Interviewed by Sarah Langsdon
16 July 2013
Oral History Program
Weber State University
16 July 2013
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Summerill, Van, an oral history by Sarah
Langsdon, 16 July 2013 , WSU Stewart
Library Oral History Program, Special
Collections, Stewart Library, Weber State
University, Ogden, UT.
July 16, 2013
Abstract: The following is an oral history interview with Van Summerill. The
interview was conducted on July 16, 2013, by Sarah Langston. Van discusses
his memories of Ogden and 25th Street.
SL: This is Sarah Langsdon and I’m here interviewing Van Summerill about his
memories of the theaters in Ogden at his home in Ogden, Utah. It is July 16,
2013. Van, why don’t you go ahead and tell us a little bit about when and where
you were born?
VS: I was born in Ogden, Utah. I’ve lived here all my life except when I was in basic
training for the National Guard and that was at Fort Ord, California and I don’t call
that living particularly, in the old barracks and such. I was born in the old Dee
hospital and lived just a block away from it all my youth on Van Buren just off of
24th Street. So, close to downtown, and close to the Hospital Drug Store that
we’d go and get root beer floats and things as kids.
SL: Did you have any siblings?
VS: Yes, one brother, who’s four years younger than I and a sister who’s seven years
SL: What do you remember about going to the Egyptian Theater as a child?
VS: Oh I have very vivid memories. The only thing I don’t recall is exactly when I
started going. I imagine my parents would have let me go to the kids’ shows by
myself maybe when I was seven or eight. That would have been about 1949 or
1950. That did two things, it kept us entertained—I’m speaking of my brother
when he got old enough to go with me. My sister, I don’t remember her ever
going to the show with us, because she was much younger and the kids shows
at The Egyptian started at 9:30 on Saturday mornings, they were called “Kiddie
Shows.” Admission was 20 cents and I remember lining up in front of the
Egyptian, some days in a lot of fresh, overnight snow. When you were a little kid,
it seemed like it took forever to stand in line and work your way up to the box
office and finally get in. Of course, we had to buy a soft drink or candy or
something before the show started.
Then, wow, did we ever have the entertainment. There was always a
feature film and serial chapter with a weekly cliff-hanger ending. That’s where I
was introduced to, “The Little Rascals,” the “Our Gang Comedies,” “Laurel and
Hardy,” “The Three Stooges,” “Abbott and Costello,” to name a few. They had all
kinds of short subjects and cartoons and cartoons and cartoons. I remember the
big curtain would then come down momentarily and then magically rise again,
and the screen had disappeared. I didn’t know at the time where it went. Out
would come a tall distinguished man, Ted Kirkmeyer, who was the manager of
the Egyptian and probably had more influence on my life than, in some ways,
than my parents—even my own father.
They had contests on the stage and they drew lucky ticket numbers and
gave away things such as Hi-C orange juice in cans. The final giveaway was a
bicycle each week. I was a shy kid and scared to death that my ticket number
would be called and I’d have to go up on stage. It didn’t dawn on me at the time
that I was the only one that knew what my ticket number was and I could just—if
they called it, just ignore it. But, I was always terrified I was going to be called on
stage. I always remember Mr. Kirkmeyer would say to the 1,200 youngsters
packed in the Egyptian after the drawings, “Now, boys and girls, I have a pin in
my hand, it’s just a straight pin, and if it’s quiet enough in here, if you kids are
quiet enough that I can hear this pin drop, we’ll have five more cartoons.” Well,
the place turned into a morgue. I mean, you could hear everybody breathing
except the ones holding their breath so they wouldn’t make any noise, and he’d
drop this pin and then the drama would build. Finally, he would say, “I heard the
pin, there’s five more cartoons.” Well, that was like hitting the jackpot, so on
would come the cartoons nearly drowned out by 1,200 appreciative yells and
The Saturday morning Kiddie Matinees were where I watched my favorite
cartoon character, Mighty Mouse. Mighty Mouse cartoons were shown at the
Egyptian because they were released by 20th Century Fox and the Egyptian was
a Fox theater. They also ran RKO Radio Pictures, which meant Walt Disney’s
cartoons were screened all the time too. That was before Buena Vista Releasing
Corporation was formed; before RKO went out of business. The cartoon
mainstays were: Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Mickey and Minnie, Mighty Mouse, and
Heckle and Jeckle. I remember them well.
I was also introduced to some of the great old Vaudevillians; Leon Errol,
for one. He made a series of 18 minute short subjects for RKO. Also, a man by
the name of Edgar Kennedy, famous for the, “Slow Burn.” He also appeared in
many Laurel and Hardy movies.
