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Five Generations of Same Family Enjoy SC Movie Theatres

Left to right: Gayle McCullough, Mrs. Emily Padgett, and Thad McCullough

Mrs. Emily Padgett was born in Fort Mill, South Carolina in 1914. She told us about her memories of going to the movies with her father in Fort Mill. Her daughter, Gayle McCullough, and Gayle’s husband, Thad, shared their movie-going memories too.

Mrs. Emily Padgett:

I saw my first picture show at the Majestic Theatre in Fort Mill, South Carolina. We lived about two blocks from the theatre. The theatre was owned by Mr. Bradford. His daughter was a good friend of mine. Her aunt was the woman behind the counter where you bought your tickets. Tickets were ten cents for children and a quarter for adults.

All we had was music with the movie, you know. It was before "talkies." I think it was a record or something. I don’t remember how they played the music.

Samuel Lewis Meacham
Emily Padgett's father

My father [Sam Meacham] owned the electric company in Fort Mill. He wired all the houses and put in the telephones. He owned the telephone company too. His office was around the corner from the theatre. The back door to his office was right across from the back door of the movie house. So, whenever anything went wrong with the projector, they would come and get Papa.

Because he did that, they let us [his children] in free. He didn’t charge them anything, so we could get in free anytime we wanted to. They only had movies on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, they ran from 6 o’clock to 9, and on Saturday, from 1 o’clock to 9. In a small town, there was not much to do after 9 p.m..

My mother didn’t care for picture shows. My father took my sister and me. My mother stayed home with the baby boy. She would let us go with my father but we couldn’t go by ourselves.

We would go every Friday and Saturday but we had to wait until he could leave his office and take us. On Saturday afternoons from 1 o’clock on, we kept listening for him. My sister and I wanted to get there to see the serials. They had a serial every Friday and Saturday, a different one. So, that was two serials you had to keep up with. They would have short comedies and news and other things, too.

Mostly, they showed Westerns. These were silent picture shows so you had to read what people said. Papa would read aloud what everybody was saying. He would read them to us and after awhile, we’d look around, and there would be four or five other children gathered around there listening to him.

We would be watching a movie and the picture would go out. Papa would tell everybody to wait. He would go fix it and then come and sit back down.

One of my uncles [John Alexander Boyd, Jr.] laughed really loud when he got tickled. He laughed so loud that they let him in free when there was a funny movie. He made everybody else laugh, too. Anybody outside could hear him so they would pay to come in and see what was so funny. This increased business for the theatre.

We knew who all the movie stars were. My sister and I would play like we were one of them. At home we would act out things. She would pretend to be one actress and I would play another.

Gayle McCullough:

My daddy was sick for a couple of years and my brother, mother and I lived with Mama’s parents. We would go to the movies every Saturday afternoon in the same theatre Mama frequented when she was a child. We saw the serial and cartoons, previews, and two Westerns. And it lasted all afternoon.

Mama would give us a quarter apiece. It cost nine cents to get in. The popcorn cost five cents and the drink cost six cents. That added up to twenty cents which left us a nickel to buy ice cream on the way home.

Mrs. Emily Padgett:

On the corner was the Post Office, then the theatre, and then a drug store.

Gayle McCullough:

In answer to your question, we recalled that there was a furniture store across the street and another drug store and a “dime” store. Clifford’s Appliance Store, Belk-Brown, a filling station, and a barber shop.

At that time, during World War II, Mama would let my brother and me walk to the theatre alone. I was about six and my brother, Duncan, was four. They had a ticket box-office by then. They did have a marquee then and posters. Everyone in town knew us and it was quite safe.

One Saturday, for some reason, the movie didn’t start at 1 o’clock. It started at 3 o’clock. We didn’t know any better so we waited in line. All the children waited in line. We were supposed to have been home about 5 o’clock, but because it started late, we were still there watching the movie. All of a sudden Papa came in and told us to get ourselves home! I guess he thought we were watching the movie a second time.

That scared us to death. We didn’t understand why he seemed so mad at us. I remember crying all the way home. I think Papa felt really bad when he realized what had happened.

My grandfather became interested in the new invention, the telephone, when he was a young boy. Papa’s father had been a doctor and owned a pharmacy. Sometimes he would be at the drugstore and sometimes at the house. If somebody came to the house and needed the doctor and he was at the drugstore, Papa’s mother would make Papa run to the drugstore and get his daddy. After awhile, Papa got tired of running back and forth between his home and the pharmacy. He had heard about a new invention called the telephone. So, he rigged up phones between the pharmacy and the house.

