2 Decades Plus 2 Years - The Emery Years
When the Ohio Valley Chapter premiered the organ in 1977, life inside the Emery Theatre was filled with classic films during the weekends and organ concerts several times a year. Many people thought Emery had been demolished years ago and were surprised to find that it was still standing.
Professional organists who played after the dedication included Ann Leaf, Dennis James who accompanied a Tom Mix western silent movie, Lee Erwin, Gaylord Carter, Searle Wright, Dick Hyman (who played the organ in the Fats Waller style), Father Jim Miller, Tom Hazleton, and Bob Ralston.
Lee Erwin was very active in the early 1980's by performing special organ concert events that include a week-and-a-half long series of slient movies called, "The Kings of Comedy" and Moon River Revisited.
Throughout the 22 years of the Emery Theatre, the Ohio Valley Chapter had a talented group of staff organists. Marilyn "Bubbles" (Libbin) McClain who recorded her first vinyl LP album (by Earl Herzog of Audiocraft) on the Albee Wurlitzer called, Here's Bubbles!"
Other staff organists who played on the Albee Mighty Wurlitzer include Rodney Barbour, Martin Bevis, Gordon Cornell, Jack Doll Jr., Ric Jaeggi, Claire Lawrence, Glenn Merriam, Gene Ostenkamp, Tote Pratt, Jack Strader, Dave Weingartner, Gene Wilson, and Herb Wottle.
Lee Erwin and Dick Hyman made professionally-recorded LP records on the organ which were sold nationwide by mail as well as at the Emery concession stand. In later years, Tom Smith produced cassettes of Jack Doll, Jr., Jim Barton, and Gene Wilson playing the Emery Wurlitzer, which were sold at the Emery concession stand.
The many Labors of Love at the Emery
The organ crew was not the only volunteer group at the Emery. There were individuals who not only donated their time, but their skills as well. For example; the stage lighting control was really primitive and consisted of a movable cart full of open-contact rheostats. It would have been easy to electrocute yourself while working on the lighting. A former theatre lighting engineer, Lyman Brenneman joined the chapter and put a great deal of work into the lighting as a labor of love. He re-lamped and rewired the auditorium’s lighting circuits. He got a switchboard from a high school in northern Ohio that dated from 1953, but was still perfectly usable, and installed it to replace the "ox-cart."
There was another group of volunteers who helped at the Emery during the classic film series that ran every weekend. These individuals worked as ushers, accounting, concession stand vendors, publicity, and running movies in the projection room. There are several members of the chapter who helped within the 22 years at the Emery who can't go unnoticed.
Blanche Underwood served as chapter secretary for over 30 years and was an original member of the organ crew with her late husband Phil. She faithfully photographed the entire rebuilding and installation of the organ over many years, providing the chapter with its primary photographic record of the work.
Michael Detroy distributed 500 to 1000 classic film series schedule sheets every month downtown to hotels and restaurants for several years to publicize the film series to visitors to Cincinnati. He was also in charge of record sales. Mike was a frequent concession stand volunteer in the early years of the film series.
Ken Aultz, a longtime projectionist for the long running "Classic Film Series" which played most weekends for the entire 22 years Ohio Valley Chapter occupied the Emery, stated that Emery had the "largest flyable movie screen" in the state of Ohio. This volunteering of time helped Ken "learn the ropes" of managing a movie theater. Ken currently owns/operates one of the last remaining single screen neighborhood theaters located in Bethel, Ohio.
A volunteer organist, Joe Hollmann, who eventually became president of our chapter shared his thoughts about performing at the Emery. "I did play for the 3D movie series and it was "Dial M for Murder". The house was full, pre show playing went on for 45 minutes (waiting for everyone to gain access to the theatre), intermission was about an hour trying to serve everyone, and the post show playing went on for almost an hour with all that wanted to see the organ. It was hot, I was in a suit with a box fan blowing on me, it was great. You probably know that those playing times were usually 15 minutes or less. I also played pre-show music for the "Tina Marie Dance Recital" and that was a lot of fun."
Eventually, the curtain fell on the Ohio Valley Chapter as well as the Albee Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ in the Fall of 1999.
Next chapter coming soon - "The Slient Years"
Emery Reflections and Artifacts
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LEFT: Jack Doll Jr. plays during a slideshow of the organ's history (Larry Klug collection)
CENTER: One of many Classic Film Flyers (Cincinnati Public Library collection)
RIGHT: Claire Lawrence accompanies a silent film (Larry Klug collection)
LEFT: Let's check out this organ after the show (Photo credit: Alan DeWolfe)
CENTER: A rare photo of Gaylord Carter getting ORGANized (Blanche Underwood collection)
RIGHT: Autograph hounds after a Gaylord Carter concert in 1981 (Photo credit: Michael Detroy)
Read the article in the March April 1984 issue of Theartre Organ Magazine.
LEFT: Potluck Dinner Music in December 1985 (Photo Credit: Larry Klug)
RIGHT: A Christmas potluck dinner in 1985 (Photo credit: Larry Klug)
LEFT: The main concession stand (Michael Detroy collection).
RIGHT: The main lobby and box office (Michael Detroy collection).
Lets all go to the Lobby - An intermission movie that was played often between films
Paragraphs written by Joe Hollman, Larry Klug, and Michael Detroy
Marilyn "Bubbles" (Libbin) McClain performs the "Emery Fanfare" (arrangement by Herb Wottle) on the RKO Albee Mighty WurliTzer Pipe Organ at the Emery Theatre in 1979.
How many of you seen this bumper sticker?
(Cincinnati Public Library collection)