I remember one Saturday they showed, “Mighty Joe Young,” which was
made by the people who created, “King Kong.” The stop motion animation was
even better than it was in, “King Kong.” They made the gorilla smaller, he wasn’t
as big, but he was still larger than life. I was fascinated by that show. It was
basically the same story as, “King Kong,” they captured a gorilla and brought him
back to America to perform at a night club. He misbehaves, they’re after him to
kill him because of the danger that he presented to the people. I was just
fascinated with the night club movie set. It had a long bar and this thick glass
window in back of it. There were lions roaming around back and forth behind the
big window. This film sparked this young boy’s imagination more than any other.
I remember there was a soft drink machine in the lobby. You’d put in, I
think 20 cents, and the cup would drop down and then you’d push a flavor button.
Well, I made, what I guess you would call a “suicide” because I’d push orange
and then I’d push coke and then I’d push root beer and then 7-Up and then back
and forth and back and forth. I thought that made the best drink. But my very
favorite movie treats were ice cream bon-bons. They were the most expensive of
everything the Egyptian sold. I think they were 25 cents for five ice cream bon-bons
in an elongated cardboard box. And the thing I remember most about them,
it didn’t bother me, but the chocolate initially kind of tasted like the cardboard
So anyway, I grew up going to the kids’ shows and then I started noticing
that there were all these announcements coming of Cinema Scope. That would
have been in 1953. I remember one day after the kids’ show—I always waited
out in front of the theater for Dad to come pick me up. He had less than a mile to
drive to come and get me, but I knew that the regular movie starting shortly on
this particular day was in Cinema Scope, and I wanted to see what it was. So, I
just sat in the auditorium and no one came by to make me leave. So, on comes
this wide Cinema Scope picture and I thought, “Oh, so that’s what this is all
about.” Pretty soon I was tapped on the shoulder and it was my dad, who had
gone around the block, I don’t know how many times, and finally had to park the
car and come in to see what had happened to me.
I remember the remodeling in 1951, it was completed in December that
year and it was a very nice job. By 1951, television competition was beginning to
devastate attendance numbers at theaters. Fox’s solution was to spend millions
of dollars on their theaters, update them and redecorate them. They generally did
an excellent job on the Egyptian, in spite of painting over some of the original
colors, particularly on the lobby ceiling. But I remember going to the Egyptian the
first day after the grand opening. I had never paid attention to the old original
doors, but I did notice that there were brand new doors. They were all glass in
simple aluminum frames, which in retrospect cheapened and clashed with the
Egyptian art. To this day, I remember stepping through those doors and smelling
the new paint. Looking around, I could tell some areas where they had repainted.
Some I wasn’t sure, but I knew it was different. The carpet felt as if it was two
inches thick, very comfortable and very plush. The stage treatment was
awesome. There were two new curtains installed and the front drape was what is
called a Venetian curtain that rises in graceful scallops. Immediately behind the
Venetian was a blue-gray curtain that opened sideways from the center, which
was called a traveler, or title curtain. So the audience never saw a blank screen
at the movies. The studio logo would appear on that blue-gray curtain and then it
would start to open sideways. At the end of the picture, the projectionist would
time it so that just as the fade out on, “The End.” That curtain would close again
and then the Venetian curtain, gracefully descended. It was a fantastic addition to
SL: Did you go every weekend throughout the entire year or was it mostly summers?
VS: No, I think it was generally in the winter and I honestly can’t tell you how often,
but I know we didn’t go every weekend, but went enough that I saw my fill of
cartoons and it seemed like I’d come home every Saturday with a headache. But
what I used to like to do while I was waiting for my dad to come pick me up was
stand out next to the box office. At that time, I was just tall enough to see in the
box office side window. I liked to watch the cashier punch the keys on the change
machine and watch the coins roll down a narrow trough and into a small dish-shaped
container from which the customer could easily retrieve their change.
In those days, adult tickets in the evening were 65 cents. Students got in
for 50 cents if you had a student discount card and kids were 20 cents. That
would have been the same for the Orpheum across the street. The Paramount
was cheaper to go to and it was down on Kiesel, almost directly in back of the
Egyptian. I think their price for kids was 15 cents anytime. I don’t remember
exactly what the adult fare was, but it was generally a little cheaper than the
Egyptian and the Orpheum because it was considered a second rate theater, as
was the Ogden Theater.
SL: Van, what do you remember about the former manager of the Egyptian? What
was his name?
VS: Ted Kirkmeyer was the manager when I was a kid and going to the movies there.
