Main Theater

106 Main Street,
Little Rock, AR 72201

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RIMPhotography
RIMPhotography on December 14, 2016 at 8:08 pm

I was delighted to come upon this site and see a reference to my grandfather, Claude Mundo, who indeed, did operate both The Rex (called “Your Family Theater”) in Little Rock and also Liberty Theater in North Little Rock.

I called my mom to get additional details and she shared both her memories of those days as well as a wonderful column about my grandfather and his time in the theater business. The article is dated January 16, 1955 from The Arkansas Gazette. It’s written by Carroll McGaughey who had a column called The Arkansas Angle. This particular piece was entitled, “Enthusiast without Portfolio.”

The column refers to my grandparents, Claude Cunningham Mundo and his wife, the former Thelma Mae McDaniel, also of Little Rock, as not only “man and wife” but also “an inseparable business team.”

His column continues:

“I’m the front man,” says Mundo. “I get the ideas and get enthusiastic about them and she handles the details and makes them show a profit. Matter of fact, it was Thelma’s money (she was on a salaried job) that got us into business for ourselves. She had the $50 we needed.”

That $50 bought a controlling interest in the stock in a tiny Main Street theater — a “last run” house that was going broke. Within a year the Mundos had built up its business sufficiently to finance a move across the street to a new location. The address was 213 Main Street.

Westerns, serials, cartoons and comedies made up the major portion of the entertainment bill of the Mundo family enterprise that became known as “Your Family Theater” and the 10 cent tickets for kids made up the major portion of its admission revenue. The rate of profit from that source was not high but Mundo did not let it drop there. He became a specialist in popcorn. These were the years of WWII. Popcorn was in limited supply. Mundo depended upon its profit and was about to be caught short in supply. He ordered it by the carload well in advance. He recalls getting one carload so green you could have made corn whiskey out of it in three days. Instead of shipping it back, he rigged up a dryer in the warehouse and several times a day stirred the grains in the hopper until it was cured.

Popcorn became an obsession with him. When vegetable oil became too scarce to meet the needs, he experimented with a degree of success by mixing in mineral oil, “probably the healthiest thing you can eat: roughage and laxative at the same time.”

“They started calling me the ‘Popcorn King of Little Rock.’ But it paid off when I decided to build a new theater at 106 Main, now called The Main Theater. I took my financial statement to a banker to negotiate a loan. He took one look at my popcorn operation for the year and said that’s all he wanted to see. ‘Any man who can make $10,000 clear profit from a popcorn concession is a good enough risk for me.’ ”

The Mundos built their new theater and moved their headquarters there. They had meanwhile built North Little Rock’s Liberty Theater (313 Main) with 313 seats, selling it subsequently in 1947 at a comfortable profit. In ’49, Mundo decided the future of the small downtown theater was limited and sold his Little Rock theater with the intention of moving to a small town in Texas to continue the business he knew best—operation of a small family theater. He was on his way to Texas in 1950 when the car radio blared out an announcement that the Korean War had forced a government edict prohibiting new starts on construction of places of entertainment. He turned around.

“Thelma and I decided right then that it would be a good idea to retire while we could enjoy middle age and go back to work if it became necessary,” he said.

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Thanks for letting me share! Would love to hear more stories about those days in the theater business in Little Rock!

Renée Ittner McManus

oldblue
oldblue on June 8, 2016 at 2:10 pm

The REX theater was the one located at 213 Main. I know because I was the projectionist on VJ day…we closed in the middle of the afternoon for the rest of the day. The MAIN was NEVER the Rex. The REX was operated by CLAUDE MUNDO (who also operated the Liberty Theater in No. Little ROCK.)

The MAIN in the late 40s to early 50s was operated by JOY HOUCK of New Orleans on a lease and when that lease expired it was taken over by ROY COCHRAN who was the owner of the JUROY theater in No. Little Rock. When his lease expired, I became the lease holder of the Main theater and operated it until the property was sold to the the city to be demolished for what is now a parking lot.

AT one time there were 4 theaters within one block of each other…the REX, the MAIN and just a few doors down from the Main was the NEW (owned and operated by Robb and Rowley theaters of Texas…and just around the corner on First Street was the Crescent theater operated and owned by the Wren circuit.

The theaters slowly closed…with the REX being the 1st to go,…the Crescent was the 2nd to to…the NEW was the 3rd and the Main was the last one.

Clark CHILDERS

Chris1982
Chris1982 on August 24, 2015 at 2:21 am

Just to add to the comments, in the Motion Picture Yearbook the Main Theatre is listed as open in 1926.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 22, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Some of the cars in the photo of the New and Main Theatres are from the early 1950s. I think this page should be renamed Main Theatre, with Rex as an aka. The Boxoffice item I cited earlier indicates that the Rex Theatre moved into the building at 106 Main Street in 1946, so it had to have become the Main Theatre later, in the 1950s.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 14, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Just for the record, Chuck1231 originally uploaded the photo of the New Theatre, not me.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on October 14, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Well, I posted Joe’s pic in the photo section, for what it’s worth.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 14, 2012 at 5:07 pm

At for right in the photo of the New Theatre on its page, part of a marquee can be seen with the letter “M” and part of the letter “A” on it. That must be the Main Theatre at 106 Main Street.

That means there’s something wrong with the information from the Arkansas Historical Society magazine that Chuck cited in his previous comment. The theater at 106 Main was clearly the Main Theatre at some point, either before or after being the Rex.

I have no clue if the Rex at 213 Main (not yet listed at Cinema Treasures) was ever called the Main or not. Is it possible that it was the replacement for this theater, and when it opened this one was renamed the Main, rather than the other way around?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 12, 2009 at 9:02 pm

I wonder if the order of names is backward for this theater? I’ve found the Rex mentioned in various issues of Boxoffice as far back as 1939, when it was bought by Claude Mundo. Mundo sold the Rex three years after moving it a block down Main Street. Then the first mention in Boxoffice of a Main Theatre in Little Rock appears in 1952. The Main is mentioned four times from 1952 to 1954, then vanishes. No address is given for it.

It’s also possible that both Rex Theatres were called the Main, the one at 213 Main before becoming the Rex and the one at 106 Main after being called the Rex.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 12, 2009 at 5:08 pm

The Rex Theatre operated in two different locations, making the move in 1946. The August 3, 1946, issue of Boxoffice said that Claude Mundo had closed his Rex Theatre at 213 Main Street before his new building at 106 Main Street was ready to be occupied. Mundo had expected the new theater to be completed by July 1, but materials shortages had caused construction delays.

The building at 213 main Street was owned by the Parkin Printing company, which was expanding its operations into the former theater space. The estimated new opening date for the Rex Theatre at 106 Main Street was about the middle of September.