Cameo Theatre

111 North Jackson Street,
Magnolia, AR 71753

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Cameo Theatre  Magnolia AR  October 2008

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Originally a single screen movie house in my childhood home of Magnolia, Arkansas. My best guess is that it was built sometime in the 1940’s. My first experience in this, the only movie theatre in town, was in the early-1960’s when I enjoyed everything from Frankie and Annette to “Doctor Zhivago”. I know for sure that there was a sound-proof “cry room” where parents could tend to their children and still enjoy the movie through a large picture window.

In 2006 I took my wife back to Magnolia and discovered that the Cameo Theatre is now a triplex. It had been refurbished and from what I gathered the main room had been split into two separate auditoriums and the balcony was enclosed and set up with it’s own screen.

The Cameo Trio Theatre was closed by Stars Theaters in late-2012. It was reopened in late-2013, using one screen only.

Contributed by Tracy Pearce

Recent comments (view all 16 comments)

bobcole
bobcole on September 27, 2010 at 3:07 am

I worked for Mr. Florence for about eight years back in the 1970’s. The Cameo was still a single screen when I started. The Rocket Drive In was still running. Shortly after I moved away the Cameo was piggy backed and the Rocket demolished. I recently Googled my parent’s house in Magnolia and then followed the street out to the site of the Rocket where I saw that the ramps are still visible. I returned several times to work for Mr. Florence for a night or two at a time as I still retained my knowledge of the projection booth. I still remember most of the history of movie theatres in Magnolia if anyone is interestered.
The Cameo was opened in 1949 as the luxeury house that the Florence family had been asking their partner, Rob Rowley for for years

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on September 27, 2010 at 3:38 am

Bob.Most of us are interested even though we don’t live there.Please include all you can.I worked for eight years for ABC Theatres/PLITT and then GCC ;any stories would be great to read,That is what CT is all about.

