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November 27, 2020

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Once upon a time in Ada

Remembering Ada silent movies

By Leland Crouse
Art and Alice Cotner, St. Rt. 309, Ada, have vivid memories of the Odeon Theatre on Ada’s North Main Street. Both Mr. and Mrs. Cotner worked at the Odeon in the mid-1920’s. Art was hired by theatre owner Ralph Rhoades to operate the projection room when he was a sophomore in high school. Cotner continued working at the theatre, after it was sold to Carl Moore, until his graduation from college in 1929.

This was the period when you watched the pictures and read the words on the screen, since there was no sound track. Art notes that the title”silent movie” is a misnomer, claiming that “the croud always provided plenty of sound effects.” A piano player was often hired to provide musical background for the moving pictures. Art Cotner helped hire the girls to play the piano and one of the girls he chose was Alice Gleason, also an Ada High School student. A cue sheet arrived with the film. Alice (now Mrs. Art Cotner) said the guide sheet would cue the pianist to what song should be played during the different scenes in the movie. Also included was the right (upper staff) of the music. “But we were not allowed to use the music because of the musicians’ union- the theatre would have been fined.” Alice said. So, using the cue sheet to know whether a love scene or a fight, etc. was coming up on the scene, Alice had to prepare her own musical selections.

Alice worked from 7 to 11 p.m. and earned 50 cents for the evening’s work. She remembers a fringe benefit that she received from Art when she was a senior. Alice said, “My dad used to come after me at 11 p.m. to escort me home.” Then Art said to Alice’s dad that he could take her home and save her dad coming out that late at night. This developed into a relationship that culminated in marriage four years later, in 1931.

Art remembers that merchants paid to have advertisements flashed on the screen telling about their merchandise or services. One ad that ran was an opportunity for people to take an airplane ride for $10. Art was able to get a free ride with the pilot. He still has a picture of Ada that he took from the plane.

The early films were hand cranked in the projection room. They came marked at what speed to crank them. Normal speed during those years was 55 to 60 feet a minute, Art said. And when it got late at night,: Art laughed, “the cranker sometimes speeded the film up if he was in a hurry!”

The first “talkie” picture arrived at the Odeon in 1928. Mr. Cotner said it was “Sonny Boy,” with Al Jolson. “You had to play a different record for every song, and changing them kept me busy!” he commented. He remembers that it was quite a job keeping the sound with the film. Both Mr. and Mrs. Cotner remember how funny it was when the sound wasn’t sunchronized with the action, especially when a pistol shot was heard.

Art remembers there were several other theatres in Ada during those years. When he was about four years old, his mother took him to the Lyric Theatre on North Main Street to see “Joan of Arc.” Balish’s was later located in the building which is now occupied by the Decorator Shop. Southside Theatre was located in the area occupied by Reichert’s and Keith’s (Baker) Hardware.
(From The Ada Herald, Dec. 17, 1986)