Forman Theater

356 Main Street SW,
Forman, ND 58032

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The Forman Theater opened in the 1940’s and operated at least into the 1990’s.

Contributed by Lost Memory

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on November 16, 2009 at 7:49 am

This is a 2009 photo of the Forman Theater.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on November 16, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Judith Brungard, a former owner talks about the Forman Theater.

Recently I was watching the movie “Cinema Paradiso” a 1988 drama starring Salvatore Cascio on the TCM Movie Channel. The plot was “a projectionist’s friendship gives a boy a love for movies”. Seeing this picture reminded me of the years I owned the movie theater in my hometown of Forman, N.D.

I didn’t know a thing about running a theater, but in 1990, I secured a loan from the Sargent County Bank in Forman and bought this dark, cool, musty 1940s art deco building. It used to be the life of the town, but it had sat empty for the last five years, and since I’m always looking for a new challenge, and because we owned the drugstore down the street, I thought it would add new life to our little community.

But the main reason I moved forward on this venture was that my father, Raymond Fredrickson, had just been diagnosed with lung cancer and we were all devastated with the news. And since my parents had always enjoyed the movies at this theater, and even had their first date there in the early 1940s, I knew it would cheer them up a little to see the theater operating again. Plus it would give us all something else to think about besides dad’s chemotherapy sessions and his illness.

The first thing I did was to hire a booking agent from Minneapolis, Minn., to take care of scheduling first-run movies for me. He did an excellent job. He never missed a beat, and he guided me through the operation until I knew exactly how to handle it. For the next two years, at 1 p.m. every Monday, he called me to give me the names of the movies he had booked for the following weeks. Then, immediately, I ordered the posters, previews and advertising slicks, and the wheels were in motion.

The next important task was to hire a reliable projectionist. I found the right person, paid him well, and he never let me down once. I knew I could always depend on Roger Johnson to be there and I gave a standing invitation to his wife, Helen, to be my guest every weekend at the movies with popcorn and treats included. She appreciated my invitation and always felt welcome and excited to be at the movies.

The previous owners told me it was a “turn-key” operation, meaning it was ready to go, but I don’t think so. My booking agent set the opening dates for Aug. 17-18-19, 1990, and scheduled the movies “Pretty Woman” for the 8 p.m. features and “The Adventures of Milo and Otis” for the children’s matinees, and so for the next six weeks it was full steam ahead getting the theater ready for opening weekend.

I was extremely excited about the business and I had plenty of ideas of what I wanted to do to renovate, redecorate and maintain the look of the 1940s. I took out a $5,000 business loan, opened a charge account at the lumber/hardware store across the street from the theater, and away we went. My daughter, Anna, and I pulled out the 25 seat cushions, one at a time, that needed recovering, and we got started on that project.

The booking agent sent out the movie “Dad” for us to practice with, so my father and Roger Johnson tinkered around in the projection room and figured out how to run the projectors while my mother, Verna Fredrickson, cleaned up the 1940s vintage popcorn popper. Once we got the popcorn popping and the aroma wafting out the ticket booth vents, word was out that the theater was opening soon and the folks in our little community were excited and eager to help out. So I organized work days and work projects and kept the eager volunteers busy.

One crew sandblasted the front of the building to prepare the stucco surface and the marquee area for the new paint — the school colors of the Sargent Central Cadets in red, white and blue. My daughter, Sara, helped Bev Walstead and a few other volunteers paint the bathrooms, the oval waiting room, and the concession and ticket area. We hung stunning 1940s looking wallpaper borders and chair rail heights in a few areas, and I picked out black-and-white large checkered linoleum flooring for the concession area.

Another group of volunteers scrubbed and then painted the concrete floors in the main theater area with a shiny gray paint which made the theater smell fresh and clean. The people at Buhl’s Dry Cleaning from Britton, S.D., picked up the dark blue velvet drapes for cleaning and promised to return them as soon as possible. And the carpet layer replaced the carpet in the aisles, the oval reception area and the dressing room area of the ladies' bathroom with the new carpeting I had selected.

Everything was rolling along nicely. I wanted to install the tubed floor lighting up and down the aisles, however, I felt it was too expensive for right now. The theater’s capacity was 144 seats with two aisles. The wall seats were called “sweetheart seats'‘ because two people could snuggle together in that one larger seat. The theater was long and narrow like the body of a 747 jet. Oftentimes, I felt like the projection room was the cockpit of the jet where the serious stuff was happening, the ticket and concession area was the galley of the jet, and the auditorium area was the body of the jet.

