Today, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is all the rage. The movie, the seventh in the Star Wars saga, cost about $200 million to make – a staggering sum, but no doubt a wise investment as producer Lucasfilm Ltd. expects to clear more than $1.5 billion in box office sales. That’s billion with a “B”, if you’re having difficulty grasping all of this.
Nearly a century earlier, in 1920, William Desmond Taylor directed the third in his trilogy of Mark Twain films: “Huckleberry Finn.” Starring Lewis Sargent in the title role, Famous Players-Lasky produced the film, which was distributed by Paramount Pictures. The 84-mintue picture was, of course, a silent one. Unlike the vast majority of silent films, however, which were made on unstable nitrate film that tends to disintegrate or burn, “Huckleberry Finn” survives.
Earlier, on Saturday, May 18, 1912, the new Forum Theater, an eventual venue for “Huckleberry Finn,” had opened in the Glenn Building in Hillsboro with a special matinee bill. Many of the theatergoers, The News-Herald speculated, were “Drawn no less by the far-heralded matinee bill than by a desire to see the new playhouse, which claimed the most magnificent furnishings in southern Ohio.” The newspaper also predicted, “that the Forum will be a success.”
Although the theater went through a number of owners prior to its closing in the early 1950s, it – along with Bell’s Opera House, the Orpheum, and later the Colony Theatre – was a Hillsboro entertainment pillar.
As the photos accompanying this story attest, the Forum’s owners resorted to a bit of showmanship themselves in order to lure customers to their establishment. The actor in a top hat and parasol was announcing the showing of “Huckleberry Finn” both at the theater location and also in front of Smith’s Drugstore at 114 W. Main St. No doubt he strolled around Hillsboro enticing potential patrons.
A close examination of the former photograph reveals posters announcing the upcoming showing of “The Sheik,” the famous motion picture starring Rudolf Valentino, opening at the Forum on Friday and continuing on Saturday. Also produced by Famous Players-Lasky, the 1921 film made Valentino the heartthrob of American women.
The same unidentified actor who earlier advertised “Huckleberry Finn” in front of the Forum and Smith’s Drugstore returned in the costume of a sheik to promote the new picture. He hardly would have been mistaken for Valentino.
Although the films themselves were silent, the theater by no means was so. Motion pictures were accompanied by everything from a lone piano player to a full orchestra. In 1914, the Forum announced plans to install a Wurlitzer Orchestra Theater Organ to go with its new Silver Flash Minaroide Screen. It’s not certain, but it’s not believed that the organ ever made it to Hillsboro.
Well-known local musician and keyboard teacher Faye Dailey Perin played at the Forum as well as at Bell’s in the 1920s and 1930s. A graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, she was the wife of Charles Theodore “Teddy” Perin, a cashier at the Farmers and Traders National Bank.
As followers of the Colony, the Roselawn, the Rand, the Ranch, and myriad other theaters and drive-ins know only too well, the motion-picture theater business has changed and changed dramatically. Few single-screen theaters survive, and drive-ins are today more of a novelty than an entertainment mainstay. People just no longer go to a couple of movies each week. How many times did you visit a theater last year?
Editor’s Note: Christopher Duckworth, a graduate of Ohio State University, spent three decades at the Ohio Historical Society, where he was founding editor of “Timeline” magazine, and another 10 years at the Columbus Museum of Art. He has deep Hillsboro roots — his grandfather, Edwin B. Ayres, owned W.R. Smith/Ayres Drug Company, and his great-great-great grandfather, Peter Leake Ayres, built the Highland House.