Friday, March 25, 2011

25 March 1918: "Make a Date with Cleopatra"

On this day in 1918, the Colonial Theatre on Washington Street began a three-day run of the silent film "Super-Production" Cleopatra:

The star of the film, Theda Bara, was a box office draw similar to Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin at the time. She was the first "vamp," and her movies established Fox Studios. Many of her previous films had been subject to bans and censorship by state morality boards; the state of Georgia banned her movie Sin in 1915. Though far more revealing than her previous productions, Cleopatra was given a pass by most state boards due to its "historical" nature.

The Colonial Theatre sat between the First Baptist Church and the back of the Davis-Nicholson department store, across the street from the Georgian Hotel, where the Boar's Head Lounge and Paine Insurance Company are located today.

Originally built as the Opera House in 1886 with seating for 1,006 patrons, it had a large canvas fire curtain that ran the length of the stage with ads for local businesses painted in circles along the bottom.  In front of the stage was an orchestra pit, and usually at least a pianist to accompany performances.

In 1906, the theatre was remodeled to include additional seats and red velvet curtains to frame the fire curtain. There were two levels of ground seats, and two levels of balcony seating, and later, a Wurlitzer organ replaced the piano in the orchestra pit. They showed both movies and live plays by traveling national shows and local performances by glee clubs, and other organizations.

The Depression hit the entertainment industry with fewer shows coming to town, and fewer people able to afford ticket prices. In March, 1932, the balconies collapsed inside the theatre, and it was demolished later that year.

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