Orpheum Theatre

Photos

+ click on images to enlarge

Description

The Orpheum was Phoenix's first grand movie palace and it is the city's only historic theatre that still exists. It opened in 1929, offering everything from stage shows to first-run movies. The theatre reigned supreme not only as a city landmark, but as a showcase for young talent of Phoenix. Local residents reminisce about their days of singing and dancing for the Orpheum's audiences. Patrons remember the glamour of the theatre, its unique architecture, cloud machine and, most important of all, the air conditioning.

Transcript

Narrator:
In the 1930s and '40s, movie theaters were magical places with memorable names. Phoenix had the Rialto, the Studio, the Fox, and the Strand. They were all wonderful. Theaters, but only a few could be called movie palaces, places so large and ornate, they were almost bigger than the entertainment itself.

The Orpheum is one of those Places. Built in 1929 at Second Avenue and Adams, it's owned by the City now and to the delight of many is being restored to its original glory.

Carl Carbajal:
Orpheum theater, you bet. You bet I remember the Orpheum Theater.That was probably the best-looking theater. It was like an opera house.

Narrator:
In the theater's heyday, streetcars ran through downtown Phoenix, and it only cost a nickel to ride. Drive-in restaurants were all the rage, and people came to the Orpheum for more than just a show.

Ken Watson:
It was cool, and that had a lot to do with -- with people when they wanted to be entertained. If you could be entertained and get cooled off at the same time, that was something pretty good.

Narrator:
Every movie palace had a feature that made it memorable. At the Orpheum, it was the ceiling. Prior to each show, it came alive with the illusion of moving clouds against a clear, blue sky.

Lucille Volchett:
You could sit there looking at the ceiling for a while and think you were sitting outside somewhere.

Marie Morton:
We always held hands at the movies, you know that. And every once in a while, we'd sneak in a smooch or two. The kids, now, for their proms, go out to dinner and they have limousine rides. Well, for us the grandeur was a date going to the OrpheumTheater to see some great movie that was in town, that kind of thing.

Narrator:
All the famous names from stage and screen appeared at the Orpheum Theater, But for three nights each year, the biggest stars were children. In the '30s and '40s, hundreds of Phoenix schoolchildren took dance lessons from local instructor Jean Bump.Then each spring, they showcased their talents on the Orpheum stage.

Marie Morton:
My first recollection of the Orpheum Theatre was the night that my parents took me to see a Jean Bump revue, and I remember my father saying to me,“Would you like to do that, Marie?” And I was, you know, "oh, yes."

Narrator:
4-year-old Marie Getty began taking lessons right away and within a year appeared in her first big revue.

Marie Morton:
Jean Bump's dance revues were equivalent to the kind of show you see in Las Vegas now on the stage. In Las Vegas, you don't see little children 4 and 5, 6 years-old on the stage in these revues, but with Jean Bump, it was the same professional quality.

Narrator:
Phoenix looked forward to these annual revues and the 1,700-seat theater was always packed. It was a proud moment for parents and for the children. It was their opportunity to shine.

Marie Morton:
I imagined myself in the movies. I imagined myself star of stage and screen, you know, like Shirley Temple was.

Narrator:
Thousands of children had similar dreams that were shared, at least for a moment, by a community that nurtured its children at a movie palace called the Orpheum.