Sunday, November 27, 2005


(Run originally 7/13/04 on our old site)

Ernie Simpson

One of my most favorite places growing up was the old Rialto Theatre…it was a source of social gathering, convention, and central focus for friends for many years. Even as young as ten, I was given a dollar for my birthday, (the matinee on Saturday was a dime) rode my bike to town, and left it at my Uncle Hubert Coward’s house, and walked the rest of the way to the movie.

That dollar went forever those afternoons, and I was even able to come home with change. How that happened, I’ll never know. It was just more than I could spend, it seems.

Relationships were started here, and maybe developed, as we planned to "meet at the Rialto". Friends, strangers, summer romances, all had the Rialto as a commonality. I don’t doubt that, for many kids, the first handholding was at the Rialto. We’ve already talked about the projection system, the upstairs that was segregated in the ‘50’s, Don Boggs (the perfect doorman), and how tough K.K. was as a boss. Bonnie and Clyde’s ’34 Ford, on a flat bed truck in front of the theatre. We gaped at the number of bullet holes in the old car.

I loved my job tearing tickets: the people who came through the doors were all interesting in their way, this was like creating a favorite pastime at a large airport, that of people-watching. I remember friends, strangers, girls from Harding, and a cute girl from McRae who came to a movie every Sunday afternoon. I wanted to meet her, and Johnnie Dacus knew her, but gave me such a brief introduction, I didn’t even catch her name. Darn the luck.

The Saturday matinees, the serial cliffhangers, and our first introduction to the “Roadrunner" cartoons were things first brought to mind, along with air conditioning.

In recent years, my wife Shelia and I loved to come to Searcy and stay at the Lightle House Inn while visiting friends or relatives. Bobby Muerer’s aunt was one of the innkeepers. The innkeepers worked with the reunion committee of the class of ’57, and hosted our reunion there in 1997. Shelia and I loved the place and came several times after that reunion and stayed at that wonderful old house.

I had told Shelia stories about the Rialto and, on a visit to Searcy and the Lightle House, I took her to the Rialto. Friends, it was like stepping back in time. I had not been there in over three decades. A current movie was playing, I think it was the latest Harry Potter, but that was unimportant. What was important was the long-faded ritual of going up to the ancient ticket booth, walking though the glass doors, then two steps up to the lobby level, and my mind thought for a brief moment that the old maroon floral carpet might still be in the lobby. It wasn’t, but no matter. The concession stand hadn’t changed a lot, and, I could still remember Carol Hill making popcorn, probably on the same machine.

The velvet curtains in the theatre are gone, but the lighted wall sconces are still there. The narrow stage in front of the screen hadn’t changed, where I saw Smiley Burnett do a routine back in 1954. The same stage where, with K.K. King, seventeen seniors of 1957 had our pictures made, those who started in the first grade, and ended together at Searcy High, immortalized in photo on the stage of the old Rialto.

Those of us who care for the history, are glad the old theatre is on the National Register. For teens in the 50’s, it could have been a teen shrine, a place of teenage pilgrimage on Saturday night;whatever it might be called, those long ago memories of the old Rialto are priceless.

P.S. the twelve listed are Jo Ann Roth, Marlene Evans, Nancy Garrison, Sue Haney, Larry Maness, Nina Aunspaugh, Marvin Allen, Verna Cox, Camelia Chambless, Coy Benton, Ernest Simpson, and Frank Thompson. However, I note seventeen in the photo, and I think I recognize Roger Duncan, and Bobby Latimer. Someone help me with this, memory fades, and the picture isn’t too good anyway. There must have been more than twelve. The photo is in the 1957 Lion. Our class history lists the twelve.

Dan E. Randle

I remember times when I was without funds and wanted to see a movie that was playing, Ernie would let me go upstairs with him and watch the movie. One movie I remember seeing was 'Love Me Tender' with Elvis. I remember thinking what a poor actor he was in that movie. I also worked at the Rialto in the concession stand for awhile, don't remember which year, but Don Boggs and I didn't see eye to eye, so I left. I also remember an old gentleman, Mr. Snyder, 80 years old but didn't look older than 60, worked as the ticket taker. During the day he did yard work around town. The memory fades out so much I don't remember much else.

The thing that Ernie didn't mention was that Saturdays were always cowboy movies. The cliff hanger serials were designed to keep you coming every week. One was about Bullet Man. I wonder if anyone else remembers him? (I remember Rocket Man. Same thing?) I don't remember others, but do remember that at the end of each chapter, one of the characters was always in imminent danger of being killed. Of course, the following week, they always found a way out and survived until they were put into a similar situation in a later chapter. Anyway, the Saturday matinee was a great place to send your children and know they would be alright for a few hours.

In those days you could send your children to the movies very economically: five for fifty cents, and another thirty cents per child for popcorn, candy, drinks brought the total up to two dollars; now the matinees are 4.75, or $23.75 and, by the time you get popcorn, candy and drinks, you've spent a fifty dollar bill. As noisy as the theaters are now, I don't like going unless it is a very special movie. I usually wait until they come out on DVD and rent them for 99 cents. Almost like going to the movies for ten cents!

Ernie S. Footnote

Hi old friend: just an additional comment: my letting Dan Randle go upstairs and watch "Love Me Tender" was probably one of the firings K.K. gave me....he fired me two or three times, at least.


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