Collins Theatre
120 W Emerson Paragould, Arkansas 72450
(870) 236-6252
  • Exterior view of Collings Theatre

The History
of the Collins Theatre

Constructed in 1925, the Collins has stood as an historical gem for Paragould. Today, the Collins Theatre continues the tradition inviting all residents to come and enjoy one-of-a-kind productions! From musicals to dramatic plays, the Collins Theatre offers a world of opportunities to explore!

Remembering the Capitol Theatre

By Orris F. Collins

"If walls could talk...the walls of the Capitol Theatre could tell of many wonderful, entertaining events that have taken place within its confines."

I'm sure it would recall the faces of many people during the depression that came to the theatre to escape the reality of the world for a few short hours by seeing silent movies, vaudeville acts, musical numbers, and stage shows. It would remember the first "talkie" and the excitement of the crowd as it waited for the newest development in the entertainment field. These were the days when the movie theatre was a special place to go. The Capitol Theatre was built by Bertig Reality Co. and its grand opening was October 25, 1925. My father, John A. Collins, was named manager. The feature for the opening night was a silent film, The Coast of Folly, starring Gloria Swanson. The program consisted of Norma Maddox as Queen of Music, Virginia Ellis as Queen of Motion Pictures, Isabelle Ellis as Queen of Vaudeville, and Jean Light as Queen of Spoken Drama. The Queen's Entertainer was Ernie Futrell, who presented a solo dance.

In 1936, the Collins family purchased the Capitol and became the sole owners-operators.

Vaudeville acts and stage shows, as well as silent movies, frequented the Capitol in the late 1920s and the early 1930s. There were three theatres in northeast Arkansas equipped with a stage and orchestra pit for vaudeville acts and stage productions. They were the Empire Theatre in Jonesboro, the Home Theatre in Blytheville, and our own Capitol Theatre here in Paragould.

Some of the well-remembered vaudeville acts included Edgar Bergen; Yodeling Jimmy Rodgers; Tex Ritter; Roy Acuff; Ernest Tubb; Smiley Burnett; Cliff Edwards as Ukelele Ike; Lash LaRue; and Johnny Downs and Mary Karnman, members of the original "Our Gang" series.

In 1930, a flood relief benefit show featured Will Rogers and Captain Frank Hawks. Aaron Massengill's Barber Shop was located in the Vandervoort Hotel at this time, and I'm sure an unstable event in his life was the day he gave Will Rogers a shave.

I guess one of our biggest shows would have been George White's Scandals. This show was advertised to be somewhat risque'. It had played in Memphis and was booked to play in Jackson, Mississippi. However, the city fathers of Jackson would not allow them to present their show in that city; therefore, the Capitol got the booking.

I remember that when word got around that George White's Scandals was coming to the Capitol, three boys from Jonesboro A&M College (now Arkansas State University) came and bought our first 10 rows of seats.

You should have seen the size of that production when they arrived. There were two baggage cars full of scenery alone. These were known Broadway stars. Needless to say, the house was sold out.

During this era, silent films such as The Sheik with Rudolph Valentino, Don Q with Douglas Fairbanks, and The Gold Rush with Charlie Chaplin were run. Of course, we had our organist playing for the films. The organist would usually be spotlighted and play a musical variety before the feature would begin.

Our advertising consisted of billboard posters called "24 sheets," placed on the side of the Capitol building. A-frame billboards with a sheet on each side would be all up and down Pruett Street. Handbills were distributed, ads were taken out in the newspaper, and ads were put on the side of napkin holders in restaurants - all announcing that week's showing.

The movie changed every two days, and admission was 25 cents for night showings and 15 cents for matinees. In 1934, The Capitol got its first popcorn machine. It was the only concession and sold for 5 cents a bag.

I must tell you about our weekly publication, Cinemag. It was started May 6, 1938. It was a free paper printed by a hand-fed press on Thursday night, to be ready for distribution on Friday. John Rainey was the printer for the Greene County Citizen and he did our printing for us. The editor was Hugh Ketchum.

Features of Cinemag included a weekly chatter column by Margaret Donaldson giving highlights of goings on around town. J.T. Hale was said to be her ace reporter. There was "Opery Chat," presenting the latest news about movie stars and their new releases. Every two weeks or so, we would have a guest editorial entitled, "What Interests Me most About Paragould." The first guest editor was William A. Kirsch. Another feature was "Microphobia," a column for radio fans listing programs of interest on KBTM.

Local businesses would advertise in Cinemag. At the bottom of each ad someone was named for a free pass to the current showing at the Capitol.

We had what were known as "Cinemag Boys" deliver the paper. In return, they received free passes to the movie. Even though it was a local publication, many stars subscribed to it. We have photos of such stars as Fred MacMurray, Mickey Rooney, Abbott and Costello, Dick Powell, and others reading our publication.
Late in December 1941, we were proud to present the world premiere of The Man Who Came to Dinner, starring Paragould's own Bill Justice - known in Hollywood as Richard Travis. The film also starred Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, and Jimmy Durante. Richard - or Bill, as we knew him - had been one of our employees and was the editor of "Cinemag" when he lived here.

The Capitol had "Pal Night" on Tuesdays and "Bank Night" on Wednesdays. "Pal Night" was simply two for the price of one. "Bank Night" involved signing up and receiving a number. Sometime during the show, a number was drawn and if it was your number you won the amount of money offered in the pot.

