The Antlers 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.



The façade of the Antlers Theater, May 29, 1939. This unique image was contributed by Mr. Ray Cumming, now of Palo Alto, California, who writes:

"The Antlers Theater photo is especially nostalgic for
me. I spent a lot of time there in my youth watching serials, cartoons and features.

I 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.

I 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."

Many thanks to Mr. Cumming for the use of this remarkable image, and for filling us in on the location of the Antlers.




Helena's 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.

The 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 road...

Ad for The Earl Carroll Vanities, April 8 1927.


Will 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...

Myrna Williams in costume for her first public performance, Helena, 1918.

Myrna Loy




Marlow Theatre employees, 1922.

Motion pictures with sound came to the Marlow in May of 1929


At 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.




The 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 COLLECTION



The Marlow Theatre shortly before demolition, 1972. THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION

The Marlow 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.

The Marlow lobby, 1950. Scan of a newspaper photo.


Marlow Theatre stage demolition, 1972.




Marlow Theatre interior during demolition, 1972.




Marlow demolition, 1972.



The Rio 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.



A 1970s 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.

The Sunset 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 Theater, east of Helena, 1952. Ralph A. Hahn, Don Dedriksen and Keith Dedriksen opened the 500-car theater on May 1, 1952.

A contributor writes: "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."


Elaborate 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.

Wyoming 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 project.

In January 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.



The proposed 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 Tour 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.

Walter and Doris Marshall, 1970s.

The Marshalls 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.

The Marshalls 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 operation:

"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.

There 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 was taken.


The "Old Brewery Theatre " was once the Capital Brewery pictured below in operation during the 1890s.


Parts of 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 1972.