1928 party: Missouri Theatre screens 'Steamboat Bill, Jr' for the third time

Thursday, May 29, 2008 | 11:13 p.m. CDT; updated 11:50 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — When the Missouri Theatre opened in 1928, patrons at its first movie screening enjoyed a showing of “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” Thursday night — 80 years later — the same film drew a much more contemporary crowd. The movie was shown as part of the ongoing celebration of the reopening of the restored Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts.

Most patrons on Thursday looked like they belonged in your typical 2008 movie premiere crowd. But intermingled with the modern-looking attendees were visitors dressed to fit the 1920s era.


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Several women wore flapper costumes and cloche hats, accompanied by men in zoot suits.

Elaine Johnson wore a derby hat and a black dress with a sheer overlay. Her 5-year-old son, Sam Kurtz, said, “She looks like Mary Poppins.”

Car enthusiasts from the Old Wheels Car Club lined their 1920s-era automobiles outside the theater, adding to the ambiance.

The smell of the leather car seats and the grumbles of the old engines led people into the front doors of the theatre, where a red carpet laid under their feet and crystal chandeliers hung from above. One little girl was dressed in a newsie cap and vest, while one man opted for a police outfit befitting the times.

The event also honored 89-year-old Charles Digges, Sr., who saw “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” at both the 1928 and 2008 screenings. At the age of nine, Digges went with his father to witness the original opening of the Missouri Theatre.

“It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen,” Digges said. On Thursday, he saw the film with his wife.

As a patron of the theater for the past 80 years, Digges estimated attending “a couple hundred” shows. He said that the renovations brought the theater “back to as good as it was.”

Also honored was 9-year-old Simon Wanyonyi, a third grader from College Park Christian Academy, who won the theater’s “I Heart the Arts” essay contest. His main artistic interests include drawing and playing the piano. Unlike Digges, this is Simon’s first experience in the Missouri Theatre and with a silent film. Excited about the evening, Simon commented that the outfits were cool and he liked the classic cars.

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