Theater, ca. 1920. Located on the west side of Last Chance
Gulch at the foot of Grand St., the Antlers was open by 1914,
when it acquired a Schuelke organ.
of the Antlers Theater, May 29, 1939. This unique image
was contributed by Mr. Ray Cumming, now of Palo Alto,
California, who writes:
Antlers Theater photo is especially nostalgic for
me. I spent a lot of time there in my youth watching serials,
cartoons and features.
can tell you exactly where the Antlers was located. It
was on the west side of Last Chance Gulch at the center
of its intersection with Grand Street. It is central in
the attached photo of a frame of VCR-converted 8mm film,
exposed from Grand Street on 5/29/1939 during Prince
Olav of Norway's visit to Helena.
lived in Helena with my parents and brother from 1933
to 1950, attended Central grades 1-6 while living on Grand
Street in the Helena Apartments, then Hawthorne grades
7-8, HHS grades 9-12, and two years at Carroll while living
on W. Lawrence and Clark Streets."
to Mr. Cumming for the use of this remarkable image, and for
filling us in on the location of the Antlers.
THE MARLOW THEATER
showplace, the late, great Marlow Theatre on Edwards St..
It was built in 1918 and demolished in 1972, as part of the
"Urban Renewal" program. The destruction of the Marlow
was perhaps the worst "sin" of the project.
footprint of the Marlow Theater and the location of Edwards
St. superimposed on a recent satellite photo. During Urban
Renewal in the 1970s, Edwards St. was eliminated, and Broadway
was extended west to Park Ave., passing through where the
stage of the Marlow once was.
The Marlow was built primarily as a road show house, and for
many years it presented the greatest stars and companies on
The Earl Carroll Vanities, April 8 1927.
Rogers at the Marlow, March 30 1927.
It was on
the Marlow stage that young Myrna Williams, who would
later be known as screen star Myrna Loy, had her
theatrical debut around 1918...
Williams in costume for her first public performance, Helena,
with sound came to the Marlow in May of 1929
the top, a 1940 pass to the Marlow for a benefit screening of
"The Secret of Dr. Kildare". The coupon for the Dopey
doll drawing likely dates to 1944, when "Snow White"
was re-released by Disney.
ON IMAGE FOR A LARGER VIEW IN A NEW WINDOW
Cidney Munn School of the Dance "Swing Shift" revue
on the Marlow stage, May 20 1944. This photo by Les Jorud
was no doubt taken at a rehearsal for the May 24 performance,
as advertised in the Independent-Record ad below.
THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS
Theatre shortly before demolition, 1972. THE
WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION
underwent several redecorations during its lifetime, with a
final remodeling completed in January of 1950. The extensive
1950 re-do included the addition of a loge section and new "Bodiform"
seats throughout. New projectors, screen, sound system and curtains
were installed. The concession and lobby areas were brightened-up,
and kidney-shaped neon-lit ceiling coves were added to the lobby
area. It was also in 1950 that the neon "Marlow" sign
and lighted aluminum marquee, seen in the photo above, were
added. The renovation was celebrated with the world premier
of the Warner Bros. release "Montana",
starring Errol Flynn. Flynn was in India filming "Kim"
at the time, and could not attend.
Marlow lobby, 1950. Scan of a newspaper photo.
stage demolition, 1972.
THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION
interior during demolition, 1972.
THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION
THE RIO (LATER
THE VIGILANTE) THEATER
Theatre, 335 N. Last Chance Gulch, 1936. The art deco Rio
staged its grand opening on Christmas Day of 1934. It later became
the Vigilante Theatre, which was in operation until at
least 1953. The building is still standing.
THE SUNSET DRIVE-IN
photo of the derelict screen of Helena's first drive-in theatre,
the Sunset. Operated by E. R. "Chub" Munger (1900-1999),
the Sunset opened on July 12, 1949. It
was located on the southwest corner of N. Montana Ave. at Custer.
announced its new CinemaScope screen in 1955. Also in that year,
plans were made public to build an 850-seat indoor theater adjacent
to the drive-in. That theatre was never built (see "Two
Theaters That Never Were" below for more).