It has been said that Mr. Springs, who owned the mill, heard about the doctor’s phone and wanted one put in between his home and the main office at the mill. Papa borrowed enough money to buy eight telephones to set up in Fort Mill. He also set up the first phones in Pineville, North Carolina. He set up the electricity in Fort Mill and Pineville too.

Mrs. Emily Padgett:

People would always call the operator to find out where anybody was. She kept up with everybody. When there was a fire, Papa would call the operator to find out where it was. Then, he would rush over to take out his electric meter so it wouldn’t be destroyed. Sometimes he would beat the firemen and they always wanted to know how he knew where the fire was.

Thad McCullough:

I grew up in Columbia. They had the Carolina, Palmetto, Ritz, Strand and the State all on Main Street. Every Saturday morning a bunch of the neighborhood kids would get together and we would go to the movies. The Ritz Theatre was the most popular because they showed Westerns.

One of the popular Western stars was Lash LaRue. His sidekick was Fuzzy St. John, who was a bearded fellow with a floppy hat. He wore his pistols criss-crossed in his belt. He stood on the stage at the Ritz Theatre, which was packed with young children. He was telling jokes. Then he was telling about running away from this bad man when he stopped and turned around. Then he reached down for his two pistols and fired blanks. The children started to scream and run out of the theatre. I’ll never forget that. My brother wet his britches.

Another time we went over to the Strand across the street. They were having a Western we wanted to see. One of my good friends, Walter, who lived in back of us, my brother and another boy and I were sitting eating popcorn. The theatre was packed. A lady brought her children and sat right in front of us. All of a sudden, Walter got sick and threw up all over this lady.

I sent my brother to tell the movie theatre people that our friend spit up all over this woman. They stopped the movie and turned the lights on and came to help her out. She was covered with it. He couldn’t help it. To this day when I see him I ask him if he remembers the Strand Theatre and he says, “Don’t remind me!”

When we visited in Kingstree my Aunt Dorothy took my two brothers and me to the Anderson Theatre one evening to see a movie with Barbara Stanwyck. I forget the name of it. At that age I wasn’t really into Barbara Stanwyck. I got so bored I got up and went outside. I walked all around downtown Kingstree. My aunt thought I had gone to the restroom. When I finally came back and sat down, the movie was almost over.

My aunt said, “What happened? Did you get sick?” I said, “No ma’am. I just walked around town.” She got very upset. “You mean you walked around town by yourself at night?” I never thought anything about it.

Gayle McCullough:

After World War II, between 1946 and 1951, we lived in Shandon on Heyward Street. My friends and I went to nearly every movie that came to the theatres. When I was eight or nine years old, we could go downtown by ourselves. There was a bus stop right on the corner near our house. We would get on the bus and go downtown. Then, we had only one block to walk to Main Street.

The Carolina Theatre was the one closest to the State House, then the Ritz and the Palmetto. The State and the Strand were across the street. My group of friends thought the side with the State and the Strand was the rough side of the street. I don’t think I ever went to a movie on that side of the street.

Many times we would go to the movie at the Carolina and then to the Ritz and then to the Palmetto. We spent the whole day watching movies. Then we would walk to Sumter Street and catch the bus and go home.

I kept up with the movie stars back then. I mean, I knew everybody who was married to everybody or was dating anybody. I bought every movie magazine and cut out the pictures and made a scrapbook. I remember parting with that scrapbook one Christmas. We had a cousin, Caroline, who loved movies. She had suffered some brain damage in an accident when she was a young child. I just decided to give her my scrapbook for Christmas and she loved it.

Another time we were downtown with Mama and Daddy on a Saturday afternoon. There was some movie on that my brother and I wanted to see. We begged mama and daddy to let us stay downtown and go to that movie.

They finally relented but said we would have to ride the bus home. When we got out of the movie it was dark. We walked the one block to the bus stop and we weren’t afraid. We were standing on the corner waiting for the bus when an older man driving down the street made a U-turn and stopped in front of us. He asked us if we wanted a ride home. He said he knew our daddy. Daddy worked for the state government and seemed to know everybody in Columbia.

We looked at this man and didn’t recognize him so I said, “Our daddy is coming for us.” He drove around the block five or six times and stopped to talk to us each time. We were standing on the corner at a filling station and I don’t know why we didn’t ask for help.

