Last Picture Show "
by Linda Kirkpatrick
Vintage photos courtesy Lloyd & Jackie Shultz
the south west region of the Texas
Hill country stretches the Frio Canyon. The Frio Canyon is one
of the most delightful get aways for the many city restricted folks
that vacation here year round. Situated along side the beautiful Frio
River, is the small town of Leakey,
Texas. It was the quiet flowing Frio River that drew the town's
founder, John Leakey, to this area in 1856. You first notice that
most of the business in this area carry a name that refers to the
canyon, the river or the town and this is just not because "Googling"
Frio or Leakey
will get them many hits, it is a tradition that dates back to the
early 1900's. This is the story of one of those first businesses.
the 1920's about the only entertainment that came to the rural community
Texas was the traveling tent shows. This form of family entertainment
would come to the canyon about once a year to the delight of all.
Everyone looked forward to the horse drawn wagons that brought the
much anticipated entertainment to town. In later years the horses
were replaced by the Model T Fords but this form of transportation
did not deter the excitement.
These traveling tent shows were a welcome form of entertainment in
the small towns and rural communities everywhere. Many tent shows
amused the audiences with circus acts, vaudeville, and silent moving
pictures. A huge tent would be erected and pretty soon the crowds
would come. The tents were generally cool and equipped with some sort
of stage. The audience sat on wooden elevated bleachers known as the
"buzzard roost." These shows even had gimmicks to draw in the crowds.
Lanelle Auld, a life long resident of Leakey,
remembered that one show would present a prize to the person who sold
the most candy. While Libby Suttle, another who was born and raised
remembered buying boxes of cookies looking for the gold ring that
was within one of the boxes.
Shows were another form of entertainment at the time. Many of these
came to the Frio Canyon bringing various entertainment acts plus the
opportunity to purchase elixirs that would cure all that ailed you.
Hadacol was one of the elixirs that promised this amazing cure all.
I can remember my grandmother speaking the word, "Hadicol". I knew
that this was some sort of medicine and I wanted nothing to do with
it so I avoided asking any questions. Certain things were just better
low-water crossing, 1936
|Al freso ticket
booth and marquee. Tonite: John Wayne
Schultz Family Traveling Tent Show came to Leakey
in the late 1920's. They would erect their tent between Lewis Casey's
Drugstore and Lon Brice's grocery store. This location would be west
of the present day courthouse.
Lon Brice's store is still in existence though greatly remolded. It
is still operated as a grocery store known as Hometown Market. Hometown
Market is owned and operated by Clay and Elizabeth Pannell both descendents
of early settlers to the canyon. The drugstore is still in existence
though located in a different space on the same block. It has recently
been reopened by the Snodgrass family.
The Schultz's had their own power plant that ran the projectors and
lights. When sound movies came along in the 30's it was necessary
to have 110volt electricity.
Pictures" Projection Wagon
the youngest son of Jacob Lee Shultz and Mamie T. Johnson Shultz,
wrote in Wagons Ho-the History of Real County: "The Booth Trailer
held the projectors. There were four windows. Two were about six inches
square for the projectors and two were about fourteen inches square
for the operator to see through. Film for one movie was wound on five
or six reels of one thousand feet each. The operator could change
from one reel to the next by watching for "cue marks" in the upper
right corner of the screen. The change over could be made without
the audience being aware of the change.
"These projectors stood about seven feet tall and five feet long.
In the beginning, the film was made of material that was highly flammable.
If the projector stopped for just a moment, the film would burst into
flame from the heat of the lights. An alert projectionist had to be
fast to grab the burning reel and get it outside to extinguish the
fire. Until a more flame retardant film was developed in the 1950's
most theater fires were caused by fires in the booth."
D'Hanis were used in the Canyon's Construction
the beginning of World
War II, the Schultz family decided to set up a theater in Leakey
for the duration of the war. They purchased two vacant lots from John
Ricks for their project. A building of clay and tile was constructed
and would house what would be known as the Canyon Theatre. This theater
offered benches for seating and had a real screen and stage. The floor
was made of tile and slanted to make viewing the stage area great
for everyone. The new, modern, slanted floor eliminated the need for
the "buzzard roost."
Canyon Theatre was purchased in 1946 by Talbert and Joe Chisum. A
few years later Talbert (Tollie) and his wife Annie bought out Joe's
share of the business. They eventually built a house behind the theater
with a connecting door from the house to the theater. The home later
burned forcing Tollie and Annie to move to Huntsville,
Texas to be closer to the son Henry.
Not only were motion pictures shown in the Canyon Theatre but several
top entertainers of the day would come here to perform stage shows.
Some of these early entertainers were Red River Dave and Maw and Pa
Red River Dave was known as a yodeling balladeer from San
Antonio, Texas. He gained fame with his ballads about current
events and is best remembered for "Amelia Earhart's Last Flight."
Ma and Paw, on the other hand, were a bumbling country couple who
managed to get into every kind of storm that you can think of! Granny
and Jed Clampit had nothing on these two.
There were also, around the time of Halloween, horror shows. These
stage presentations would scare the heck out of us kids with magic
acts and scary spooks but we loved it.
Canyon Theatre was just about the only entertainment for the children
of the area. In the 60's these kids could go to the movies for a mere
twenty six cents and with that twenty six cents you were able to purchase
your ticket plus a coke and popcorn. What a deal!
The Canyon Theatre was the social spot of Leakey.
Most of the kids of the canyon didn't have vehicles so parents would
drop them off and pick them up at the end of the show. Some would
even just walk home. There was nothing to fear in those days.
Everyone had their seating more or less reserved. The younger kids
could not get close enough so the front rows, those closest to the
screen, were where they raced. The teens would sit on the left side
in the back rows while the adults were in the middle section, mid
way down. No one sat in the balcony. Tollie's sign, "No One Allowed"
put enough fear in everyone that you didn't dare go up the stairs.
It seems that the reels were always breaking the film and the audiences
would chant, "Tollie, Tollie" until Tollie got the film patched and
the movie started right where it left off. Chanting the word "Tollie"
just seemed to be a magic word to everyone in the theater.
Theatre under construction
Photo courtesy Lloyd & Jackie Shultz
Theatre as it appears today
Photo courtesy Linda Kirkpatrick
progress soon came to the canyon. Those huge saucers went up bringing
long awaited television reception to the Frio Canyon. Prior to the
satellite dishes, a very snowy picture was the best that those television
boxes could offer. A clear television picture offered the people an
opportunity to stay at home. Audiences at the Canyon Theater grew
smaller and smaller. Television reception kept improving and then
the DVD player was introduced to the world allowing everyone to enjoy
movies at home.
It was on one misty night that the reels did not turn. Tollie and
Annie prepared for the crowd. Tollie threaded the projector while
Annie got ice for the coke machine and popped the corn. At 7:30 they
opened the doors for the patrons. Annie counted her change in the
ticket booth. It was shortly after 8:00 that Annie and Tollie realized
that no one was coming. For a moment they stood on the front porch
of the theater. Realizing that it was the end of an era, they walked
back inside the theater and closed the doors, forever.