Reminisces of the See-More Theater
Duane F. Ebert
In the spring of 1944, my Uncle Frank L. Ebert bought the Seymour movie theater from Arvin Otto. Frank Ebert, his wife, Mildred Schwab Ebert and two daughters Dolores and Germaine moved to Seymour from operating a cheese factory in Oconto County. A daughter, Darlene, was born shortly after the family moved to Seymour. Both Frank and Mildred were natives of Isaar.
After purchasing the theater, Frank had the interior completely redecorated at considerable expense by an artist from Chicago. At about this time they may have added the Marquee, which extended over the sidewalk in front. On it in big letters was the movie showing that day. Uncle Frank also had the popcorn room remodeled. The popcorn room was a small room in the southwest corner of the building.
The theater building originally started out as the community auditorium and was known by that name by all the older Seymourites who remembered the plays and entertainments put on there. I well remember, remaining behind the silver screen was the stage, which extended to the rear of the building. In this area also remained the painted scenery and canvases, which had formed backdrops for settings of plays. The larger paintings, on canvas, were rolled on metal pipes suspended above the stage by ropes tied to the railings. One wonders what happened to these elegant, artistic paintings.
Seymour High School did not have a gym. Before the auditorium became a movie theater, seats were pushed to the sides and basketball games were played in the auditorium.
The 1940’s and 1950’s were the heyday of the movies. People often stood in line to buy tickets. Usually two shows were shown in an evening. There were two balconies in the theater separated by the projection booth. The balcony to the north was used, with a wide stairway leading to it. The one to the south was rarely used because of fire codes, as there was no stairway leading to it. It had to be accessed by the single stairway to the north and then by going around the back of the projection booth. Since early film was flammable, this constituted quite a fire hazard.
Aunt Mildred (Mom’s sister), usually sold the tickets in a ticket booth located in the lobby. Sometimes Dolores, the
oldest daughter would sell tickets. Uncle Frank, with his flash- light, showed theater goers to their seats when it became crowded. From time to time, he patrolled the aisles to make sure there was no foolishness or “necking” going on in the back seats. Dolores and Germaine had charge of the popcorn room. Sharon Swan often worked there too. Popcorn of course, soft drinks and candy bars were sold. The morning after the show, the Ebert family cleaned the theater and got all ready for the next night’s movie. When I visited my aunt and uncle, who were my Godparents, usually for a week or two during the summer, I helped.
My brother Clayton Ebert, LaVern Surman (nicknamed Toad), and a Hartwig were the projectionists who operated the two machines in the projection booth. And woe if a film broke, then all had to wait until it could be spliced. Clayton recalls going to the train depot to pick up the film and then taking it back after the movie was over. The film was shipped in large metal octagonal containers. It usually came on three reels and was shown on two projectors. When one reel was finished the other projector was started.
Advertising was important before TV. I recall going with Uncle Frank to communities around Seymour where he had small, framed billboards erected on buildings or posts. Each month the coming attractions were posted in the frames. Many large posters of movie stars in coming shows were posted in the lobby and on the exterior of the theater. “Coming attractions” were shown on the screens, and slides advertising local businesses were shown also. Usually there were “shorts” of the news, and of course a cartoon. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were my favorites. The heavy velvet curtains were then closed, only to be reopened for the main feature. While people were waiting for the show to start, records of popular songs of the day were played.
In the summer of 1949 while I happened to be staying with Uncle Frank and Aunt Mildred, Gone With The Wind was released for the first time since its premier in 1939. Everyone was excited and talked of nothing else but Gone with the Wind. I asked my cousin Dolores what the movie was about and why it was so anticipated. Her reply was, “I don’t know, I guess it’s about some war.” Needless to say, I was hooked on Gone With The Wind, read the book several times and saw the movie many times.
On Seymour fair days, if the evening performance at the grandstand was rained out, the SEE MORE Theater was crowded to capacity and the south balcony was used. Uncle Frank was nervous about that.
Somehow, today’s movies aren’t the same to me. We all knew and had our favorite actors. Everyone enjoyed the Westerns with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Trigger and the Sons of the Pioneers, now all are lost to history.
In the early 1950’s Uncle Frank sold the theater to Otto Settele. Then he purchased the “pop factory” but that’s another story.
Today the auditorium-theater is only a memory. The above is only my reminisces of the SEE MORE theater when my uncle owned it.. I am sure there are many in the Seymour area who could furnish a more complete history of what was once a vital part of a small community in Outagamie County.