bobcole
bobcole on September 27, 2010 at 8:23 pm

move them until he was sure that the theatre was going to be successful. He commuted 6 days a week (closed Sunday) about 25 miles over dirt roads. If I remember correctly, the family moved to Magnolia by the end of 1927. The only concession item sold was popcorn, and it was a nickel a bag. The Maaco was the first building in town to use neon lights. Mr. Florence told me that there was a single neon tube, red of course, around the attraction panel on the marque. The wires were not well insulated and he was shocked many times while changing the letters.
In the late 20’s or early 30’s WP, Sr open another theatre in neighboring Haynesville, La. He had two small trailers built and three times a week he and the manager of thr Pelican would meet at about the half way point and swap prints, advertising, and WP Sr would get the business receipts from the Pelican. I guess that you could call that operation a very small circuit. In the mid 30’s oil was discovered in nearby Smackover, AR and oil exploration spread toward Magnolia. In response to the influx of workers WP Sr put in a shotgun house about 6 doors down from the Maaco. The Odeon was the 425 seat theatre mentioned in that Boxoffice of Jan ‘38. It burned in about 1946 when a welder’s spark started a fire as they were adding refergration the Odeon. Mr. Florence told me that the fire (ironicaly directly across from Magnolia’s only fire station) may well have burned the entire northwest side of the square had not oil field water tankers been pressed into service to carry water to the fire. The property was not rebuilt as a theatre.
There was a black only theatre built by a local businessman whose name I can’t remember. The Ritz lasted a few years, killed by TV. TV killed the Maaco, too. I remember burning old boxoffice reports when the building was being remodeled into retail space. I glanced at some of them. $27.00 a day didn’t go very far, even in 1957. Today, a fading mural of famous movie scenes adorns the outside southern wall of the Maaco. The mural is divided into 5 or 6 panels, each panel dedicated to a decade of movies. On the wall above the entrance to the “colored balcony” is a list of theatres that operatered in the county. Maaco, Odeon, Ritz, Wa-Ke,Joy, Sunset Drive-In, Rocket Drive-In, and the Cameo.
I pestered Mr. Florence for a job and in the summer of 1971 was hired as a doorman/usher at the Cameo. It was still a single screen and he needed extra help for a two week run of “Love Story”. He usually had 2 changes a week (Sun-Wed and Thur-Sat) so running a picture for 2 weeks was special. That’s what he had to do to get the pictue, though. It was not a huge success, so when he had to book “Jaws” for 2 weeks he passed. He never play “Jaws” at the Cameo, although I do think that it was the A picture at the Rocket later on. About a year into my employ I became interestered in operating the projectors. Since I was only 17 I had to be off work by 10:00, so I had to wait to operate. Nothing could stop me from learning on my onw time, though and I became a relief operator shortly after turning 18. Soon I was the main operator at the Rocket Drive-In. It ran all year long, full time in summer and weekends during the school term.
Back to the list of theatres I mentioned earlier:
The Joy and Rocket were a partnership between Mr. Joy N. Houck (Joy and Strand Theatres, among others in Shreveport and other Northwest Louisiana and Northeast Texas towns) and a Magnolia businessman whose name escapes me at the moment. The Joy was directly across the square from the Maaco. The Joy was a much more luxurious theatre. Mr. Florence and his mother had been asking Rob Rowley, their 50-50 partner for a luxuery house and the opening of the Joy was what got them their luxuery theatre, The Cameo. The story was told me that when plans were announced for the Cameo that the local owner of the Joy was told to “give it up. You can’t win against the Florences”. He must have believed them because he soon sold them his operation. Mr. Florence ran out their bookings and shuttered the Joy. About the same time he shuttered his drive in, The Sunset and starteded operating Joy’s Drive in as The Rocket. It ran until Memorial Day of 1979 when it was closed and demolished. I was there earlier this year and the moon pole still stands. I find this ironic because Mr. Florence could not find anyone to climb the pole to change burned out light bulbs at it’s top. The pole was used when he had it installed and none of the local electric lineman would climb it. The Rocket was a dinasour: Strong Futura II lamps throwing a beam through Century C projectors, changing over every 20 minutes. How well I remember striking the arc between the cues if I was trying to burn a stub as close as I could. I did it successfully more times than not.
By the time I started to operate the Cameo had replaced the Peerless Magnarc lamps with Christie Xenon lamphouses. No conversions at the Cameo, just first class equipment. We still ran 2000’ reels, but big changes were coming! The Cameo was also the first small theatre on the Rowley United circuit that I know of that started to use Christie Platters. We has an AutoWind I, serial # 123. Due to the problems we had with it we think that they started with # 101. Does anyone know for sure?
I’ve enjoyed these memories, but it’s time to get back to the present. I’ll post more as time permits. Cinema Treasures Rocks!

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on September 27, 2010 at 10:19 pm

thanks Bob.It was great being in the theatre business.

timmeratx
timmeratx on April 12, 2011 at 12:22 am

I saw many a movie at this theater growing up. My last visit was in 1991. That night the a/c was out and they were showing Hudson Hawk. I was miserable.

BugsBleat
BugsBleat on May 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Bob,great update on the Cameo. Mr. Florence was one of my first employers. I worked distributing the monthly movie calendar when I was in elementary school. Mr. Florence would load a bunch of us up in that old stake side truck and we’d blanket a town with those calendars. We delivered them to all the small surrounding towns. He paid us in show passes.

rivest266
rivest266 on December 8, 2012 at 10:22 pm

CLOSED: http://www.magnoliareporter.com/news_and_business/local_business/article_b7540f4e-e401-11e1-aa7c-0019bb2963f4.html

Roger Katz
Roger Katz on February 14, 2014 at 2:22 am

It appears from checking online showtimes listings that this theatre has reopened albeit with only one screen.

smrisher
smrisher on February 28, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Hi. I am in the process of buying the Cameo for an antique store. I would love for any of you to contact me with your stories or information.

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