He finally pulled his car into the next block and parked, went into a building, went upstairs and looked out a window at us. That’s when I got scared. We went into the filling station. We didn’t tell anybody. We just asked if we could use the telephone. We called home. We said that there was a man trying to give us a ride. Well, daddy came fast.

I must have been eleven or twelve because I had lipstick in my pocket book. I didn’t wear lipstick, but you know how little girls are. I took a piece of paper and used my lipstick to write down the car’s license number. To this day I remember the license number. It was a big car like a Cadillac, a big black car.

When we got home, daddy called the police. I remember I was crying it upset me so much. Our parents took us to another movie that night to calm us down and get our minds off of it. There was no TV in those days.

We got home about 11 o’clock and got a call from the police. They wanted us to come down to the station and identify the man. So, we did and it was the man. He said he had flirted with some women that afternoon but he hadn’t tried to pick us up. His son-in-law was with him. He was a prominent man in Columbia. I never knew his name. But, it was our word against his. And they didn’t do anything about it.

So, we got in trouble when we wanted to see that movie. We were smart enough not to get in that car but it sure was scary.

My brother remembers getting into the movie in Columbia for bringing a mashed-up tin can. This would have been 1946, just after the war. He couldn’t figure out why they were still collecting metal but I guess the metal had all been used up in the war.

I wanted to talk about the theatre in Five Points [in Columbia] because that’s where I would go on Saturdays. The Five Points Theatre was within walking distance of our house on Heyward Street. They would have people on stage entertaining the children before the movie, which would be a children’s movie. I think we paid ten cents to get in.

Either my mother or my aunt would take us and drop us off for the morning. My aunt lived about two blocks away from us. My cousin, her only child, was about four years old and I was eleven or twelve. One time they took my little cousin and me to see “The Wizard of Oz.” The tornado scene, which comes very early in the movie, scared him to death! He started screaming and crying. I had to take him to the theatre office and call my aunt. I had to wait a long time while my aunt walked from her house, down Harden Street to the theatre. I missed half of the movie and was very perturbed but I do understand how that scene could frighten a young child.

When Thad and I first met, we usually went to movies on our dates. My favorite movie was “The Prince Who Was a Thief” I think that starred Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie. It was set back in the time of the sheiks. I thought it was wonderful and I saw it seven times.

As a young person, I loved “Broken Arrow” too, but that was because it starred Debra Paget. My name was Padgett. She spelled her name differently. I even wrote her saying “Maybe we’re kin to each other.” You know how children are. I thought she must be my cousin or something. She sent me her picture with an autograph. I later found out her real name was Debralee Griffin!

When we moved to Sullivan’s Island in 1951, the Fort Theatre was an old dilapidated place. I do remember taking our two oldest children there when they had a children’s movie one night. I think they only opened on weekends occasionally but I always wished someone would take it over and open it at least during the summer months.

You asked if we ever sneaked into the movies. No, we didn't. However, you were not supposed to bring refreshments into the theater. I had four small children and I would make popcorn before we left home and put it in small plastic bags. I didn’t have any drinks but maybe I had candy bars. I put everything in a big pocket book and when we got into the movie I would hand out all of it. That’s kind of like sneaking into the movies I guess.

As a high school student, I went to the Parkway Theatre [in Mount Pleasant] nearly every weekend. Mr. Query did the concessions. I don’t know if he owned the theatre or not. After the theatre closed it was the Krispy Kreme shop. Then, the Krispy Kreme moved down to the corner.

At this time Gayle and Thad’s son, Joel, came in with Joel’s son, Bryce. Bryce climbed onto Gayle’s lap. Joel recalled his movie-going experiences while attending Baptist College. He remembered going to the Fox Theatre in Gaslight Square because they only charged one dollar. As a college student, that was all he could afford. Gayle asked her grandson if he remembered the first movie she took him to see. Bryce said, “Finding Nemo!”

Well, that’s five generations of going to the movies in South Carolina. Mama's daddy took her to see her first movie at the Majestic Theatre in Fort Mill. I took my grandson, Bryce, to see his first movie at the Palmetto Grand in Mount Pleasant.

Interview September 2, 2005, on Sullivan's Island, SC by John Coles and Mark Tiedje. Special thanks to Gayle McCullough for sharing her family with us. Thanks to them for sharing their wonderful memories.

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