Old Yeller and the State Theatre

Rare framed ad owned by local collector

Those of us who grew up in Calais in the 50s spent far too much time, at least according to adults, hanging around the bowling alley or inveigling money them to go the movies on the weekend at the State Theatre. Disney movies were especially popular and Old Yeller, the best Disney movie in years, was to open at the State Theatre on Wednesday March 5th, 1958.

Old Yeller was a dog and the word was out that Old Yeller died at the end of the movie. None of us really believed Walt Disney would kill off the dog in a boy-and-his-dog movie. It would be one of the worst endings in cinematic history! Of course most kids had to wait until the weekend to see the movie, there was little chance of getting permission to go to the movies on a school night. Still excitement was building throughout the week…

Sadly it wouldn’t have mattered if we had gotten permission to go to the State on opening night. The night before Old Yeller was to open the beloved State Theatre burned to the ground and presumably Old Yeller was consumed in the flames. The fire is believed to have started in the photo studio next door. In the beginning the firemen thought they could save the State and confine the fire to the photo studio.They are trying to do just that in the photo above.

This early optimism was unfounded and  they soon lost control of the blaze. The day Old Yeller was to come to Calais the State Theatre was a smouldering ruin. The movie was never shown in Calais although in 1959 the Queen Theatre in St. Stephen featured it one weekend. 

The question we have relates to the advertising frame in the first photo which displayed the ad for the movie. ​Some believe it was removed from the debris of the State Theatre after the fire and, if this is the case, it is quite important historically. The State Theatre was the center of entertainment in the St Croix Valley for many decades. A local dealer has the frame and may be willing to part with it. However we think it unlikely it was on the building to begin with or could have withstood the fire. We have found no photos of the State displaying such a small movie ad in front of the theatre or in the lobby. Ads at the theatre were usually large posters produced by the film companies such as the one above for Vanessa, Starring Helen Hayes and Robert Montgomery.

We have found photos of smaller ads in frames on other buildings in Calais such as this State Theatre ad for a Tom Mix movie on at the corner of Calais Avenue on Checchi’s Store​. As the advertisement at the top of the Old Yeller frame is for R J Ashley Oil Company in Woodland we think it may have been on a business in Woodland. We know it’s a long shot but perhaps someone from back in those days from Woodland recalls seeing such advertising frames on buildings in Woodland. Any thoughts or information from our readers have would be appreciated (email us at stcroixhs@gmail.com).

y the way you people who sat downstairs at the State have nothing to be proud of. This is what the aisles typically looked like after a movie at the old State. Those of us in the balcony were very tidy, we threw our popcorn boxes and candy wrappers down to you so you could dispose of them properly but you obviously let us down.

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