Mullins Theater

Sixty years ago, in 1959, the Mullins Theatre, located on Main Street in Clintwood, was showing the western, ‘Ride Lonesome’, starring Karen Steele and Randolph Scott, according to the theatre’s marquee. This photo was found in the June 26, 1959, issue of The Dickensonian newspaper.

For the past few months, the Historical Society has presented a series of articles related to the history of several Dickenson County businesses. Originally published in The Dickensonian newspaper during the late 1950s as advertisements, the articles now give us a valuable history of the businesses and, in reality, a history of the people who made the businesses successful!

Many of the businesses were located in Clintwood, the county seat of Dickenson County. However many of the people who owned and worked at the businesses were from many different areas of the county or the surrounding area. Many of those people had served in the military and many of these articles gave a short synopsis of that service.

This week’s article, found in the June 26, 1959, issue of The Dickensonian has been reworded slightly for clarification to indicate that the article was written in the past. It is the story of the Mullins Theatre in Clintwood. The article stated:

When the Mullins Theatre in Clintwood was opened to the public it chose the advertising slogan, “The Showplace of Dickenson.” Not only did it hold on to that title through the years, but it cemented its hold by constant improvement of the building, the service, and the quality of the motion pictures it exhibited.

The theatre was built in 1945 by R. H. Bolling of Norton, not long after a fire had destroyed the Mountain Theatre across the street from the high school. That building had been erected by the late C. J. Mullins, pioneer Clintwood motion picture exhibitor, and it was for him that the [Mullins] theatre was named.

[C. J.] Mullins opened the first motion picture house [in Clintwood] before World War I. The pictures of course were silent, short, overacted and jerky, but they were the marvels of the age. The projector was operated by a hand crank and mounted on a tripod like a camera — a far cry from the modern machines that projected the pictures at Mullins Theatre [in 1959].

Mr. Bolling operated the [Mullins] theatre until 1951, and then he sold the business to Grady and Earl Baker. The Bakers operated it [for several years] most of the time under the management of K. B. Baker, a Navy veteran of World War II who seemed to have a natural bent for his work.

And that work was anything but easy. Essential qualities of a good manager included hardheaded business sense, diplomacy, advertising savvy, and the ability to read the public mind and provide what it wanted in entertainment. K. B. possessed all of these qualities, and under his sure guidance Mullins Theatre was not only doing all right [in 1959], but was building toward an even greater future.

 [In 1959] K. B. was [at that time] married to the former Joyce Starnes of Norton, and they had an 11-year-old daughter, Glenna Gail. Joyce worked in the box office.

When television swept the country as no other entertainment medium in history had, things looked dark for the motion picture industry. In fact, there were some who said it was dead. And it possibly would have died had it not been for the determination and foresight of some of the hardier Hollywood producers, and exhibitors such as Mullins Theatre.

Great technical strides were made by the industry — the development of the large screen, better camera techniques, breathtaking color, and high-fidelity sound. To exhibit pictures using these new techniques, the theatres also had to do their part and the Mullins Theatre kept pace with every technical advance of the producing industry.

It was one of the first movie houses in this section to install the wide screen, a 35 by 18 foot beauty that [in 1959] was one of the largest in Southwest Virginia. And every new technical improvement that came along, the local theatre was the first to install equipment that would take advantage of it.

In addition to this, there was constant improvement and beautification of the house itself and [in 1959] was still one of the most beautiful small town theatres in the South. [Shortly before this article was written in 1959] some 650 new seats and new carpeting throughout, the best that money could buy, had recently been installed and the entire auditorium and lobby repainted and redecorated. The owners and manager of the theatre were determined to keep the title “Showplace of Dickenson.”

Today, 2019, the Mullins Theatre building still stands on Main Street in Clintwood. However, it now houses the Jettie Baker Center, which is owned and operated by the Town of Clintwood.

As the upcoming 4th of July approaches, the Historical Society invites everyone to attend our annual 4th of July Book Fair and Military Tribute. Anyone with military photos of any person who has served or who is serving and who has ties to Dickenson County is also encouraged to submit those photos. July 4 is the perfect day to bring them by the Historical Society office and join us in honoring those who have served to keep our county free.

The Historical Society would like to thank all those who read our articles and who take the time to contact us about them. For more information about this article, or any of our publications, or to make corrections or additions to an article, or to purchase a local history book, please contact the Historical Society office at 276/926-6355, P. O. Box 52, Clintwood, Va., 24228, or dchs1880@gmail.com. If no answer, please leave a message and one of our volunteers will return your call. Or contact Edith Faye Redden at 926-4117.

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