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Victory Theater Memories

I gave up the paper route to become a theater usher, a far less strenuous job than lugging around a heavy canvas paper bag in the wee hours of the morning. Besides, I got to see movies free. Seeing one for the first time was great. But having to watch it over and over and over after that got a little tiresome.

I had a couple of memorable experiences as an usher in the old Victory Theater. In one, I learned a new meaning of an old word. As World War II was still going on and Charleston had several military bases, the theater usually bustled with men in uniform. As I stood at the top of the aisle one evening with flashlight in hand, a sailor sauntered up and asked in a low voice where the head was. I took him to the office and knocked on the door. The manager called out, “Come in!” I led the sailor up to his desk and announced, “He wants to see you.” Looking dumbfounded, the sailor asked, “What do I want to see him for?” I replied, “You said you wanted to see the head, and he’s the head.” If I live to be a hundred I’ll still remember at unexpected times the look of mixed disbelief and agitation that suddenly flashed onto the manager’s face as he yelled, “What?!,” and I’ll laugh hysterically each time. He catapulted from his chair and led the bewildered sailor out the door. Returning a moment later with his crimson face twisted into a scowl, he demanded, “Don’t you know that ‘head’ is a military term for bathroom?” No. But I guarantee you I knew it after that.

A better memory of my ushering days is of All-American football player turned cowboy actor Johnny Mack Brown appearing in person on our theater’s stage. He was the favorite cowboy movie star of most kids of my time. When the great day of his appearance arrived, two other ushers and I made a point of arriving early in hopes of getting our first look at a screen idol in the flesh. The theater doors were still locked, so we hurried down the long driveway leading to the parking lot behind the theater in hopes of seeing his car—surely a big, luxurious one—to indicate he had arrived. To our dismay, only a well-worn two-door coupe sat in the parking lot. Its left rear end was jacked up and a man was bent over removing lugs from the wheel of a flat tire.

We turned to walk away. A faintly familiar voice called out, “You guys want to give me a hand?” We turned to see a sweaty, smiling, very familiar face beaming up at us—Johnny Mack Brown! Yelling in unison, “Sure!” we stumbled over each other hurrying to his side, ready and anxious to help. “Would you guys rummage around in the trunk and find the tube patching kit.” By the time we had the kit out and ready to hand to him, he had removed the last lug and laid the wheel on the ground. Instinctively, one of us reached down and handed him the tire iron used in those days to pry enough of a tire from a rim to pull out the punctured part of a tube to patch it. His mighty arms had the damaged part out in a jiffy. He expertly patched the tube as if he had been doing it all his life. He talked to us as he worked and knew all our names by the time he pumped up the tire, got it back on, and let the jack down. Just as he wiped his hands, his wife walked up. She had red hair, a pretty smile, and a pleasant manner that equaled his. He introduced us, giving our names as each of us shook her hand. “They work in the theater. I would have been all day fixing the flat if they hadn’t come along to help.”

On stage, he put on a humorous Will Rogers type monologue interspersed with western music and songs performed by a small western band. Instead of exiting out the back door and heading to his hotel after the last show each evening, as did others who had performed on the theater’s stage, he followed us around, talking to us and helping us eat left over popcorn while we cleaned up. After the last show of his stay, a large crowd of young people gathered outside the front door and clamored for his autograph. Each time one of us looked out at the crowd through the doors’ round windows, he stuck his face right beside ours and looked out and smiled.

J. G. (Jerry) Braddock Sr.

Victory Theater - 1941


Johnny Mack Brown



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