Uptown Theatre entertains its last audience today after 60 colorful years

By Nancy Funk, Tribune Staff Writer
Salt Lake Tribune, 4 August 1971, page E1
The Uptown is coming down. With the last showing Sunday of "Lawman," the 60-year-old Salt Lake City theater will close to make room for the ZCMI Shopping Center.

The showhouse that has played host to Earl Carroll's Vanities, Sally Rand, Bo Jangles Robinson and Satchmo, to mention only a few, has had a long and warm career.

First known as the Empress, the theater was built for the Sullivan - Considine circuit and featured vaudeville acts as well as movies. George Maine was manager. But in those early years, money for entertainment was scarce and poor business forced the Empress to close.

Changed Name

A local distributor for art class pictures, Louis Marcus, took possession of the Empress in 1916, changing the name to the Paramount - Empress. With the exception of prologues or an occassional "name band" such as Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians, the theater operated exclusively as a place to show movies.

All the greats were there including "Covered Wagon," Valentino's "The Sheik" and Maurice Chevalier's "Innocence of Paris."

To see a matinee from the balcony, Paramount theater-goers were charged 15 cents, evening prices 25 cents and 30 cents.

As patrons watched Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford or Gloria Swanson, nolay cups or crackling popcorn didn't interrupt the drama on screen. Concession stands as known today were non-existant. Expensive candies were for sale in the lobby but seldom purchased. For a nickel a patron could buy a chocolate bar, with or without almonds, from a small container attached to the back of each chair.

No Air Cooling

Going to a movie to escape the summer heat was out of the question in the early days of the Paramount. The theater closed in mid-June and didn't reopen until August . . . at tht time air conditioning was not part of the billing.

Some seasons, New York theatrical companies made appearances on the Paramount stage bringing "Strange Interlude," Desert Song," staring Parry Askam, and "The Royal Box" to entertain Salt Lake's loyal theater crowd.

Paramount manager Marcus phoned George E. Carpenter one day and asked him if he would like to assume the theater's management. Mr. Carpenter, a book reviewer for a Salt Lake newspaper, left the paper to take over duties at the theater.

At that time music to accompany the films was provided by the Paramount Orchestra under the direction of Edward P. Kimball. An outstanding organist at the Cathedral of the Madeleine named Ethel Hogan was asked to join the Paramount staff as "improvisor of scores." She reflects today on those years by saying, "I never cared what my music sounded like; I was only interested in how pretty I looked. A great deal of the money I earned was spent on expensive clothes just so I could show off for the boys who sat on the front row. In fact I can remember Mr. Carpenter stopping me one day and saying, "Ethel, we've had so many complaints about your rotten music that we're going to have to raise your salary!"

A frequent visitor to the Paramount was Utah veteran actor Stan russon who remembers cutting fifth period classes at the L.D.S. High School just to catch the afternoon movie. Stan was student body president and told about the day a school crisis occurred and no one could find him. Finally someone noticed the time and said, "Oh it's fifth period . . . you'll find Stan at the Paramount."

Mr. Russon returned some years later to perform on stage in "The Barretts of Wimpole Street."

Sold Paramount

In the late 1920's, Mr. Marcus sold the Paramount to Publix Theaters, a subsidiary of Paramount Studios, but the depression came and the theater was forced to close again.

The 1930's brought new innovations to the film world and movies were better than ever. The Paramount reopened with a roadshow engagement featuring Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh in the spectacular "Gone With The Wind."

Joseph L. Lawrence took possession of the Paramount in 1941 and brought back to its stage such musical hits as "Oklahoma" and "High Button Shoes."

A Paramount manager at different intervals for 25 years, David Edwards recalls starting as an usher, earning 15 cents an hour. "We used to go to Art Davis' (now the Grabeteria) for lunch, because the place next door was too expensive. We'd spend an hour's wages for each meal."

The Lawrence Theater chain sold the Paramount in 1955 to Fox Intermountain, later to become National General Corporation. The theater's name was, by then, The Uptown. Salt Lakers saw Cecil B. De-Mille's extraveganza, "The Ten Commandments" and gave "Dr. Zhivago" the honor of the longest running roadshow engagement of that theater - 14 months.

In 1959, Walt Disney's "The Shaggy Dog" received honors as having the greatest attendance figure for a non-roadshow picture. Ted Kirkmeyer, Uptown manager, remembered that "the lines were up and down Main Street and around corners until they met on State Street.

"The staff, the actors, the patrons of the Uptown - nearly everyone in the area has been touched by this theater," said Mr. Kirkmeyer. "And it's always hard to say good-bye. But I think this has a happy ending because we will be replaced by one of the most beautiful and practical shopping centers in the United States. A new theater is also planned for the downtown area that will be in keeping with the tradition of the Uptown."