Sunday, March 2, 2014

WHY THIS WEBSITE, you might ask...

I have often joked with friends that I’m going to stop procrastinating ... tomorrow.

And to quote one of the world’s great philosophers, “Never put off till tomorrow what you should have done yesterday.” Actually the sage who said that was Froggy, in an “Our Gang” comedy.

All humor aside, something I meant to do for many years but didn’t until fairly recently is the subject of what I write today.

Born into and reared in the movie theater business, I developed a great love for the movies — more than any other member of my family. As we changed directions when I was almost 10 and went into other business ventures, no one in the family ever looked back, except me.

About as fast as the state of North Carolina would give me a work permit, I was employed by the two indoor theaters in Statesville doing everything from selling tickets, tearing tickets, popping corn, selling concessions and, finally, learning to operate the projectors and “running the show.” Laws demanded I be paid to perform these tasks, but I would have been the projectionist for free. I might have even paid my boss to let me do it.

During this era, I thought back to our drive-ins and wondered if any financial records such as box office reports or booking sheets (the list of movies which were shown) had been saved. When I was around 20, I asked my Aunt Ruth if they still existed, and she told me that “she had kept them in our warehouse until about a year ago,” but when she sold the property, she had a crew haul everything to the dump.

Procrastination. I should have asked sooner. Maybe it all could have been salvaged. But looking back now, I realize that I was dealing with bigger personal issues during the 1960s, such as the deaths of some family members, school and that wonderful thing called “puberty,” a.k.a., the land of pimples and hormones.

The interest in our drive-ins returned to me while I was in my mid-20s. I yearned to, at least, have a list of all the movies we played at my family’s theaters. I realized that the only way to obtain such a list would be to compile one myself, and that would take a lot of time, something I didn’t have during that period.

So I procrastinated again, but this time with little choice. Working for a living and trying to be a good husband could really eat up the clock. And before we knew it, my wife and I had two children to bring up, and the movie list was something I didn’t think about for another 30 years. But that was OK. Priorities, you know.

Before I knew it, I was in my mid 50s, and the kids had left the nest. I was winding down my business, so the luxury of time was becoming a reality. “Time to make that list,” I told myself. So over the course of a year, I made numerous jaunts to the old hometown of Statesville and utilized the Iredell Public Library reference room, grinding though the old newspapers from 1947 to 1960. Time-consuming, yes, but well worth the effort. I finally compiled what I had wanted for 35 years.

Then a thought hit me (that does occur occasionally). Even though I wasn’t born in Salisbury and didn’t grow up here, I decided it would be fun doing the Salisbury/Rowan County theaters as well. After all, I had lived the majority of my life here and came to live here because of the movies. I had been sent to Salisbury at the outset of my theater manager career. As it turned out, I left the movie theater business because I chose to continue living in Salisbury rather than take transfers to both Burlington and Winston-Salem. I wasn’t a “team player,” they said. Maybe not, certainly not to the extent I was willing to relocate to towns I didn’t want to go. No regrets.

So just as I had become a regular at the Iredell library, I was now one at the Rowan Public Library. My original plan was to compile the movie listings from 1930-1979. That’s half a century. Should take me a year, tops, averaging three library trips per week.


In all my years as a Rowan taxpayer, no one ever told me that, back in the “old days,” there were movie theaters everywhere across the county. I soon discovered that the hamlets of Spencer, Rockwell, China Grove and Landis had their own theaters throughout the ’30s, ’40s and into the ’50s, when the advancement of television (I’m assuming) took its toll on many of them. The big box in people’s living rooms with no admission shut down thousands of small-town movie houses during the ’50s. Only the theater in Rockwell survived as late as 1960.

The library trips — going through every issue of 60 years of the Salisbury Post — ended up taking much longer that I thought. I considered having my mail delivered to the History Room I was there so much. I tip my hat to the wonderful ladies in that department for their putting up with me. “I’m out of paper.” “I need more dimes, please.” They heard it from me every visit. But they were always nice.

Before I knew it, three years passed before I had secured the information I desired. But it was done. Feeling a bit depressed that the research phase was over, I decided to add the 1920s. After all, the movie industry had blossomed during this time, advancing from silent pictures to speaking to its audiences.

So now, what to do with all of this information? When I say this all became bigger than I first imagined, I can tell you that stacking it all in one pile, the material reaches 34 inches towards the ceiling (I just measured it).

Publishing was my first thought. But after researching the possibility online, such an undertaking wasn’t practical. Too much information. The finished book would collapse any coffee table, and the purchase price would be prohibitive. The boys who founded Facebook probably couldn’t afford it.

Then I contemplated doing it in volumes, perhaps two decades at a time. Now I was really glad I had added the ’20s. Still, it wasn’t feeling right to me.

On one of my final visits to the library, I encountered Dr. Gary Freeze, well-known local history guru. We often ran into each other on the third floor. Gary probably does get his mail there. He suggested I consider building a website to present the three years of work. Sounded like a good idea to me. When finished, everything would be right there together and accessible to anyone at no cost.

So with the help of my best buddy, who also acts as my tech-support genie (I would mention his name, but he might not want it publicly known that he knows me), the website is up and running.

Here’s the shameless plug: is the web address. Let me clarify something at this point. I had decided early on that whatever avenue I took to getting this information to the public, that I wanted to call it “Then Playing.” I liked the sound of it. But when it came time to secure a domain name for the website, was taken! I was crushed. A friend suggested I stick my name on the front and try again. Not surprising, but this name was available. He said, “Look, you did all the research, and you’re going to do the website, so stick your *&%$ name on it.” So with very little arm-twisting, I did. But please don’t think of me as a ego-maniac. It’s the movie info that’s important.

I’d like to say that it will take a considerable bit of time before the website is totally complete. There’s so much material to load, but I’m working on it almost daily. I have quite a bit up since starting in January. And after I do get all the material on the site, I plan to continue to make it even more complete.
I should point out there are some gaps in listings from some theaters. (They didn’t always use the Salisbury Post to get their message to the public — shame on them.) I’ll try to fill in those gaps by other measures.

For now, I hope you’ll visit the website and enjoy it. Want to know what movie was playing on a birthday, a wedding or graduation day? Want to pin down the day you remember seeing a specific movie as a youngster? This is the place.

I’ll see ya at the movies.

(SALISBURY POST, February 7 , 2011)