Abilene Reporter-News (Texas)
Thursday January 20, 2011
NEWS; Pg. A09
Eastland theater a nod to the past
By Ronald W. Erdrich erdrichr 325-676-6735
Standing at the front door of the Majestic Theatre, usher David Norris engages in one of his favorite pastimes: watching the cultural milieu of Eastland parade by his station. Certain movies bring certain crowds, and Norris, who has a degree in political science, finds it fascinating. Some movie genres do better than others, and Norris has learned to predict the size of the evening’s audience based on to whom the movie will appeal.
The ‘Star Wars’ films, for example, he described as narrow in appeal. ‘The sci-fi geeks, of which I’m one, I recognize when they walk in the door. There’s only about nine of them, and that’s all that show up,’ he said. If it’s a Western or rodeo-themed picture, a different group walks in, usually wearing cowboy hats, boots and maybe spurs. Animated movies with the word ‘Disney’ in the title elicit a brand loyalty that Norris attributes to decades of trust earned by the Disney name. ‘If it’s a Sean Connery movie,’ he said, ‘there’s a large group of old women that don’t even know each other who show up that are apparently fans of Sean Connery from who knows how far back.’ Norris is one of 100 or so volunteers in a rotating pool who work at the Majestic.
General Manager Rhyne Hobbs and three others manage the day-to-day operations of the theater, but volunteers scoop the popcorn, take the tickets and serve the drinks. Hazel Collins, 82, is one of the Majestic volunteers who work the concession counter. Born and raised in Gorman, she remembered seeing ‘To Each His Own’ with Olivia de Havilland when she and her late husband W.R. Collins were still dating. ‘I’ll tell you one that I really liked, and I don’t usually see a movie the second time, but ‘The Lost Weekend’ with Ray Milland. That was so good; he was drunk the whole weekend,’ she said, eliciting laughs from the other volunteers.
The movie house was built in 1920 by Eastland’s founding father, Charles Connellee, who named it, appropriately, the Connellee Theatre. The venue presented a mixture of live performances, movies and radio show broadcasts from the stage. In 1926, Interstate Theatres bought the building and remodeled it in the Art Deco style. Interstate sold the theater in 1986. The next year, a group of residents led an effort to renovate the Majestic, restoring it to look as it did in 1926.
Today the Fine Arts Community Association of Eastland runs the state landmark theater as a nonprofit. Hobbs said the challenges of running a small-town theater like the Majestic are different from those in a larger community. For one thing, in a small town like Eastland, everyone has an opinion on what they want to see. He can’t please everyone; sometimes the movies he wants to show aren’t available because the distributor wants the picture to go where larger audiences will bring in more money.
Majestic show times are steady. The week’s film is shown Friday through Monday starting at 7:30 p.m. There is only one showing each evening. On a good weekend, Hobbs said, about 400 people visit. Children’s films are the moneymakers, though, and he noted that ‘Toy Story 3′ brought in 1,000 people its first weekend. With so many kids’ films, perhaps it’s ironic, or simply natural, that Norris is the theater’s usher. ‘I run in-school suspension at Eastland Middle School, which also is the same thing I do here,’ he said. ‘I’m helping children learn how to behave in society.’
LEFT: The flag of Texas waves from a rooftop behind the Majestic Theatre at twilight. BELOW: Movie patrons look for their seats during a showing of the Disney animated film Tangled on Jan. 7 at the Majestic Theatre in Eastland. Family friendly movies like Tangled and the Toy Story franchise are the biggest draw for the theater. PHOTOS BY RONALD W. ERDR CH/REPORTER NEWS