Nearly 3,000 people lined up for three showings of the first talking motion picture in Hudson Falls at “The New Strand Theatre” on Nov. 8, 1929.
“They stood in the drizzle of rain to see the first night’s run and add their acclaim to the success of the opening,” The Post-Star reported.
That would mean standing room only at each of the three showings, scheduled for 6:00, 8:00 and 10:00, but running behind because of the crowds, at the 900-seat theater.
The rabbit’s foot that theater owner J.A. Fitzgerald wore on a silk chain for the opening appeared to be doing its job at bringing good fortune.
The rabbit’s foot was a gift from a delegation of residents of Pittsfield, Mass., Fitzgerald’s native city, who attended the opening.
The main attraction of the double feature was “Sweetie,” an “all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing” picture featuring Nancy Carroll, “Paramount’s red-haired star” in the title role.
A high point in the “dialogue extravaganza” was a 24-person dance number with the trend-setting new dance move “Prep Step.”
“The Diplomats,” a “gripping human drama” featuring Bobby Clark, Paul McCullough and Marguerite Churchill, was the other film.
The New Strand was the same building as the old Strand.
The difference was the newly completed renovations and improvements inside, including a new state-of-the-art sound system for showing talking pictures.
“In the words of G.E. Locke, supervisor of the Western Electric acoustic department, who was personally in Hudson Falls to see the first run, the equipment of the New Stand is the latest and best that is offered today in the talkie world.”
Hudson Falls Chamber of Commerce was proud to sponsor the opening run, in exchange for public parking rights.
Hudson Falls merchants held a two-day gala opening sale and purchased four pages of congratulatory advertising in The Post-Star.
Advertisements included the common line, “We Greet The New Strand Theater With Its New Sound Pictures.”
Dozens of telegrams came in, and 20 Hudson Falls businesses and organizations sent congratulatory floral bouquets to the theater.
It was a high point in the career of J.A. Fitzgerald, who seldom used his first name John, a manager at various times of five area theaters and who also introduced talking pictures at the Park Theater in Glens Falls.
Fitzgerald’s early jobs included ranch hand in Colorado, assistant lockmaster at the barge canal locks in Fort Edward and as a partner in a cigar store.
He was a member of the American Federation of Musicians union and the Glens Falls Band, and was drum major and musical director for the Hudson Falls American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps.
He was a military musician, serving during the Mexican border conflict as assistant band leader of the Third United States Artillery Band and during World War I as sergeant of musicians serving with the 105th Infantry Band.
Fitzgerald was active with the Hudson Falls/Kingsbury American Legion post, serving in various years as commander, chairman of the annual poppy drive, and Washington County service officer.
He was active in Hudson Falls Knights of Columbus, serving as Grand Knight.
Fitzgerald was elected Hudson Falls mayor by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in 1933, running on the Progressive ticket.
He served six years as mayor, and was then appointed the first superintendent of Hudson Falls sewage treatment plant.
Prior to entering the theater business in 1919, Fitzgerald had been an executive with the Hudson River Water Power Company and the Glens Falls Gas and Electric Light Company.
Fitzgerald was hired in October 1919 to manage the Empire Theatre on South Street in Glens Falls, taking over from interim manager Dewitt Mott, manager since the death of previous manager Joe Miller.
About two years later, Fitzgerald moved to Mechanicville to manage a theater there, and in January 1923 to Hudson Falls to manage the newly constructed Strand, which cost about $100,000 to build and equip – the equivalent of about $1.5 million in 2019 dollars.
While the theater was under renovation in 1929, Fitzgerald purchased it from the investment group he worked for.
The Post-Star called it “one of the most important real estate transactions recorded in Hudson Falls in some time.”
In 1932, Fitzgerald was vice president and general manager of Rialto Operating Co., an investment group that purchased, renovated and re-opened the Rialto and Park Theaters in Glens Falls, both of which had been closed.
Renovation of the Park included wiring it and installing equipment to show talking pictures.
For the grand reopening of the Rialto on Sept. 10, 1932, Fitzgerald brought over the Hudson Falls Drum and Bugle Corps, which performed in front of the theater on Warren Street before the ceremony, and performed one selection on stage inside the theater to open the ceremony.
In August 1935, Fitzgerald sold the Strand to Schine’s Theaters, which operated about 70 theaters in New York and Ohio.
Fitzgerald was 83 when he died on Jan. 25, 1963 in Sarasota, Fla., where he was spending the winter.
Sources: The Post-Star, Aug. 22, 1916; Oct. 22, 1919; Jan. 17, 1923; May 16, 29, Oct. 4, 9, Nov. 8, 9, 1929; Aug. 16, Sept. 10, 1932; May 22, 1933; Aug. 29, Sept. 12, 1935; Jan. 9, 1940; Jan. 26, 1963.
Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He now is a freelance writer and documentary film producer specializing in regional history. Thompson is collaborating with Snarky Aardvark Films to produce a documentary about Charles Evans Hughes and the Adirondacks, which is expected to release in 2020. See the trailer here.