction of Nate Evans would rise up out of the floor in the orchestra pit and play for the performers.  One of the trumpet players (sometimes on clarinet) was Hilburn Graves, known as Pappy Graves. He was my first clarinet teacher when I took lessons at the old O.K. Houck Piano Company on S. Main near Union Ave.  During the WWII years, an organist, Milton Slosser. would rise up out of the floor and play the mighty Wurlitzer Organ and we would sing the words to his songs that would be flashed on the screen.  Lots of entertainment."   

Donald Canestrari, Memphis:  "One of the favorite shows to come to the Orpheum was Blackstone the Magician.  He would perform there for a week to packed houses.  He would always hypnotize a girl and saw her in half with a big buzz saw.  I can still hear her screaming as the saw made a loud terrible sound as it cut in two a piece of 2x4 lumber beside her.  Another performer that my dad liked was Dave Avalon, a Russian orchestra leader who brought his show there often" 
                                                                                                                                                            
Gene Gill, Pasadena CA:  "Everyone enjoyed going to the Malco for first run movies in the 50's.  When the movie ended, the giant Wurlitzer organ would rise out of the orchestra pit and Milton Slosser would entertain the audience for about 20 minutes.  When the "bouncing ball" came on screen, we all sang along". 
I also remember seeing Marilyn Monroe at the Malco (1953), in town to promote the opening of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". The city even renamed Monroe St. "Marilyn Monroe St" for the day.

Bob Mann, Albuquerque NM:  "I moved to Memphis from a small town in Arkansas in 1944, and was dazzled by the "big city".  Soon after I arrived, I went to the Malco and was awed by the grandeur of the theater, especially when I saw that gorgeous white organ rising out of the orchestra pit.  I will never forget Milton Slosser playing my favorite song of the day, 'Besame Mucho".

Eddie Cooper, Memphis:  "When I was a teenager, I worked one summer as an usher at the Malco, whose owners also owned the Princess.  The Malco had a huge popcorn machine, and the Princess had an ice machine that made more than it needed.  So one of the daily jobs of a couple of ushers was to transport popcorn to the Princess and ice to the Malco".

Julie Best Erwin -10/2011:  "...My grandfather, Chalmers Cullins was involved in the theater business since the early 1900s.  He began selling popcorn at the Orpheum and went on to work there.   Later, my grandfather owned the Idlewild with his brother Edward Cullins and I believe Nate Evans was also involved.  He also owned the W. C. Handy and The Sovoy theaters.  These two were for the Black Community and featured live music as well as movies". 

Gail Collins - 10/2011:  "...Chalmers Cullins was my grandfather and I have some interesting cassette tapes on which my grandfather is talking about the old days at the Orpheum. I remember dancing on the stage when I was about 5, when my grandfather was closing up the theater at midnight. I recall watching Blackstone perform from backstage and later eating a midnight dinner with him and my grandparents at Burkles Bakery. We had the roast beef and homemade rolls, mashed potatoes and vegetables. It seemed strange eating at midnight. Blackstone had the most piercing blue eyes I ever encountered". 

 
 

 

 

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