Today (1/8/18) I stumbled on a video clip celebrating the splendor of this recently restored 1929 Baroque theater to its original glory in the house with a modern system to make full use of this architectural gem.
I was looking at a still shot of the massive screen and started to get information about the theater’s early days. What puzzled me is I saw a female and male performer on the stage in front of the screen. They were cast as a couple and felt quite prominent for their era. (They were not a couple in real life but had a convincing working rapport. ) She was dressed in a flowered late 20’s summer dress that had a lot of yellow in the pattern. He was in a striped three-piece dark charcoal gray suit. Banter ensued that was received with gales of laughter from the audience. In the 1920’s many early movie palaces and theaters started with silent films and quickly graduated to “talkies” films with dialogue, sound effects and music current movie goers take for granted. So why I did I see live actors on stage?
Wikipedia to the rescue. Turns out that the September 7, 1929 opening night included the movie Evangeline, a live stage show and a personal appearance by the female movie lead Delores Del Rio.
I think the woman I saw on stage was Dolores Del Rio who showed up for every single showing of that movie at the theater. Having grown up weaned on Longfellow’s Evangeline I found it interesting that it was the first movie shown at Kings and that the French role was played by the most beautiful Latina actress of her era. The flexibility of stage and screen in action. Anyone who has ever visited Grand Pre in Nova Scotia will know the power of the story around one of England’s best known attempts at genocide in order to take over the painstakingly reclaimed swamp that the French Acadian’s had turned into premium farm land.
I also picked up on the ghost of a young boy, maybe eight or nine years old. He seemed to be the theaters general dogsbody and gofer. It wasn’t a glamorous job. He looked rather thin and his clothing was ratty, but he was absolutely delighted to be there. He climbed the rigging above the stage as if born to it. Although it was against the rules, he routinely slept backstage after the evening performances were over in what looked to be a broom closet. He gave his name as Frankie. As far as he was concerned working at Kings was the adventure of a lifetime. So why was he still there? He told me he had his fair share of childhood diseases of the era, proudly showed me measles scars on his arms, but it seems to have been tuberculosis that got him around age 12. Like many ghosts I have met, he went back to and stayed where he felt most at home during his life.
The shade of a 20-something stage hand briefly said hello. His case was straightforward, he fell from the catwalk above the stage to his death. A temporary laborer, he seemed to date from the first few years of the theater based on the cap and workman’s overalls he wore.
Loew’s Kings Theater quickly morphed from a combination live stage and Vaudeville house to a recognizable modern move house if one was accustomed to watching movies at Versailles which it was built to emulate.
Because Kings closed in 1977 and was left vacant for 38 years, not surprisingly the spirits of homeless people who took temporary and sometimes final refuge in the toilets and other backstage rooms still roam timidly around the fringes of the building today. At some point I hope to visit this remarkable theater in person.
(c) 2018 Lynne Sutherland Olson.
All Rights Reserved.