During this time, Walter Cole was constructing Kingsway [Supper Club]. His number was drawn one night and he won $ 100. I remember his comment was that now he could put in the dance floor at Kingsway.

The Capitol was used not only for entertainment purposes, but also for community projects and patriotic events as well. During World War II, a war bond rally was held there. One would buy a war bond from what was known as the victory girl, or from the bank, and get a free ticket to the movie at the Capitol. When the rally was held, the picture showing was Across The Pacific with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor.

During WWII, I was called by the Army to duty in the Hawaiian Islands. I was gone approximately two years. During my absence, my wife, Frances - as did many wives whose husbands were serving their country - took over and operated the Capitol and Majestic Theatres on top of running a household with three children in it. It was a difficult separation but one that gave us both new strength.

In later years, the Capitol was used for the "Belles and Beaus" show, presented by the hospital auxiliary. For many years, if one would bring a canned food item with them, they would be admitted free to see the show. The food was given to the Goodfellows group for needy families at Christmas time. The Capitol was even used as a Sunday School classroom during the depression when the doors of the church were closed.

Thank you, Greene County, for letting us entertain you.

A most honorable quote from a true gentleman: 'I am happy to announce the formal opening of The Capitol Theatre. We have furnished The Capitol with the latest and most expensive theatre equipment. We have booked the finest picture programs and other attractions. The Capitol Theatre is yours and we are going to make you proud of it.' John A. Collins, mgr."

A gift to the community from the Collins family

In 1986, the Collins family deeded the then Capitol Theatre to the Greene County Fine Arts Council so it could be developed into a local center for the performing arts. The name was changed to the Collins Theatre in memory of Frances and Orris Collins. The GCFAC spend $9000 on a new roof and tuck-pointing. Operating expenses at the time were $1000 or more a month. The council realized they were unable to finance productions and maintain the theatre.

In 1990, the Collins Theatre Foundation was organized to take on the task of renovation and maintenance of the theatre. The foundation was formed with the fine arts council's recommendation and blessings. At the time of the transfer, the theatre was badly in need of repairs and renovations. The carpets were worn, there were leaks in a number of areas, and the plaster was peeling. There were heating and cooling problems. As the actors readied themselves to go on stage, they had to stand on crates because of the water in the basement. Often, there was water in the orchestra pit. On the second night of performance of a production of Li'l Abner in 1988, the air conditioning went out and council members had to go to a nearby funeral home and get hand fans.

In 1991, the Collins Theatre Capital Fund Drive began with a goal of $300,000. Walta Mildred Haynes, honorary chairwoman for the fund drive, said, in stressing the importance of preserving the historic theatre, “We have lost so many things that are of value to us. We cannot let this go." By the end of 1991, the fund drive had generated $85,000 in gifts and pledges, in addition to a $60,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Plans were made to add a new heating and air conditioning system, replace or repair theatre seats, add a new grand drape, improve stage lighting, add a fly loft, remodel the dressing rooms and lobby, make bathrooms handicapped accessible, add new carpeting, return the ticket booth to the lobby entrance, and renovate the building to meet electrical and plumbing codes.

The community got involved. They donated their time, talent, and supplies in addition to pledging money. They realized that much of the history of the community involved the Collins Theatre. They recalled the Saturday matinees, the hospital auxiliary revues, and the fine arts council's summer musicals and plays. It was a meeting place for our community and a place to share our talents and creativity. The joy that exists in live productions and the chemistry between a performer and the audience is unmatched by any other form of entertainment.

A vibrant arts program reflects well on a community, suggesting to outsiders that this is a special place – a place where the arts are appreciated. A thriving cultural environment is good for economic development. Cultural activities factor into a corporation's decision to locate in specific areas. It is a source of pride for a community. Public support is the backbone to everything and what is needed to make a community grow and prosper.

The Collins Theatre, the Greene County Fine Arts Council, the Performing Arts Academy, numerous bands and musicians, as well as other performers are bringing top quality productions to our community, offering a variety of entertainment options for young and old alike. We are fortunate to have a large group of exceptional singers, dancers, actors, and musicians in our area. Talented set designers, artists, and costumers lend their time and creativity to enhance our productions. Children have grown up on the stage at the Collins and many have pursued careers in the arts. It is truly a magical place, one that we must preserve and promote. We may not have Disney's Magical Kingdom, but we have a place where we can truly create magic.

three bottles of wine

Gone with the Wind

Excerpt from a newspaper article, April 29, 1967:
"The echoing laughter of Paragould Vaudeville has 'gone with the wind'. The tornado that ripped through Paragould recently ended an era. As it tore the roof from the fly loft of the Capitol Theatre, it also took away the last vestiges of a time when people laughed at the slapstick comedy of a Vaudeville comedian or hummed along with the music of the Ziegfield Follies. For years the Capitol Theatre had been the last theatre in Arkansas to maintain full stage facilities. The 'fly loft' was the integral part. From its rafters hung tons of sets, ready to be hauled down to take the audiences to far-away places or to the saloon down the street. Now it is gone and, according to owner Orris Collins, it will not be replaced."

Collins 90th Anniversary Reunion

90th Anniversary

Members of the Collins family gather for a picture on April 23 after "A Night Of Broadway" celebrating the Collins Theatre's 90th anniversary. A party honoring the family was held before the show with theatre memorabilia and scrapbooks on display in the lobby.

Pat Collins Fulkerson and Joan Collins Fulkerson

Collins Family

Pat Collins Fulkerson and Joan Collins Ratton, daughters of Orris and Francis Collins.