“Mr. Beavis’ playing of old favorites and his accompanying the audience sing-along was the ideal welcome as folks entered the theater,” Goldstein recalls. “Everyone waited in anticipation for the final musical number and the lowering of Mr. Bevis and the Wurlitzer down into the stage floor. Then the lights dimmed and the show started. We greatly miss him.”
The Clayton couple are among those who will be delighted to hear that after much searching, the Victoria staff has engaged four organists who will take turns playing the Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe Organ from July 8-Aug. 28. Screenings are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. The line-up also includes a Thursday-morning family series and a late-night series.
“Since the 1940s, what is now known as the Victoria Theatre was the place to come to see a great movie,” says Ken Neufeld, the VTA’s president and CEO. “We are still using 35-mm prints as much as possible, keeping the prices low and offering free popcorn and soda at most every show.”
Curt Dalton, visual resources manager for Dayton History, is the author of the book “When Dayton Went to the Movies.” “At one point, there were more than 90 movie theaters within the Dayton city limits,” he says. “The reason they had the organs was that the movies were silent until the 1920s. The organs were there to make it more exciting.”
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Dalton says the smaller theaters had a piano, but big theaters like the Victory had an organ. “The organists would get a score from the movie production company for the bigger movies; for the smaller ones the guy would watch it and make up stuff as he went along.”
Sue Stevens, vice president of marketing and communications, says the VTA got a lot of feedback from audience members who missed the organ component of the film programs. “Our initial attempts to find someone to play met with little response,” she says. “We contacted a number of organizations but just couldn’t get anywhere. It seemed to be too much for any one person.”
Social media saved the day. “What tipped the balance was when we posted our request on Facebook and it got shared,” Stevens says.
The result is that four organists from our area have been booked to share their talents on film days. "Gary Smith is here locally and played for us in the past, especially for the Disney Weekend last summer," says Stevens. "Justin Stahl came to us via the Facebook post. He makes his home in Columbus and is just back from a concert tour in Australia. Justin Nimmo is an accomplished theater organists who lives in Indiana and works with the gentleman who helps maintain the organ at the Victoria Theatre. Jeffrey Campbell also came to us via the Facebook post and is the new organist at a local church. He is learning the theater organ, which is somewhat different from the kind of instrument used in churches — more bells and whistles, quite literally!"
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Stevens says the new musicians will give the movie audiences a chance to hear a variety of music and styles. “I wanted to make it as easy for them as possible,” she says. “So I’ve left it completely up to them what they play and do. The concerts will still take place a half-hour before each show and the audiences will have a lot of fun.”
Playing a theater organ
Smith was only 12 when he first met Martin Bevis, the man who was to become his mentor. He memorialized his good friend last summer when he played for the VTA’s Disney weekend.
“I loved to roller skate ,and every rink had an organ and organist,” Smith said. “One day it was Martin Bevis playing the music at the rink. And I thought ‘Wow!’ “
It turned into a 50-year friendship with the two performing at many of the same venues.
“I enjoy the challenge of orchestrating a song on the organ,” Smith says. “The organ has strings, flutes, woodwinds, horns, brass, bells and drums, cymbals, tambourine and more. And because it’s live, you never know what will happen.”
Smith was an organist at the Victory Theatre from 1980 until 1989, and also played at Cincinnati’s Emery Theatre for 10 years. He played the famous WLW-Moon River Organ in the Shady Nook Restaurant for five years and recently accompanied a Laurel and Hardy silent movie on the RKO Albee/Emery Wurlitzer located in the Music Hall Ballroom for the Cincinnati Arts Association.
The Victoria organ is special, he says, because it’s a real, three-manual, 14-rank Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe Organ.
Nimmo can trace his roots back to North Tonawanda, N.Y., the hometown of the Rudolf Wurlitzer Co. He began his organ studies on an electric organ at age 5, and by age 13 was playing a real theater pipe organ at the historic Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda. At 16, he was officially named as one of the house organists for that theater.
He currently appears as guest organist on occasion at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus performing overtures for the Ohio’s film series on the large 4/33 Robert Morton Theatre Organ.
“To me the theater pipe organ is a way to become a conductor and arranger and let out my creative side,” he says. “That’s because the theater organ is synonymous with ‘Unit Orchestra.’ The person at the console is essentially both conducting and playing all of the instruments at the same time.”
The challenge of this kind of performance, he says, is trying to get people truly engaged. “The key is for the audience to recognize the music they are hearing,” he says. ” I try to cater to that by playing a wide variety of music and finding out what music is going to be the most popular to the listening audience and that is what makes it fun as well.”
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Stahl, who has just returned from a five-city tour of Australia, says the challenge in theatre organ playing is that every organ is a bit different. “The other big challenge is console control — knowing the notes isn’t enough, you have to know how to move all of those stops/controls as well.”
He says audiences need to know that theater organs are all acoustic. “Everything is wind-driven; and this technology came about in the 1920s — truly remarkable.” Stahl prides himself on presenting music from different eras. “You’ll hear anything from Broadway music to Scott Joplin rags — or Billy Joel and Toto.”
The Goldsteins are ready to sign up. “We look forward to the film series continuing,” says Mike. “It’s a return to the theaters of our youth and it’s a perfect cool down for a hot summer day.”
HOW TO GO:
What: The 2017 Summer Cool Films Series
Where: Victoria Theatre, 138 North Main St., Dayton
When: July 8-Aug. 28. Screenings are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays.
Tickets: Tickets are $6 each ($3 for the Family Matinees) or $35 for a 10-ticket passbook. Note that passes can be used in any combination across all films. For tickets call the Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or toll free (888) 228-3630, or go online www.ticketcenterstage.com or visit the Box Office located in the Wintergarden of the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center in downtown Dayton.
HERE’S THE LINEUP:
- WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? - July 7, 8 & 9. Starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Directed by Robert Aldrich. 1962. Not Rated.
- SINGIN' IN THE RAIN - July 14,15 & 16. Starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds. Directed by Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen. 1952. Not Rated.
- KELLY'S HEROES- July 21, 22 & 23. Starring Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles and Carol O'Connor. Directed by Brian G. Hutton. 1970. Rated PG.
- CLUE - July 28, 29 & 30. Starring Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn and Christopher Lloyd. Directed by Jonathan Lynn. 1985. Rated PG.
- BRIGADOON -Aug. 4, 5 & 6. Starring Gene Kelly, Cyd Charise and Van Johnson. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. 1954. Rated G.
- COOL HAND LUKE – Aug. 11, 12, & 13. Starring Paul Newman, George Kennedy and Strother Martin. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. 1967. Rated PG.
- ROYAL WEDDING – Aug. 18, 19 & 20. Starring Fred Astaire, Jane Powell and Peter Lawford. Directed by Stanley Donen. 1951. Not Rated.
- McCABE & MRS. MILLER – Aug. 25, 26 & 27. Starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie and Rene Auberjonois. Directed by Robert Altman. 1971. Rated R.
Thursdays in July, 10 a.m. Films are G rated.
- FOLLOW THAT BIRD - July 6
- THE NEVERENDING STORY - July 13
- THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN - July 20
- FLIPPER- July 27
REEL LATE AT THE VIC
Select Saturdays in July and August
- PURPLE RAIN - July 8 at 10:30 p.m. 1984. Rated R.
- LED ZEPPELIN: THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME- July 22 at 10:30 p.m. 1976. Rated PG.
- THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW -August 26 at 10:30 p.m. 1975. Rated R.