A Reel Long Time Ago

In an Era before “Godzilla” and “Armageddon,” Movie Theaters in Greeley Fought Hard for Entertainment Dollars and Gave Some Real Bang for the Buck

By Mike Peters. Originally published in the Weld County Past Times, September 19, 1998

They’re all gone now, the Sterling and the Chief, the Park and the Rex, the Orpheum and the Electric and the Bijou.

They’ve been replaced by multiplex theaters with stereo sound, lean-back chairs and popcorn containers the size of oil drums.

The “golden age” of Hollywood was also the golden age of movie theaters.

To bring in more business during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, theaters would hold special “grocery nights” where sacks of groceries would be given away on stage; some theaters would combine movies with local talent shows, appearances by radio stars and even the unveiling of the new automobile models during a theater showing.

“On Saturday nights, it was the place to be,” said 91-year-old Edith Murphy, “especially if you were a teenager. Those groceries meant a lot when people were having hard times.”

Vern Spencer remembers going to movies in Greeley 45 years ago, when it costs 50 cents for a matinee. “And you got a lot more back then,” Spencer said. “I saw ‘Kismet’ in the 1950s at the Sterling Theater and it was part of a double feature, plus it had a news clip and a cartoon.”

During the Depression, theaters used any means to get people to the show. In April, 1935, the Chief Theater advertised the following “Big Stage and Screen Show:”

The Kentucky

Coon Hunters

(Famous Radio Hill Billie Band)


The Three Comets

(Tap Dancers)


Mary Lasky

(Acrobatic Dancer)


On the Screen,

Fay Wray in

“White Lies,”

Plus cartoon and Paramount News

Matinee 15 cents.

To fight the increasing popularity of radio, some theaters went to extreme measures. Fro example in the 1930s and 40s, when the radio comedy “Amos and Andy” was so popular, theaters connected radios into the speaker systems, and would stop the film for 15 minutes so people could hear the nightly Amos and Andy broadcast.

Theater owners learned that if they didn’t take those unusual measures, people would stay home at night for the radio program, rather than go to a movie.