WALLY'S WORLD: Community could saddle up to a western

Gene Groesbeck was Enumclaw’s premier movie tycoon from the early days of motion pictures until the mid-1950s. Sometime around 1920, he built the Liberty Theater where the police station currently sits and, for all practical purposes, that was the town’s first movie theater. In 1929, he opened a much more “elegant” film palace called the Avalon Theater – a name coined by my mother in a townwide contest – near the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Cole Street. It had uniformed high school girls with amber flashlights, who would lead you to a seat after the film had started. Another uniformed fellow served popcorn.

Then, in 1949, outside business interests opened the Roxy, known today as the Chalet. (Near as I can tell, this theater hasn’t changed one iota in the last 60 years.) With the coming of the Avalon and the Roxy, the Liberty Theater was reduced to second-rate status. The old wooden structure started to look a little ramshackled and dusty around the edges. During my childhood, it was only open on weekends and showed mostly “cowboy” films starring Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd), Tim Holt, the Cisco Kid (I’ve forgotten who played him, if I ever knew) and the Durango Kid, all of whom will surely snag and test the nostalgic memories of local old-timers. Red Ryder was played by Wild Bill Elliot, while his youthful Indian ward, Little Beaver, was played by child-star Robert Blake, who became better known for his adult role as TV’s “Baretta” and who received considerable publicity when he was tried and acquitted of his wife’s murder several years ago.

These cowboy movies were absolutely terrible, low-grade nonsense cranked out mostly by Hollywood’s Republic Pictures, which would script, film, edit and complete one of them in as little as two weeks. They were family-approved films that promoted all-American, Christian morality. Hokey is the word I’m looking for. They had hokey plots, hokey villains and hokey heroes.

They had absolutely nothing in common with the ridiculous bloodbaths that characterize modern Westerns, like HBO’s “Deadwood” or Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns. Roy Rogers could shoot 500 rounds from his pistol and never reload or hit anyone. And, if he did hit anyone, you can be sure there wasn’t any blood – not one drop – splattered on the body or in your face, given 3D. Gene Autry and a bad guy would stage a well-choreographed, five-minute fisticuff and Gene would emerge, victorious of course, without so much as a cut or bruise. He’d simply brush the dust off his hat and get back on his horse.

If you’re too young to remember these movies, you may recall the Roy Rogers television show with his wife Dale Evens, his horse Trigger, his dog Bullet, and his jeep, which also had a name. (Nellybelle, if I’m not mistaken.) If nothing else, you may remember the show’s theme song “Happy Trails,” which was written by Roy or Dale – or perhaps it was a joint effort. Hopalong Cassidy had a TV series, but it didn’t last long. Gene Autry also had a television show, but his radio program, “Melody Ranch,” was much more popular with young and old alike. It was pretty hokey.

More next week.

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