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Majestic - Charleston, SC

Left: Majestic Theatre - Above: Interior of Majestic Theatre

Majestic Theatre
343 King Street
Opened: June 22, 1908
Renamed the Cameo Theatre: 1950
Torn Down: 1951

The Majestic Theatre was built as a Vaudeville house. George Brantley, who opened the first movie theater in Charleston, the Theatorium, in 1907, believed the moving picture business was just a fad that was fading in popularity. There was no Vaudeville circuit serving Charleston at the time so he booked acts as best he could. In an interview in the News and Courier in 1958, Florence Brantley said, "We ran first rate vaudeville shows."

There was a general attitude that actors in general, and Vaudeville actors in particular were likely to be tasteless and crude. George spent considerable effort to advertise his shows so that everyone knew they would not be tasteless or dirty. In one such advertisement he stated, "It is the intention of the management not to allow a remark that can possibly offend the most refined taste."

Vaudeville acts at the Majestic ranged from jugglers and trained animal acts, and novelty acts, to some of the top Vaudeville headliners of the day. The dazzling Dolly Sisters, Rosie and Jenny, performed frequently at the Majestic and always stayed at the Brantley's home when they were in Charleston

When Pastime Amusement Company was formed in late summer of 1908, George Brantly received 40% of the stock and bacame General Manager. In 1909, the Vaudeville Circuit of Wilmer and Vincent leased the Academy of Music. The Academy of Music, at the corner of King and Market Streets, had a seating capacity of twelve hundred seats. The Majestic, which had a capacity of about 350 seats could not compete successfully. Pastime Amusement Company converted the second floor of the German Artillery Hall (later Kerrison's parking lot on King Street) into an 800 seat theatre and moved Vaudeville from the Majestic.

From then on, the Majestic showed motion pictures.

When the Warner Brothers' film "Lucretia Lombard" was released in 1923, it did poorly. It was re-released with the title "Flaming Passion" and was a smash hit. The Majestic Theatre promoted it with a "True Talk on Sex Facts" by Dr. W.H. Belmont, and an appearance by Miss Texas with her living models. A phrase in the newspaper advertisement read, "The new picture that exposes the evils of the modern Jazz Age! Bold! Frank! True!" No one under the age of 16 was admtted. Men and women were not seated on the same evenings. Ticket sales were very brisk.

By the 1930's the Majestic was following the popular schedules at other movie houses by showing Westerns on Saturdays.

The Dazzling Dolly Sisters

Flaming Passion at Majestic

Saturday Night Fare
by Eugene Platt

Class B Westerns
at the Majestic Theatre:
a weekend ritual of cowboys
and Indians,
cattle rustlers routed by Red Rider
or grand Tom Mix outwitting Mexican bandits.

the King Street newstand,
a child's wonder library of comic books.
With my allowance
I always bought two - - - and ice cream
with the remaining nickle,
while Dad sipped a beer.
(He was not only a fun pal,
but also my financier.)

If I live a thousand years,
I shall never forget - - -
this was our Saturday night fare.

Eugene Platt
We thank author, environmentalist, and political activist, Eugene Platt for allowing us to reprint this poem regarding the Majestic Theatre from his book, South Carolina State Line.

South Carolina State Line
(Huguley Company, 1980)

J.G. Braddock, Sr., worked as an usher for Pastime Amusement Company as a teenager in the mid-1940's. He ushered at all the several theaters around Charleston that were owned by Pastime. In a letter to the Editor, he described the Gloria Theatre as "splendidly decorated," and "Pastime's crown jewel. His description of the Majestic was quite a contrast.

The Post and Courier
June 8, 2004
Letters to the Editor

"The Majestic, in the same block on King, easily was the most unattractive theater in Pastime's chain. It was narrow, had wood floors, and uncushioned seats. Rat fights in the aisles over popcorn were usually more interesting than what was happening on the screen.

Nonetheless, on Saturdays, the Majestic became the center of the universe for any boy who could finagle 11 cents from his parents. That would buy his ticket to a couple of cartoons, a short subject, a chapter picture, and the main feature, almost always a cowboy movie. And he could watch them as many times as he wanted. They didn't turn on the lights and run everyone out back then. The films went on continuously."

J.G. Braddock, Sr

Cameo Theatre

The Cameo Theatre, formerly the Majestic, opened on January 30, 1950. Pastime Amusement Company promoted the opening stating, the Cameo "will bring back great American pictures of the last decade and offer the best of foreign productions."

The first film shown at the Cameo was "Hamlet" with Laurence Olivier and Eileen Herlie. Even the reduced student ticket price of sixty cents didn't help fill the seats.

In December, 1950, there was a fire at the Cameo that damaged the stage area and part of the roof. The fire started around 3:45 in the morning, so no one was in the theatre at the time. Four engine companies fought the blaze. After the fire, it was decided that repairing the old theatre would be too costly. By late September, 1951, the Cameo had been torn down.

An article "Passing of the Majestic" appearing the News and Courier on September 14, 1951 read:

"The dismantling of the old Majestic Theater at 343 King St. to make room for a new store marks a milestone of motion pictures in Charleston. It is the first theater built here expressly for showing motion picture films. (Editor's note: It was actually built as a vaudeville house but later showed movies exclusively) There were earlier movie houses but they were converted from other purposes, as in the cast of the Academy of Music, a gem of an opera house, subsequently torn down to make room for the Riviera.

There used to be the Theatorium (both the old one and the new one); the Lyric, the Edisonia, the Wonderland, the Uno and others whose names long since have been forgotten. They were stores or halls fitted with a screen, a projection booth, some seats and a piano to give sound effects in the days before the sound track.

For a time during the 1900s, the Majestic was the queen of the movie houses. It was built in 1905 by George S. Brantley, a pioneer in the motion picture field here, on a vacant lot. (Editor's note: This date is incorrect. It was built in 1908 after Mr. Brantley returned to Charleston from Wilmington, North Carolina where he had operated a movie theater for a short time) Since 1908 it has been operated by the Pastime Amusement Co. The theater seated 400 persons, and there was a small balcony.

As other theaters came along - the Victory, which was torn down a few years ago; the Princess, also out of existence; the Garden and the Gloria - the Majestic began to look small and somewhat dinky.

The Majestic's heyday was the heyday of the Westerns and also of the cliff-hanger serials, so named because the hero of the heroine (or maybe both) was left in an awful predicament at the end of each episode. "Come back next Tuesday", the trailer would cajole, "and see for yourself how beautiful Esmeralda Siddonfield, played by Pearl White, escapes from the Spider's acid chamber."

And as the patron groped through the gloom toward the exit, his feet would crunch over an inch-deep carpet of peanut shells and the pianist up front would hammer out a stirring recessional.

Corny? Yes, those were corny days, and the price of admission was five and ten cents. They were the "good old days" as well. Many a romance blossomed in the darkness of the Majestic. Many a small boy and girl learned bug-eyed about adventure from the dramas on its screen. In recent years, the name was changed to the Cameo, and several notable foreign pictures of musical and artistic merit were shown there. But, the Majestic had seen its best days, and the Italian tenors seemed out of place on the screen where Ruth Roland, William S. Hart, Wally Reid, Dustin Farnum, Theda Bara and the other greats had performed. As the rubble falls before the workmen's sledges, the ghosts of those performers and patrons will be groping up the aisle, and the sound of plaster under the wreckers' heels will be much like the squashing of the peanut hulls."

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