by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Although I will be publishing the Sharpsville blogs on a less frequent time schedule this year, here’s one a bit earlier than I had planned. It’s a second blog about the Ritz Theater, written by my high school friend, Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958).

sharpsville_movie-reel-2Ah yes, the Ritz Theater with its many reeled doors leading to adventure and romance.

My favorite movie serials were those with the heroes Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix, and Gene Autry. Lash LaRue, another of my favorites, captured “the bad guys” in a slightly different manner. While other heroes  usually used lassos to pull “the bad guys” from their horses, Lash had a long buggy-type whip which he let out with a swoosh and it invariably landed with a loud crack as it wrapped around the bad guys’ necks or waists to unseat them from their horses.

There were other heroes as well, for example, the Scarlet Horseman, the Cisco Kid, Red Ryder, the Lone Ranger (along with Tonto, of course), and Roy Rogers.

How wonderful it all was. I chomped my candy in tempo to galloping hooves and in fascination at the glory of the intrepid good guys galloping across the screen to save us all from the evil men of the world.


Hopalong Cassidy cover by Time Magazine, 27 November 1950.

A few years ago I caught a special on TV about Hopalong Cassidy, a.k.a. William Boyd,  and his wife. They never had children but loved them immensely. He started a special Hopalong club that boys could join. Said joiners had an oath to take similar to that of Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts.

Hopalong was much loved in Europe and crowds surrounded him when he traveled there with his wife. He had the most beautiful white hair – which was natural.

When I traveled to Europe about ten years ago, I was astounded to find racks of American Western cowboy-hero paperbacks in train stations. On a train in England, I met a man who informed me about the many cowboy clubs active in his country. He himself was a very active member and had traveled to Tombstone, Arizona, to see the O.K. Corral first hand – and the reenactment of that famous shoot-out. It was a highlight of his life.

When I myself traveled to Tombstone several years later, there were busloads of Japanese, German, and other alien tourists lapping up every bit of dust and cobweb in the town.

I do want to mention one humorous incident that occurred when I saw “101 Dalmatians.” I was at a Saturday evening showing and there were several small children seated in the row in front of me and throughout the audience. At one point in the movie, a puppy was being washed along in a fast flowing stream. His animal friends had assembled on a low bridge under which the stream’s current would soon be carrying the frightened animal.

"101 Damatians," poster for the Walt Disney film.

“101 Damatians,” poster for the Walt Disney film, 1961.

Their plan was to reach down and grab his arm and pull him to safety as he was washed under the bridge. They frantically shouted loudly to him to raise his arm so they could grab him.

And it was at that point in the movie that several small children in the theater, caught up in the emotion of the moment, desperately shot their arms up – trying empathetically to save the puppy.

I also remember mothers having to comfort their weeping children when the Wicked Witch of the North confronted Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Some children had to be carried out of the theater because they were so frightened.

Each movie I attended was a wonderful experience. Walking home with my brother and sisters and/or friends, we discussed the heroes and the dastardly villains.

When I reached my teens, Doris Day became my favorite actress. I tried to remember the words of the songs she sang in her movies and daydreamed that I might have adventures similar to hers in her screen roles.

When I think back now, I can see clearly that I led a blessed life in the small town of Sharpsville. I pity children today who can’t talk to strangers and can’t be hugged by teachers or classmates…and who can’t enjoy the screen adventures of the heroes of the Old West.

— Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958), Shoreline, WA, 5 March 2013

See Also:
Ritz Theater I by Ann Angel Eberhardt
Ritz Theater II by Irene Calwell O’Neill
Sharpsville and the Ritz Re-Discovered
by Gail Nitch Hanes