ELSMERE, Ky. -- Long before parents were worried about their kids’ screen time and movies could be watched on a phone, a single screen captivated audiences across Northern Kentucky.
For generations, the Village Cinema was the backdrop to many firsts — first movie, first date, first kiss, first job. Hundreds of memories of the theater have been shared on a Memories of the Village Cinema Facebook page. The theater closed in the late 1980s and the building, which was in a state of disrepair after sitting unused for years, was demolished in 1998.
“I have always held a special place in my heart for the Village Cinema. It was my first part-time job. I started as an usher in late 1978, back when ushers would stop people from putting their feet up on the chair in front of them and stop folks from talking during the movie,” said Terry Bubb, creator of the Village Facebook page, who now lives in Nashville. “I lived in Erlanger for the first 21 years of my life, so the Village Cinema was a constant for me and meant a great deal to many of us. It was very sad when it was razed.”
Located on Dixie Highway in the heart of Elsmere, the single-screen theater played host to thousands of box office hits during its 60-year run. Moviegoers crowded into the tiny theater to watch family favorites, Disney cartoons, cult classics and blockbusters such as “The Sound of Music,” “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Saturday Night Fever.” “Midnight Cowboy” and “The Exorcist,” each sporting an X rating at the time, were among the cinema’s more adult features.
Originally opened as The Gayety by A.F. Herman, the theater began showing first-run films in 1938 for the bargain price of 15 cents. But the action wasn’t limited to the screen. Cinema lore includes tales of its owners, whose exploits were sometimes more exciting than the movies.
“I worked for Mr. and Mrs. Herman when it was the Gayety Theater. I was an usher on weekends and a janitor during the week cleaning the entire theater,” Dan Tucker shared on the Facebook page. “The day Mrs. Herman attacked Mr. Herman, she did not shoot him (as some believed); she freaked out during an argument and pulled an armrest off of one of the theater seats and beat him with it, cutting him quite badly in the process.
“She then tore the ladies’ restroom apart, breaking the mirror and turning over the sand-filled ash tray. Finally, she locked herself in the office and threatened to hurt herself. The police had to drag her out kicking and screaming. I arrived to perform my janitorial duties just as they took her away. He was bleeding really bad and left for the hospital. I cleaned up the mess and locked up. The Gayety never opened again.”
In 1960, the property was sold to Holiday Amusements, owned by Ben and Joanne Cohen, and the name was changed to The Village Cinema. The Village was one of numerous movie houses and drive-ins owned by the couple, including the Marianne in Bellevue and the Mount Lookout. When Showcase Cinemas opened in Erlanger in 1974, The Village became a second-run theater, primarily showing movies that had just left the bigger theaters. At $1 a ticket, it remained a popular weekend hangout for teens and families. Of course, some movies were more popular than others.
“In the time that I worked there, one fall we opened up for a straight two weeks with four showings a day to show ‘Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot.’ I think the Greater Cincinnati schools must have been busing in loads of kids for this movie because every show was a sellout, and we needed two to three people behind the concessions area to keep up with the demand,” said Liz Mason-Hill, who worked at the cinema from 1975-80 and remembers fondly her co-workers, bosses and the quirks of working at a small theater. “The popcorn was popped over at the main office in Cincinnati -- the old Warner Brothers building on the corner of Central Parkway and Liberty. Depending on attendance, the popcorn was either hours- or weeks-old before it got sold.”
No one seemed to mind. The price was right and the movies were magic. And we were making reel memories.