He was later promoted to city manager in Salt Lake for Fox. He left Ogden in
1957 and then it was Bill Souttar. But, I kept in touch with Ted right up until his
death and then Nellie, his wife, right up until she passed away. They both lived
well into their nineties and Nellie told the story, Ted was sitting there listening—
he was a very quiet, almost a shy person, when I’d go visit them and so Nellie
was doing the talking—but she said that one Saturday morning it snowed the
whole time that kids show was going on. It ended and the regular afternoon
matinees started at 1:00. It was well after that mid-afternoon that this very upset
woman called the theater and asked to speak to the manager and so Ted came
on the phone and said, “This is Mr. Kirkmeyer,” The woman said, “I’m so upset,
my boy spent all his bus money on candy and then had to walk home in the snow
storm and he just barely got home.” Nellie said that the incident bothered Ted so
much all week that he made it a point when he was up on the stage to explain to
the audience that next Saturday, which could be as many as 1,200 kids in those
days, just what happened to the young man. He said, “Now, boys and girls, I
never want you to be in that position and I don’t ever want this to happen again to
any of you, so if you find yourself in a position where you don’t have bus money
to get home, my name is Mr. Kirkmeyer, my office is out in the lobby. You come
and see me and I’ll make sure you have money to ride the bus.”
Nellie said, “Before Ted could get down off the stage and back out into the
lobby, there was a line of kids that formed across the lobby and down the aisle in
the theater waiting to collect their money for the bus.” She said, “Ted didn’t say
anything, he indeed passed out whatever it took to ride the bus then—ten cents
or whatever it was—to every single one of those kids that was in that line.”
Ted would never start a show or open the box office until he had a vase
with a long-stemmed rose bud in the box office. He was just a class act. In fact,
he was awarded the exhibitor of the year, but I think it was in 1938 or 1937,
somewhere in there before he came to Ogden to run the Egyptian—I think he
was still in Colorado. He was named motion picture exhibitor of the year by
Darryl F. Zanuck himself, president of 20th Century Fox. The award was given to
Ted in Paris, France. I have a picture of Ted and Zanuck and it’s funny because
Ted just towers over this little Darryl Zanuck.
Ted Kirkmeyer paid attention to details. He had an eye for the ladies as far
as having attractive young ladies work in his theaters. I have the pictures to
prove it. Theater managers could win cash prizes and even vacations with
photographic proof of what they did special to promote movies in their theaters.
So, from time to time they would have a photographer come in and document
promotion activities. One time, Ted had his staff of young ladies in swimming
suits and they were photographed demonstrating ways of fighting fires if one
happened to break out in the theater. They are holding fire extinguishers and
containers of this and that retardant. It ended up a cheesecake instruction poster
to my mind.
In 1948, the Miss Ogden Pageant was held in the Egyptian at Ted’s
urging. Miss Ogden went on to become Miss Utah and represented the state in
the Miss America pageant. Ted was a great showman and someone that instilled
in me a love of theater buildings. You want to hear about Bill Souttar too?
VS: Ted Kirkmeyer was promoted by Fox Intermountain Theaters to district manager
over all Fox theaters in Salt Lake City. Then, out of the Midwest, came Bill
Souttar, who was in so many ways, the exact opposite of Ted in management
style. He could be bombastic. He seemed to be at his worst when we were the
busiest at the theaters. It brought out, I don’t know, nerves or something in him,
but the way he reacted sometimes to the public, I thought, was amusing. I
worked as Mr. Souttar’s assistant manager for eight months at the age of 19 and
I could always tell when he and Madge, his wife, had a disagreement at home
before he came to work. It kind of slopped over, he kind of took it out on the staff.
I saw him fire ushers on the spot for chewing gum, for having their hands in their
pockets, or for the most grievous sin of all, sneaking popcorn out of the machine
and eating it.
So, he could be tough to work for, but after I quit as assistant manager at
the Egyptian, it wasn’t long before I went back as a part-time doorman one or two
shifts a week just because I wanted to be in that building and part of that
When I went for National Guard basic training in California, Bill Souttar
wrote me several times, keeping me informed what was going on at the Egyptian.
Eventually, I found myself in a situation where I was a quasi-assistant
manager a lot of times. Mr. Souttar went through several assistant managers, so
there were occasions in between I would be asked to fill in.
I remember one New Year’s Eve in particular. The lobby was filling up with
people coming for the late show which was to begin about 10:00 p.m. It was
timed to start so that somewhere in the movie, just minutes before midnight, the
projectionist would insert a countdown to the New Year film clip. Precisely at
midnight, the words to, “Auld Lang Syne,” would come on the screen for the
audience to sing. But anyway, the doorman noticed these two guys coming into
the lobby and they were “happy.” They were really happy, they had they’re arms
around each other singing to the top of their lungs and weaving side-to-side on
their way to the doorman’s stand. This particular doorman was kind of a wimpy
guy anyway and didn’t want to confront these drunks, so he hurried over to the
office door, “Mr. Souttar, Mr. Souttar, come out here quick.” So, Bill came out and
stopped these guys and said, “Boys you’re going to have to go back and get your
money refunded because we can’t let you in. You’re a little bit under the weather,
shall we say, and we’ll get you a refund.”
