In Memory of Professor Ralph Crosman
Dean of the College of Journalism
University of Colorado
Boulder has, I think, ten stages on which I could produce a play—if I had to—and I don’t, thank heaven. I could list my count of ten, but I won’t. I’ve already written about three of them and now must tell you of my experience with our “Boulder Theatre” down town and the older Curran house that it replaced in 1935.
Historian Silvia Pettem has written in detail about the Curran in the Camera for August 25, 2005. But, I might just be the only one left alive who was actually in it. It was, in any event, the very first stage on which ever I “appeared.”
It had to have been 1933, when in the second grade at Mapleton, I went of a Saturday morning with a lot of other kids down to the Curran to see the world famous Blackstone the Magician! In Person! Imagine our excitement—on the edge of fear! On a stage, down town in our very own Boulder, a house capable of mounting this greatest of magician’s show!
The Curran’s street front was modest and unassuming, not any sort of a marquee, not more than an average store front in width. We paid our dime or quarter to enter, perhaps, we feared, never to be seen again… entered into a long rather narrow, dark, gently rising ramp to the theatre “lobby.” Twenty-five or so feet in, we could see into the auditorium, not ahead, but to our hard right. The Curran was set at right angles behind the other stores along 13th Street. From the lobby, we looked into the house over the rich wooden bar that was in fact, a standees’ rail.
The interior, the house, the auditorium, was to this seven year old, immense, all antique gold and bronze and mysterious. Golden ropes with excessive tassels, undulating fringes from damask golden draperies. And the deep, plush seats, maybe as many as 600 of them, all in dim but glowing light that came from who knows where.
It was a reduced version of a nineteenth century Italianate, romantic opera house, typical, really, of the time. Several Colorado mountain towns had something of the kind.
Should I have been able back then to find the words: I might have said it was like a Persian boudoir, lush, lustrous, heavy, sensual. I wonder if there could have been an incense on the air? Here, where the sun had never shone.
On this Saturday morning, we kids were, I’m sure, restless and half scared, waiting for the show to begin. Then it happened! In an arc spot of brilliant white light, the even more brilliant Blackstone appeared and made us jump in our seats.
In his high top-hat, white tie and tails, he began by taking a new deck of cards, and, one by one, actually throwing them out all over the house for us kids to scramble for. And I got one.
Blackstone told us lucky fifty-six to hold tight to our cards and went on with his show—all the great old tricks like sawing a most voluptuous woman in half—too voluptuous for the sound moral development of children as young as we.
But let me hurry on toward the end of the show, when the Master-mage told us that if we held a red heart card, we should rise and proceed down the aisle and onto the stage. I held one of those red hearts.
And I scurried up and had to stand at the far end of the line of us kids. Blackstone started down the other end of the line, tapping his top-hat, now in his hand, with his magic wand and then, wouldn’t you know, pulling out by its ears a white rabbit for each kid. But when he got to the end of the line, to me, he tapped and nothing happened, no rabbit.
Suddenly someone off in the wings grabbed me and pulled me back into the darkness off stage where someone got a rabbit from a big crate of such creatures and handed one to me.
What in the world were we kids to do with those rabbits as we returned to our seats out in the house? Well, I put mine inside my shirt where it proceeded during the closing quarter hour to scratch the hell out my chest.
The show over and me at home, maybe, seven blocks away, old “Easter Bunny” was received with muted enthusiasm, as Mother fixed up my wounded chest. But, still, she afforded the rabbit a home until one day it up and died. End of story and end of the Curran.
Which theatre, in the old style, came down to make way for the sensational new “Boulder,” a proper house for the great age of film.
I wish I had words for this “advent of glamour” in Boulder, this brightness, this color, this vivacity, this comfort in high Deco style right down in the middle of the Great Depression. This was the place to go, to see and be seen.
There was, too, the excitement of naming the new theatre. A city-wide contest was held to name it, and “Boulder” happily won. Imagine the excitement of that opening night!
I remember the management of Wilbur Williams who was present every evening in his tuxedo and patent leather pumps, the first that I ever saw. And his glamorous ushers whom he kept so up to snuff. The girl ushers with their flashlights for seating you—and their own seats so beautifully set in the sexy uniform slacks that they wore.
Oh, dear reader, it was so swell!
Betty and I had our first date there, up in the loge where every fine, strapping, prurient young man wanted to take his girl—whatever the movie might be. With your girl more or less in the seat next to you, it made little difference what movie was showing.
We were, like Bottom, “translated.”
And now, just now, I read that there is a national program afoot to save and restore any of the old small town theatres like the Curran or even the Boulder wherever they still exist. This surely must be the Lord’s work, to save a theatre for a needy town. I know because I have witnessed the wreckers-ball killing “my” beloved theatre up in Wyoming.
Milton wrote, as Professor Crosman had me to memorize, … as good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.*
I wager Milton would also have thought that about killing a theatre.
This post originally appeared in the Bouldercreek Angler .