Now Playing at the St. Paul Theatre – 1940

© Jerry F. Couch 2020

George Coleman was a forward-looking and ambitious man.  When he came to Dante as a high school teacher in the late 1930’s, he soon became associated with the Dante theater in addition to his teaching job.  A couple of years later, he began operating what had been the Gaiety Theatre in St. Paul (leased from owners James and Dosha Breeding Rainero).  Under Coleman’s management, the theater was re-christened “St. Paul Theatre.”  Coleman advertised his theater widely, and even chartered a bus on Saturdays to transport theatergoers from surrounding towns to St. Paul to see movies.

Margaret Bolton & George Coleman ca. 1940
Margaret Bolton and George Coleman at the Bolton home on Buchanan St. ca. 1940

In addition to operating the St. Paul Theatre, Coleman was also co-publisher and editor of The Tri-County News.  Each week, he wrote an editorial column for the paper entitled “Clinchfielders.”  Under the pen name of “The Door Boy” he also wrote a column describing the St. Paul Theatre’s upcoming movies.  Today, we’re going to share one of these columns with you.

You will note that in his column, Coleman mentions the installation of air-conditioning in the theater building.  Mechanical refrigeration of buildings was very rare at that time.  For example, when it was built just nine years earlier, the Empire State Building in NYC had incorporated one of the first large-scale air-conditioning systems in the country.  While complete details of the St. Paul Theatre’s air-conditioning system are unavailable, you can be sure that if it worked, it would have been a marvel to local residents.

Western Auto, Gaiety Theatre, Lays Hardware 1971
The former St. Paul Theatre building (right) as it looked in 1971.  Shelby Hilton made sure the building’s original Gaiety Theatre sign remained untouched when the building was painted.  It has since been pained over several times.

From The Tri-County News, Thursday May 30, 1940



The Door Boy

This air conditioning outfit the boss is having installed is quite a contraption.  For a good part of the week he has had me back behind the stage trying to help the carpenters construct an air washer and blower chamber, and air ducts to carry the cool air into the auditorium.  It’s a job, my friends – and by the way, if you’re wondering why all the stuff stacked up in the lobby this week has been there, it simply has been that we didn’t have any other place to put the bloomin’ mess.

Did you ever try to read a blueprint?  Neither had I – before.  They’re a perverse lot, these draftsmen.  If they would just say something in so many words, it would certainly simplify matters.  Instead, they go to a whole lot of lovely pains to draw it out with lines and arrows in such a manner that even the man who dreamed the stuff in the first place couldn’t interpret them.  That is, unless he were a much smarter man than myself…and, errrr…ahhhh..that’s kinda hard to imagine, don’t you think?  Or do you?

The thing that’s bothering me – and the boss, too, I suspect – is, “Will it ever get hot enough to need the blasted cool air, granting that we do some day get it all set up?”  At the present rate, I’m very much afraid that our loving labors are lost.  It’s going to stay dogwood, dewberry, blackberry, huckleberry, raspberry, or grape winter all summer.  I can hear a certain fellow gnashing his teeth even now.

The boss was just telling me that, after the manner of all such, a film salesman cornered him the other day and had gotten it on the line for that particular company’s product for the year commencing in December 1940.  After he was well hooked, the boss turned to the guy and said, “Now tell me what I have just bought.”

“How should I know,” said the salesman, and started talking about bird dogs and the coming hunting season.

That’s the way with show business.  You set your soul and body to a scrap of paper and have no earthly idea of what you have bought.  The film company itself doesn’t even know what it is selling you outside of a few vague titles and story properties that will in all likelihood be changed long before they ever hit the screen.  The only thing you do have to buy is the supposed integrity of the producing company, and their record of past performances.


But that’s the way “Castle On The Hudson,” and “Remember the Night,” our Monday-Tuesday, and Wednesday-Thursday attractions respectively (next week) were bought, and they’ll be pretty doggone good shows.  You watch and see.  And after all, you who buy the tickets here don’t have anything much more tangible to go by.  You just have to do the same way the boss does – allow a little bit for our enthusiastic lying, and hope for the best – or at least something pretty good.  And we pride ourselves on the fact that usually you get it.


Not to slight those two films for next week, I’d better say a word or two about the casts.  That much, at least you can count on.  “Castle On The Hudson” has the inimitable John Garfield teamed with that pulchritudinous bit of blazing femininity better known as Ann Sheridan, or better yet, as the “Oomph Girl,” while the show for Wednesday and Thursday is likewise well padded with A-grade stars in the persons of Fred McMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.

Enough said, I hope.

St. Paul Theatre May 30, 1940


George Colemen only operated the St. Paul Theatre for a few years.  During WWII he served in the 95th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army while the St. Paul Theatre continued operation in his absence.  After his discharge from the military at the conclusion of WWII, he built the Cavalier Theatre on Broad Street in St. Paul; the best-appointed theater in the town’s history.  Coleman also established the Blue Grass Drive In Theater in Castlewood in addition to his other business interests.

On November 12, 1954, George Coleman died at the Clinchfield Hospital in Dante from head injuries sustained in a fall at the Lyric Theatre.  The accident occurred after the the opening performance of that year’s Lions Club Minstrel Show.

Mr. and Mrs. David Young had a large collection of photos taken during Lions Club Minstrel Shows over the years.  Those photos are now a part of the Clinch Valley Times’ collection.  In a future article, we will be featuring those photos along with some highlights of minstrel shows over the years.


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