Well, they said, “No, no, we’re okay,” and started arguing to the point
where Bill had to get forceful with them and physically started nudging them back
to the box office. About that time, I turned and was looking inside the theater at
everybody standing around the concession stand who, in turn, were looking at
what was going on with Souttar and these two guys out by the box office. The
first thing I knew, I see everybody in unison go, [gasp], and I turned around just in
time to see Mr. Souttar’s glasses go flying one way and he went flying the other.
Well, those guys, I don’t know what he said to them, but one of them knocked Bill
for a loop. But other than a small cut on his nose, he was okay. It broke his
glasses though. The hardest part about that deal for me was trying not to laugh
when he came back in the theater.
Of course, the staff loved it because, like I said, he was a tough nut to
work for and he sometimes tested your ability to love your fellow man, so to
speak. So, we’re in the lobby kind of, “Hehehehe,” and then all of a sudden, this
booming voice out of the office, “Van, come in here.” I thought, “Oh no, now I
really have to control myself.” Anyway, I went in the office and Bill says, “You’re
going to have to count tonight’s money because my glasses are broken and I
can’t see.” By the way, Mr. Souttar opted not to press charges against the two
SL: How did you start working at the Egyptian Theater?
VS: When I was 19, I must looked like I was about 15. I was in college, but I was
downtown for a dentist appointment. After seeing the dentist I thought, “I’ll go to a
matinee movie.” So I bought a ticket to the Egyptian, as I walked in Mr. Souttar
saw me. He said, “What are you doing out of school?” I said, “Oh, I had a dentist
appointment and decided to come to the movie afterward. I’m out of high school
anyway; I’m in college.” He’d seen me around and we chatted from time to time.
He said, “I’ve got a position open if you’re interested.” I asked, “What’s that?” Bill
said, “Assistant manager.” I felt that I would be in seventh heaven having that job
and immediately accepted the offer.
VS: I was 1962. Candy girls were making 65 cents an hour; the box office girls likely
were making about 15 cents more an hour than I was. I figured I was working
about 50 hours a week, for 60 dollars. So, I wasn’t making a heck of a lot of
money but was spending a lot of time in that theater. When you’re in the movie
business, you work when everybody else plays. I recall an incident that
happened at the Egyptian about this time that played out like a movie script. I
was in the lobby one day and I just half-noticed a man come up to the box
office—nothing unusual about that—then he walked away. Shortly, I noticed two
guys at the box office and one of them looked as if he flashed a badge to the
cashier. As they walked away, I approached the cashier and asked, “What’s
going on there?” The cashier said, “That’s was the FBI, and they’re tailing the
person who just was at the box office. I said, “Oh, that one that just walked
away/” She nodded. I asked if the suspect was coming back. The cashier told me
he bought a ticket to the next show. Within a few minutes, here comes four or
five other agents, in the front door and they were stationed all over the theater.
They had questioned the cashier, so they knew they had about a half an hour
before the next show started, so they got these guys all situated, and I thought,
“Woah, this could be exciting.” So then, in comes the guy, and goes in the
theater and we’re just all on pins and needles. This really livened up the night,
but if that weren’t enough, all of a sudden, we heard sirens coming down
Washington Boulevard, and all these fire trucks stopped in front of the Egyptian. I
walked out front to see what was going on. Schubach Jewelry Store occupied the
north commercial space in the Egyptian building, adjacent to the lobby and the
box office. (On the south side was Standard Optical then). Anyway, Schubach
Jewelry had this big diamond above their window that was covered with light
bulbs that blinked and glittered. One of the guys that was staking out the theater
in a car across the street saw that sign catch on fire, so he called the fire
While I’m standing out front, I notice one particular man. He was just
opening his wallet to buy tickets, and a couple of firemen rush by him hauling a
hose into the Egyptian. The second fireman has one of those big axes, so this
guy is looking at them, then he’s looking at his wallet and he’s trying to decide
whether he’s going to buy a ticket under the circumstances. I don’t remember
whether he bought tickets of not. Anyway, the movie went on and we were all
waiting to see what happens next, and the suspect walks out, down the street,
obviously being tailed, and that was the end of that. We never found out what
was going on.
There are always funny stories in theaters, funny things that happen. Mr.
Souttar told me this story, and I don’t know whether it happened at the Egyptian.
He came to Ogden from the Midwest, out of Fox Midwest Theaters to manage
the Egyptian. He said one day the custodian came in with a set of false teeth he
found in the heater and Souttar told him, “Well, put them in the lost and found
box,” which he did, and then a couple of days went by and finally a man came in
and asked, “Did you find a pair of false teeth in the theater?” Mr. Souttar nodded,
“Yes, we did, and I’ll have someone get them for you. May I ask how you
happened to leave your false teeth here?” He said, “Well, I was watching the
movie and my teeth start hurting, so I took them out and put them on the chair
next to me.” Now, can imagine, something that’s going in your mouth, resting on
a theater seat next to you?