THE SKY-HI DRIVE-IN
Drive-In Theater, east of Helena, 1952. Ralph
A. Hahn, Don Dedriksen and Keith Dedriksen opened the 500-car
theater on May 1, 1952.
"In 1959, the Sky-Hi showed the newsreel footage of Swedish
heavyweight boxer Ingemar Johansson knocking out Floyd Patterson,
the reigning champion. Not only were many cars lined up to enter
the gates, but dozens were parked along the highway near the theater,
waiting in the twilight to see even a distant view of Johanssen's
KO. It was a remarkable scene."
THAT NEVER WERE
plans were drawn up for two Helena movie houses which were
never built. Plans for a large theater on N. Main St. were announced
in 1941, and again 1946. In 1955, a design was made public for
a new indoor theater adjacent to the Sunset Drive-in Theater on
Helena's north side.
architect Wayne F. Owens' August 1941 drawing of the Fox
Intermountain Theater Corporation's proposed venue for the 300
block of N. Main St. Wartime constraints no doubt shelved the
of 1946, the building of a theater with a similar design at
the same location was announced by Jack Edwards of the
Treasure State Amusement Company. Edwards was a former theater
manager, who at the time of the announcement was leasing the
Wishbone Cafe at 330 N. Main. The venue, which would have been
directly across the street from the Rio Theater, was never built.
Brand Theater, 1955. Sunset Drive-in Theater owner E. R. "Chub"
Munger and associates planned to construct this 850-seat venue
adjacent to the Sunset. Considering how utterly charmless the
design is, it may be just as well that it was never built.
THE OLD BREWERY
Train again, this time at The Old Brewery Theatre on
South Main, 1956. The Old Brewery Theatre was a summer stock
playhouse, operated from 1954 -1972 by Helena promoter and politico
Water H. Marshall (1921-1986) and his wife Doris Marsolias
Marshall (1903-1994), who taught dramatics at Helena Senior
High School, 1947-1968.
and Doris Marshall, 1970s.
came to Helena via New York City in 1947. By 1948, Doris was
producing and directing Helena High School plays, plus melodramas
by the community theater group "The Pan Handler Players"
at the Green Meadow Country Club and the Marlow Theatre.
began producing plays at John
Quigley's Frontier Town atop McDonald Pass in 1951.
In 1953, "Helena, Unlimited" - a not-for-profit organization
spearheaded by past Chamber of Commerce President H. S. "Hi"
Dotson - purchased the run-down Capital Brewery building
on South Main with the intention of converting it into a summer
playhouse. Using volunteer labor, the Marshalls oversaw the
cleanup and renovation of the Brewery, and produced several
plays there in 1954. They also continued to produce shows at
Frontier Town in '54, but in 1955 they began focusing solely
on the Old Brewery Theatre. The playhouse operated until 1972.
|In his 1980s
autobiography "I've Met Them All" (Falcon Press),
Walter Marshall had this to say about the financial side of the
Old Brewery Theater, also a part of Helena Unlimited from '54
through 1962, was a combined operation, with the [Last Chancer
Tour] train making money every year and, of course, the theater
losing money every year. Helena Unlimited would help a little
bit, but the Marshalls paid most of the bills.
were no funds for this theater. Even though the Internal Revenue
Service didn't believe this, it cost us over $85,000 during
the 19 years of our work, and we paid for all of it. We borrowed
the money from the First National Bank & Trust Company,
cashed our insurance policies and took loans on insurance policies
to keep the theater going. No one said we had to do it, but
we did it. We proved to them [the IRS] beyond a shadow of a
doubt, our financial losses, but this is where sometimes federal
government just gets out of line and stays out of line... None
of our time for 20 years nor thousands of dollars worth of notes
would the IRS allow. After about a five year battle with the
IRS, it cost us over $10,000. I feel very strongly about this
-- I know we were right."
The Old Brewery
Theatre was producing "Oklahoma!" when this 1960s photo
Brewery Theatre " was once the Capital Brewery pictured below
in operation during the 1890s.
the Capital Brewery building dated back to 1865, when it was the
Helena Brewery. It became the Capital Brewery in 1885, and
was expanded over the decades. The building was demolished in