January 19, 2012

Nurses will be in attendance

Real live nurses and a real ambulance from nearby St.Joseph’s Hospital are ready to handle panicked patrons as Frankenstein comes to Parkersburg, West Virginia. It’s early 1932, with Holiday decorations still in evidence.

The nurse gag was a ballyhoo staple, arching back to the silent era and still in use as late as 1973 to promote The Exorcist. Stretchers, a waiting ambulance and girls in starched white costume patrolling the lobby with smelling salts were sure signs that the current feature was meant to wrack nerves.

Note the banner stretched under the marquee, spelling out the title in die-cut letters. It was offered through Universal’s Campaign Book to exhibitors as “A giant streamer to give your front and lobby that ‘Frankenstein’ flash!” It could be stretched “to fit any desired space… around the edge of the marquee, across the top of the main entrance, along lobby walls… Put them up wherever you need extra life in the lobby.

The streamer, made of extra-ply cardboard and printed in two colors, came strung with two wires and ready for hanging, all for $2.50. None of these wonderful banners appear to have survived.

The Smoot Theater was originally built for vaudeville in 1926 by the Smoot Amusement Company. Just four years on, it was bought by Warners and transformed into a Vitaphone/Movietone movie house, “comfortably cooled”. A simple brick building with terra cotta decorations on its façade, the typically lavish movie palace trappings were reserved for its interiors, notably some Tiffanesque hand-cut Austrian chandeliers, mahogany and brass doors, and gold gilding throughout. For a time, the Smoot was Parkersburg’s finest theatre. Movie stars and famous performers stopped over when swinging through the region. Guests included Rudolph Valentino, Guy Lombardo, Miss West Virginia and, in 1939, an visiting army of Munchkins, and two elephants.

Time and urban renewal caught up with the Smoot in 1986 when it was shuttered and marked for demolition, despite being listed on the American National Register of Historic Places. In 1989, literally two days before its scheduled extreme transformation into a parking lot, the theater was saved through community effort. Today, the grand old Smoot Theater is a vital showplace again.

The Smoot Theatre website, and page on Cinema Treasures.

Read about the remarkable Felice Jorgeson and her work keeping the Smoot Theater going.

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