SL: What other movie theaters did you end up working in?
VS: The training theater for the Union, (I didn’t really have to train very long because I
had near-lifetime experience with 16mm film) was The Movie, a little theater built
in what had been the Ben Lomond Hotel dining room. It was off of 25th Street. It
was a nice room. The Stephens, I think they were brothers, or father and son,
had built one of Ogden’s first drive-ins, the Mt. Ogden, in 1948, located where the
South Ogden Costco is now and K-Mart before that. I don’t think there was just
one reason why it was decided to move the drive-in. One was that Sears moved
in across the street and the parking lot lights were interfering with the picture at
the Mt. Ogden. Anyway, the North Star Drive-In, on the old highway to Brigham
replaced the Mt. Ogden in about 1960. Then, Stephens ventured into building
that little theater in the hotel, but anyway, that was the Union Projectionists
training theater. After I was trained in the Union and working the Wilshire in
South Ogden and the Northstar Drive-In, I still filled in position there for a while.
We were running, “Jeremiah Johnson,” I remember and I looked at the picture on
the screen and the CinemaScope lens was a little crooked. What happens if you
turn that lens just a little bit? It forms a parallelogram, where the two sides are
parallel to each other, same thing for top and bottom. But the picture was running
slightly uphill. I thought, “I’m going to fix that,” so I started messing with that lens
and the lens fell out of the projector. Luckily, it fell in the window sill. I quickly
checked and it was okay, but I was so nervous and shaking I had difficulty putting
it back in its slot. Luckily, there were only a handful of customers in the place.
I did most of my projecting work at the Wilshire. It was on Harrison
Boulevard in South Ogden and was supposed to be the cornerstone of a mall to
be built by John Hinckley, who also owned Hinckley Dodge. They built the
theater first, but the mall was never built. I worked Saturday nights, which is
unusual for a part-time projectionist to work the busiest night; normally the head
projectionist works that night. I enjoyed that shift because it was busy and there
were usually a lot of people there. I also worked a little bit at the Orpheum
downtown. I’m glad I was able to do that because, of course, it’s gone and has
been for a long time. I happened to work opening day of Jaws, which of course
was the big picture of the year. The place was packed for the first show and the
rest of the say, and so I always remember that.
The North Star; I didn’t much like working the drive-in. I remember coming
home from a shift one night and it was getting light. I was as if the sun would
come up any minute. In the middle of summer, when your days are long, you
have two extra-long movies. They always run the first movie, then the second
and then run the first one again. That as one of those nights, so the birds were
chirping and I was just getting home. Aaron Farr, our Union’s business agent and
one of the old timers, told this story: Aaron was a projectionist at the Northstar
one night. He kept hearing these strange sounds and couldn’t figure out what the
heck they were. He decided they were coming from outside the booth. He
discovered there was a carload of young guys who were drinking beers and
trying to throw the empty beer bottles through the projection room portal. Had
they succeeded, the projector could have been damaged.
Surprisingly, the Browning Fine Art Auditorium was Union house even
though they ran just 16mm rather than the standard 35mm. We used to show
travel logs and all kinds of things. I even met the movie star Charleston Heston
who augmented his lecture with film clips. I also met the grandson of comedian,
W.C. Fields, who showed scenes from his grandfather’s films. That projector in
the Fine Arts center was a German machine which threaded from the opposite
side. It was somewhat confusing. I always panicked when I had to work there just
because of the fact that it was such a different machine.
SL: Did you ever work at the Ogden?
VS: Oh yes. Besides the Egyptian, the Ogden was Peery’s other theater. They leased
them both to Fox and so it was also under the jurisdiction of Bill Souttar. When
you were assistant manager at the Egyptian, you were kind of the manager of the
Ogden Theater, which operated mostly on weekends, especially in the summer.
Just weekends because the drive-ins killed the downtown theaters in the
summer. Fox booked more money on a Sunday running Spanish films than the
Egyptian did running first rate, first run movies.
Even back then, there were that many transient far workers who labored
summers in the area. Sometimes those people would talk, we knew they must be
talking about us, but we didn’t know for sure what they were saying. Hopefully it
was nice. The staff was instructed to always be courteous. One time, I looked in
on the screen, it was a Spanish language film of course, but it took place in India.
It just struck me so funny; here are all these Indians with turbans on their heads
and they’re speaking Spanish.
