Gaston Mall Theatre
401 Cox Road,
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The first time I heard Gaston Mall Theatre mentioned in a town called Gastonia, N.C. I felt sick! It wasn’t anything having to do with the theatre itself. It was a truly beautiful theatre with Ultra-Vision screening, the hot sell of that time when it opened in 1971.
It was because our manager and one of my best friends John Mackey, was being transferred to this North Carolina spot. But his super promotions brought life to what was a small and dying mall. At least compared to Charlotte’s malls, it was very small.
The theatre seated I’d say 620 folks. One of John Mackey’s creation was "Uncle Oscar". He would host a "Children’s Spectacular" Saturday mornings at 11:00 AM. The Gaston Mall was the place for kiddie shows, magicians, games, prizes, and a movie were often the talk of the city. No other chain in that town would have ever thought of such a thing.
Mackey explained, "I had a vision of Uncle Oscar as an old Ed Sullivan type you know, when he’s very old. Uncle Oscar dressed in baggy pants wearing a straw hat and crazied color stripes I believe".
The Gaston Mall Theatre was billed as Gastonia’s finest, and having seen a small twin inside another Gastonia Mall, it certainly was a beautiful theatre. I remember one time while visiting, John let me do the newspaper ads for "The Spy Who Loved Me". That’s something that would have never happened in Augusta.
The Gaston Mall Theatre had Ultra-Vision projection and a curved screen. They seem to play a lot of United Artists films such as "Return of a Man Called Horse" and "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot". "Freebie and The Bean" opened to huge crowds, and according to Mackey, he sold the movie not on Alan Arkin or James Cann, but on Valerie (Rhoda) Harper and Loretta (Hot Lips) Swit. Both were co-stars but as he said, both were in the huge TV hits "Rhoda" and "M.A.S.H".
I remember the projectionist there. His name was Richard, and like so many projectionists the booth was his world. Certainy there’s a story in every booth. He told me he had worked on several movies made in the Carolinas. One was "The Last American Hero" with Jeff Bridges. He would pull cable on the set, and he said he offered Bridges one glass of real North Carolina Moonshine! On the movie "Hawmps" he built a camel and had it walking up and down the busy street in Gastonia promoting that Joe Camp family film. Yeah, it’s in your blood!
John Mackey said they ran late shows but never with the crowds National Hills had, nor with any employees in Augusta who were willing to go the extra mile to promote.
John Mackey would soon transfer to a couple of ABC theatres in Charlotte before getting out of the business – not that you ever can! The Gaston Mall Theatre closed without any fanfare. The last time I saw the theatre it had become a carpet store.
Note: I want to thank Nick DiMaggio in Tampa for helping me compile so much of this history for Cinema Treasures. I thought he and I were the only ones that liked visiting old theatres. Boy was I wrong!
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