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Walterboro, SC

Walterboro's Movie Theaters
Interview with Mr. Henry Belk Cook at Choice Collectibles, 329 Washington Street, Wednesday, August 11, 2004.

Mr. Cook:

My father opened the Ritz Theater in 1937. The old theater was around the corner on Railroad Avenue. It burned down. It was called the New Era Theater. My father opened a theater down the street next to the old grocery store. He ran that until this building became available.

My father leased what used to be the Chevrolet dealership here [329 Washington Street] from Mr. Chapel (?). He had to make the building taller. They built the roof the best they could back in those days. Every time it rained, the roof would leak. Mr. Chapel got tired of fixing the roof and he asked my daddy, “Do you want to buy this old building? He said, “Yeah, how much you want for it?” He told him and my daddy bought it.

Ritz Theater (1937 - 1956) Sketch by Marion Gresham

“Gone With The Wind” opened here at the Ritz Theater in 1939. Everybody wanted to see “Gone With The Wind.” I remember we had to number the seats so we could sell tickets for reserved seats. We put tape on every seat. We numbered the rows, “A, B, and C” and the seats, “1, 2, 3” and sold tickets from a grid on a piece of paper. I kept the one-sheet we got for “Gone With The Wind” for many years but it disappeared some time ago.

The Ritz had a big balcony. Blacks entered through a separate door. The woman in the ticket booth just made a quarter-turn and sold tickets through another window to the black patrons. The balcony had the best seats in the house.

In the auditorium, the seats ran down almost to the edge of the stage. The stage was about five feet deep. The screen hung in there. It was almost square in shape, not wide like today.

We had a big “squirrel cage” blower with a ten horse motor to keep the place cool. It had four speeds on it. It circulated water that ran down into a catch basin. The fan blew a mist. It worked real good.

We built the Cook Theater, around the corner in 1947. After the Cook Theater opened, we kept the Ritz Theater open mostly on weekends and showed Westerns.

We saw a drawing of the Ritz Theater. Mr. Bob Hopper, who works in the store, took it down so we could get a better look at it and photograph it. It was signed, Marion Gresham. On the marquee were the names Joe Penner and Gene Raymond. The only movie with both actors together was “The Life of the Party” which was made in 1937. Also, the drawing shows no buildings adjacent to the Ritz Theater. So, it is most likely that this drawing was done shortly after the Ritz Theater opened in 1938.

My wife recently found the picture at an estate sale and gave it to me as a present.

Looking at the picture, Mr. Cook told us about the Ritz Theater. He gestured with his cane as he described the location of the lobby, the ticket booth, and the balcony.

We had a deep lobby with a terrazzo floor. The projectors were upstairs. We sold popcorn in the front. There were candy machines in the lobby. There were two stores, one on either side of the lobby. There was a soda fountain on one side. There was a beauty shop on the other side. The box office was at the back of the lobby. There was a shoe shop next door.

Below the picture of the Ritz Theater is an old wooden ruler with an advertisement for the theater that reads,”Ritz Theater – Walterboro, S.C. Always a Good Show.” We asked Mr. Cook to tell us about the ruler.

My father had those made before… longer than I can remember and I’m 72. My wife found it the other day. When we closed the Ritz Theater, we moved the desks and filing cabinets over to the Cook Theater building. Then, when it closed, we moved the desks and things to a storage building out on the highway. The other day my wife found the ruler in a desk drawer. Now, it has made a full circle back to this building.

Cook Theater - Walterboro, SC
1947 - 1986

You got a lot for one dollar at the movie theater. Hot dogs were a nickel and hamburgers were a dime. Coca-Cola was six cents. You could get ice cream in the soda shop for a nickel a dip.

Mrs. Cook came in at this point. We had enjoyed the recollections of her husband and now it was closing time for the store. We couldn’t believe our good luck. We had visited that store only to discover that it had been the Ritz Theater. Further, the owner of the Ritz and Cook Theaters made a visit to the store the day we were there. We thanked them for taking the time to talk with us. Especially, we thanked Mr. Henry Belk Cook for sharing his time and personal experiences of the movie theaters of Walterboro, South Carolina.

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