The Ogden was a poor stepsister to the Egyptian. The screen had long
since ceased to fly in the loft, so it was on wheels. Promoters tried everything in
there to make a profit and they’d book either boxing matches or wrestling
matches. To tell you the truth, I don’t know which. They’d push that screen to the
back of the stage and set the mats and ropes in place. Then afterwards, bring the
screen back into position. But in moving it back and forth, all the black masking
across the bottom became frayed and torn. It was a mess. The old gentleman—
Chris—who was a projectionist had come out of retirement to run these Spanish
movies. That’s all he did. He’d lock himself in that projection booth for the one
o’clock show and stay in there all day and run movies.
I looked in the auditorium, it was intermission one day. Out of ten or so
lights that shined on the stage curtains, four had light bulbs that were working. I
remember the curtain motor was out of adjustment, so the curtains stopped
about two feet short of closing. You could see the frayed black masking on the
bottom, and to top things off, Christ, was playing 45 rpm Spanish records on a 78
rpm record player, resulting in the singer sounding like a Hispanic Minnie Mouse.
I remember thinking, “So this is show business, huh?” But I loved that old theater.
The Ogden had quite the history. It opened in December of 1909 as a legitimate
theater. It wasn’t a vaudeville house. It was for traveling plays that came through
town. There was a trunk up in one of the dressing rooms there. It was just like
you see in the movies—these theatrical trunks with the stickers from all over the
country and perhaps the world posted on it. I had half a notion to just go in and
take it. I never did. They tore the theater down and I was lamenting to Mr. Souttar
one day about that trunk. He says, “Well, why didn’t you ask? You could have
Those old theaters have an odor to them, not necessarily a bad one, and
a patina to them, unlike new ones and restored ones. I learned to love that smell.
The Paramount smelled that way, the Ogden had carpet in front of the
concession stand that had been there since probably the forties that had so
much soda pop and God knows what else spilled on it, it was glazed over. I
mean, you could see the pile and the pattern, but you couldn’t move it. It wouldn’t
move, it was just that solid—like a rock.
SL: Where was The Ogden located?
VS: The Ogden was located across 25th Street from the Ben Lomond. Well, not quite
directly. East of the Ben Lomond where a motel sits now was an old hotel, the
Ogden Hotel. It was five or six stories high and it looked like it had a lot of
indigent people living there because whenever I glanced that way, there were
always older men sitting in chairs in the lobby.
When I was in high school, I went to the Ogden every week. They were
running American International Pictures, a studio specializing in Schlocky, cheap
horror movies and they were always double features. In my film collection, I have
an American International Picture called, “Invasion of the Saucerman.” It’s these
little green men, although you don’t know they’re green because the picture is
black and white. When they got agitated, needle-like tubes would come out from
under their fingernails and they’d shoot the victim full of alcohol and they’d be
drunk—sometimes to the point that they’d die. I remember they even stabbed a
cow. Anyway, that was the cheap and silly second feature to go with, “I Was a
Teenage Werewolf,” which starred Michael Landon. I saw more crap, but at the
time, enjoyed it at the Ogden Theater every Saturday afternoon.
The Ogden was what they called a move over theater for the Egyptian.
For instance, if a certain movie was held over at the Egyptian and there was
commitment to bring in a new picture to the Egyptian on a certain date, the old
picture—if still profitable—would be moved to the Ogden. The Orpheum did the
same with the Paramount. A lot of times you’d open the Friday night paper, the
day films often changed, and it’d say, “Held over, moved over.” I remember they
did that with, “Gypsy,” with Natalie Wood. It was playing at the Orpheum for
weeks. It moved down to the Paramount and had a successful run there.
I remember the year, “The Apartment,” won several Academy Awards, as
did, “Elmer Gantry.” Those pictures hadn’t played in theaters for a while; they’d
come out earlier that year. The two pictures were so honored, the studio rushed
them back out as a double feature. It was the longest double feature I’ve ever
been to in my life, both shows were well over two hours each. But, they looked
into the Paramount and mobs of customers showed up. The staff was
dumbfounded. They were not prepared to handle that many people. There hadn’t
been that size crowd in there for years. They had to hurry ushers up to the
balcony to dust seats off that hadn’t been used for a decade or so. That was an
exciting night. I loved seeing all those people in the Paramount.
SL: Did you ever meet Harm Peery, when you were working?
VS: No, I didn’t. I remember that he died; I think I was in junior high maybe. I’ve got a
copy of his obituary in my files, but I can’t remember exactly when he died.
SL: What would you say your favorite theater was that you worked?
VS: Well, no question, for many reasons, the Egyptian, of course, has always been
my favorite. As far as working, I so enjoyed the Wilshire. When I first started
there it was a single theater, same size as the Egyptian, about 850 seats.