Concessions was next on my list. Henry’s Candy Co. from Alexandria, Minn., supplied us with a weekly truck delivery. From them I ordered 25-pound bags of popcorn, popcorn oil, candy bars and paper products like popcorn boxes and popcorn tubs in two sizes. My customer’s favorite candies were Starbursts, Junior Mints, Snickers, Red Hots and Salted Nut Rolls, and, of course, I used real butter on the popcorn – about 10 pounds per weekend. Here is a good one -It so happened that about the year I bought the theater, the North Dakota Legislature passed a law requiring theater owners to use real butter on the popcorn if they advertised buttered popcorn.

The people at the Coca-Cola Co. set the concession area up with everything we needed to serve fountain Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite and root beer, plus the cups in three sizes, lids in two sizes, and straws without paper on them, and they sent a Coke truck to Forman every week to deliver the canisters of beverage I ordered. I was learning everything new as I went along – who would have guessed to order straws without paper on them.

Another volunteer group painted the 8-by-10-inch alphabetic letters and numbers I needed to change the marquee every week. The guys strung a clothes line between the trees in the back alley area, hung the letters and numbers on the line, and spray painted red like nobody’s business. Another group of people worked on the marquee repairing the electrical wiring and replacing many, many, many light bulbs.

The marquee looked fantastic painted white with red trim and it reflected off the dark blue building that was accented with shiny white stripes and white poster display window cases on either side of the twin, double, stainless steel, oval windowed doors. The ticket window, located between the doors, was accented with a red velvet curtain and a Disney Mickey and Minnie Mouse picture was displayed in the window. The Forman Theater looked beautiful and I was proud to be the owner.

I asked the Forman city commissioners if we could replace the sidewalk in front of the theater because it was shabby looking and patchy in areas, but I was told not at this time. My customers didn’t care, though, because they were coming to the movies. It was fun to see people lined up across the street and back to the hardware store on one side and another line strung down to the Gambles Store the other direction.

Some of the first weekends the theater was open, my husband, Paul, was in charge of the popcorn popping and he never let up until the movie was over and the customers were out the door. We sold concessions like nobody’s business. All this time we were dealing with my father’s illness, taking him and mother to the Roger Maris Cancer Treatment Center in Fargo, N.D., several times a week for dad’s treatments.

He didn’t feel well at all, but one week he and mother bought a new Ford pickup at W.W. Wallworks when we were in Fargo, and I stopped and bought a pedestal sink for the ladies' bathroom in the theater. Another time we stopped in Wahpeton, N.D., to order wallpaper, linoleum and carpeting for the theater.

My siblings from Washington, Utah, New Mexico and Florida, and my son from Arizona were coming home to visit my parents on a regular basis, and word was out that they should bring their white tuxedo shirts and black or red bow ties if they wanted to help us at the theater on the weekends.

We all felt a bittersweet excitement visiting with old friends and relatives who were coming to Forman to be with our family. One of the most difficult jobs of the renovation was painting the inside theater walls. I wanted to attach colored, pleated burlap fabric from top to bottom on both inside walls, but that was too expensive. So my husband, Paul, and I did all the painting on extremely high stepladders.

Nobody volunteered to help us with that job and it was tedious, hard work. We spent many late night hours finishing up that project and I was thankful to Paul for his determination to help me meet that deadline for the theater’s opening week. I was most surprised by the intense background search the major film companies were doing on me.

The people at 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony Pictures, Universal and Disney, to name a few, were contacting the bank and a few other places to see how dependable and honorable I was before distributing any of their merchandise to me for rental purposes and for my reporting weekly ticket sales, which I called in every Sunday evening after the last showing. Hey, I’m from North Dakota – need I say more? You bet I was honest.

Owning the theater was exciting for me, but I did hold my breath at times hoping everything was “all systems go”. There is nothing like a crowd of angry theatergoers when a film breaks, or the Diet Coke won’t stop foaming all over, or the men’s toilet runs over. “Pretty Woman”, “Dances With Wolves”, “Home Alone” and “Ghost” were a few of the movies where we had capacity crowds and overall the business was outstanding.

I’ll never forget opening weekend: Sunday night after closing, I was home in our basement counting the cash intake for the weekend of $2,001. I was off to a good start.

Jack Dold
Jack Dold on March 15, 2012 at 5:37 pm

What a great story from Judith. Almost makes me feel like I was there. Thanks!

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