Eventually, two two smaller 350 seat theaters were added off the lobby, so they
were like spokes off the lobby. There were three separate projection booths all
accessed in the lobby, so I got to do a lot of people watching and walking around
constantly looking in on each booth. That was when the film platter system came
into prominence where the films were all spliced together and laid flat on a great
Sometimes those things didn’t work the way they were supposed to. I
recall one time, obviously you could only be in one of the booths at any time, in
each booth a third of the time, technically, there’s no other way about it. The
Wilshire had run Barbara Streisand’s version of, “A Star is Born,” for months. For
some reason, that picture was bigger in Utah than anywhere else. I was making
my rounds and I walked in the booth where that film was running, and a loose
splice, had gone down through the projector and was on its way back to go up on
the platter when it split in half. It split the film in half, so when I walked in, instead
of a film 35 millimeters wide, there was a little strip about the size of the 16
millimeter winding on the platter and the other half was piling up on the floor
about two feet deep. So, with the platter system, all I could do was stop it,
discard the split segment, then splice the two halves together, missing about ten
minutes of the movie.
The Wilshire had just hired a new manager. I don’t know why they hired
this kid. He was likeable enough, but for whatever reason, he was a lousy
manager. He didn’t order a replacement reel for several days, if not a week or
more. So, people, every show would come out and say, “There’s part of this
movie missing.” The incident that finally got him fired was this: There was a
protocol that management had to follow taking the days deposit in the zipper
money bag to the bank. You always were accompanied by another staff person.
Well, this manager never followed that. At that time there was a temporary bank
set up in a mobile home at the edge of the Wilshire property. Somebody
obviously had been staking the place out. The manager—alone—was walking
over to the bank when a car starts up across the parking lot, and the wheels
screech and this car is heading right for him. As the car zoomed up to him, the
manager up and threw the bag of money into the open car window. That was the
last seen of the money and the last day the young man was employed at the
SL: Van, do you have any memories about 25th Street or downtown Ogden, other
than the theaters? Any stores you remember going to?
VS: Well, the story went like this, and I don’t know whether it was true or not. I tend to
believe it was true, that Ogden, in the late fifties, was, I don’t know what you’d
call it, whether it was a test city for fashion, for teenager’s fashions, or what, but
we had some great clothing stores here. Individual, local stores. I loved the old
Penney’s building, which sat where that unsightly new Wells Fargo building is at
Washington Blvd and 24th Street. That old Penney’s building was originally a
ZCMI most of its early life, then it was Wright’s Department Store and finally
It was an old, old building and I remember the elevator was operated by a
Penney’s employee. When first in college, Irene White, a coed of mine, was one
of the elevator girls there. I remember looking at the tiny little seat that she had to
sit on that ever so slightly protruded from the wall. It was just kind of like a little
shelf that must not have been very comfortable. I remember the pneumatic
tubes, through which they’d send the cash for change and things, through those
pipes all through that place. Then, of course, the code for the telephone. Each
station had so many bell rings, “Bing, bing, bing,” or whatever. So I remember
The men’s stores, Buehler-Bingham, occupied street-level space of what
was then the Eccles Building. There was Block’s, Levin’s and Fred M. Nye’s. I
don’t know why they tore the Nye’s building down, kitty-corner across the street
from the Egyptian. That was the nicest store. The downtown mall killed that and
the local clothing stores.
25th Street; my dad had stories about 25th Street. Lear Summerill worked
for the gas company for 43 years. He started in the Mountain Fuel Supply
Company office and retired as District Manager. They would not let the gas men
go down 25th Street alone. They’d have to go in pairs. All the stories about
underground tunnels everywhere; I have seen no proof whatsoever. Individual
basements, were sometimes connected side-by-side with doorways. I have
heard there is or was a tunnel that ran under Washington Boulevard between the
old First Security Bank building and the Eccles Building, but know of no 25th
I remember one New Year’s Eve, when we were kids, two neighbors, and
I were playing on the phone and got the crazy idea to call a 25th Street bar. We
dialed up the Porters and Waiters Club. My neighbor was on the phone and this
woman answered. My neighbor asked, “Could ya’ll check to see if my husband’s
in there?” She said, “Well, honey, what’s your husband’s name?” “Charles.” “Just
a minute…Is there a Charles in here?” Luckily, no one named Charles came to
the phone. We thought that was the funniest thing that ever was. Now, having
learned about the Porters and Waiters Club, and the important role it played in
the world of Jazz and all the great musicians and singers who stayed and
performed there, I only wish I could have witnessed some of it firsthand. During
the 1940’s, my parents would park on lower 25th Street to watch the characters
who would go up and down that infamous street.
My memories are mainly of Washington and “dragging that boulevard” and
the drive in restaurants, we would make a turn-around to do it all over again.
There was A&W and Mason’s, to name a couple. There were other who’s names
escape me, but I remember most had car-hops.
Where Warren’s Drive-In is, at Wall Avenue and Riverdale Road, that was
Rusty’s. KLO was a top 20 station then and a pretty popular station. They set up,
right on that corner a broadcast booth. It had big windows all the way around and
the big DJ on the weekends was named, “Big Pete.” He used to broadcast from
that booth out there at Warren’s. I always thought he was kind of silly.
KLO studios were up in the Ben Lomond Hotel on the seventh floor, I think
it was. They’d been there since the forties and a friend of mine knew all these
radio personalities there, so we were up there on a Saturday night and I
remember going in a room that was the record library with hundreds of 78 rpm
from the forties. I know that KLO in the forties had studios both in Salt Lake and
Ogden. I was told that when KLO moved out of the hotel, no attempt was made
to save that library. There were probably some valuable old records there.
SL: How did you get involved in the restoration of the Egyptian Theater?
VS: I wrote a “call to arms” letter published in the Standard-Examiner in March of
1985 that resulted in the formation of the Friends of the Egyptian, Inc., which
would later become known as the Egyptian Theatre Foundation. This is my 40th
year as a member of the Theatre Historical Society of America. Attending their
national yearly conventions, I have visited between 800 and 900 theaters across
the country and Canada. I had seen many times what would happen to the
Egyptian if no attempt was made to save the Ogden’s movie palace. It would be
destroyed. In 1973, my first year I was a member of the Theatre Historical
Society, I was asked to write an article about Peery’s Egyptian for publication in
their quarterly, “Marquee.” And so I did. I had been researching the Egyptian
since my high school days.
It is amazing how many theaters across the land end up parking lots, here
in Ogden too. I knew we were about to get another parking lot.
As a long time Theatre Historical Society member, over time, I discovered
there usually are predictable signs to the probably fate of these theaters. An ugly
fate was becoming a real possibility for the Egyptian. So, I was compelled to
write the letter to the editor. The organizing meeting was held in special
collections at Weber State in March of 1985. So, it took twelve years to save,
raise the necessary funds and restore the Egyptian Theater.
The Theatre Historical Society folks approached me about having the
convention in Utah. Past conventions had been in Toronto, even London, not to
mention, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Cincinnati,
Cleveland, Seattle, and now they’re coming to Utah. The only way we could line
up enough theaters was to tour the northern Utah theaters and then bus through
eastern Idaho and western Montana, and end up in Missoula. That’s the most
busing the society had ever done. I worried about that, but, you know, the
scenery was so spectacular the members loved it.
Our convention was originally scheduled for 1995, but was postponed
twice in order for the Egyptian to be completed. The Utah convention finally took
place in 1997. We made it so the Egyptian was the last theater that we visited in
Utah before heading north. Our volunteer staff got a standing ovation when all
was said and done.
SL: What do you remember about some of the other theaters being torn down, since
the Egyptian is the only one that’s still standing?
VS: I remember three of them being torn down. I have some pictures of the Ogden
Theater as a pile of rubble. Workers knocked a hole through the side of the
Paramount. I took a couple of friends down there one really cold, gloomy
February day. I took several minutes of movies in there.
That the Orpheum collapsed was no surprise to me. Actually, it was the
Orpheum apartments that collapsed which were in front of the Orpheum. The
person who owned and was remodeling the Ben Lomond Hotel insisted he had to
have an entrance and parking where the apartments and theater were located. It
was controversial at the time, debris shoots jutting out from south-side hotel
windows. That debris had nowhere to go but on the roof of the five-story high
Orpheum Apartments. You pile enough demolition debris on the roof, of course
the building is going to collapse. I got a phone call, somebody called me and
said, “You’ve got to get downtown, the Orpheum apartments have collapsed.
Upon arriving, the first thing I did was look up at those windows. All those chutes
had disappeared inside.
I had real mixed feelings about the Orpheum. Everything historic had long
been lost and forgotten. There was no record of what that building originally
looked like inside. On the other hand, if they saved the Orpheum, I thought, the
bigger nightmare would be tearing down that hotel. I really would have liked to
have seen the Paramount stay, but I’ve often asked myself if the Paramount and
the Egyptian were both standing, which one would you pick to save? That would
have been a tough decision. Ogden couldn’t support two historic theaters.
SL: How has Ogden changed since you were young?
VS: Well, there’s no more drinking fountains on the downtown sidewalks as there
used to be. It’s changed, it has changed so much. When I was in high school, it
was a vibrant downtown. It took me a long time to figure out what happened to
this town. A major factor was the coming of the freeway. It is my understanding
that Eisenhower’s main reason for building the freeways was to facilitate moving
troops and military equipment around during the Cold War. But what happened
when you put the freeway in? Salt Lake City all of a sudden is a half hour closer
to Ogden. It killed the railroads and this was a railroad town. All of the businesses
that are connected to the railroad, the stock yard and everything else.
SL: Well, thank you, Van. I appreciate you taking the time out.
VS: Well, you’re welcome.
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