Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
On this date in 1914, Paramount Pictures was born. The start-up company was organized by a Utah theatre owner, Independence, Kans. born W. W. Hodkinson. Among movie nerds, he is known as The Man Who Invented Hollywood.
He early jobs included delivering Western Union telegrams, trick bike riding, and sales. Then, he opened his first movie theater in Ogden, Utah, in 1907. He bought out his competitors, joined General Film Company and became a film distributor, according to IMBd, a movie website. However shrewd he may have been, he was outmaneuvered by associate Adolf Zukor who essentially took his company from him. That wasn’t the end for Hodkinson though. He went on to become an aircraft manufacturer three times over.
One of the movie theaters operating in Great Bend at that time was The Elite, and that week, the feature was a movie called “Judith of Bethulia.” The star, Blanche Sweet, played the title role in the film by Biograph studio. In fact, at that time, she was known as the “Biograph Blonde,” as studios didn’t list actors or actresses names in credits until later. Sweet was a busy actress that year, appearing in 28 different films, according to the website goldensilents.com. When silent films gave way to “talkies,” her career as a screen actress was essentially over, but she continued working for radio and on the stage, finally receiving recognition as a pioneer actress from silent film fans late in life. She died in 1987.
The advertisement in the Tribune for the film is oddly laughable compared to the typical Hollywood hype of today. The theater, rather than the film, was the focus of the selling.
“This extraordinary production will be presented in addition to our regular program at admission prices less than charged in Kansas City or Topeka. there is nothing too good for Great Bend,” it reads. “That is why we book big city productions for Elite patrons.”
The Elite was located on the 2000 block of Lakin, in a building that would later become the Masonic Hall, and today is where Great Bend Coffee is located.
Call for musicians
City bands were all the rage back in the early part of the 20th century. But according to Joe Boley, current Great Bend City Band member, the city has had several bands, and for a few years, Great Bend had been without one.
“The announcement of Mr. Pursel that an effort will be made to organize a band in this city will be a move in the right direction. The town has long been without an organization of this sort and there are a number of capable band men here who if they get together will make the matter a success.”
However, thanks to information obtained by Joe Boley, Great Bend, we learned the band wasn’t formed that year. Bands from Larned and Pawnee Rock came to play as a committee was appointed. Eventually, in 1915, Mr. C.W. Price, the Great Bend school band director was named director of the Great Bend city band. The new band would have 60 members. Price would also go on to organize the Ladies Orchestra in between 1915 and 1917 also. One hundred years later, weekly performances at the bandshell at Jack Kilby Square in Great Bend City Band have become a much looked-forward-to summer tradition, with youth and adult musicians meeting weekly to run through selections and perform for free Thursday nights from June through July. This year, the first performance will be Thursday, June 5, the opening of June Jaunt weekend, a new tradition enjoying its third year in 2014.
Political sell out
County Superintendent Jennie Momyer may have made several friends in Hoisington the summer of 1914, but she had Great Bend up in arms after making the decision (in as much as she had the power to) to hold the county institute in Hoisington, “...in spite of the fact that, she admits that better results and accommodations could be obtained at the county seat.”
The county institute was an annual teacher training event. In Kansas, it lasted four weeks minimum, held in each county, hosted by the county superintendent, and required for all teachers in the county. So, it’s no surprise accommodations would be of high importance.
It turns out, her decision was influenced by Hoisington businessmen who raised $50 in tuition money. Once Great Bend heard this, people raised a larger sum, but Mrs. Momyer could not convince the Hoisington businessmen to let her out of the contract, according to the newspaper editorial.
“When the point was advanced that if the normal was held away from the county seat it would be necessary to have her office closed her reply was that she needed a vacation and that is what it would be for her.”
Petitions from Claflin, Ellinwood and Pawnee Rock asking that the Normal be left at Great Bend this year as in the past were ignored. Momyer said she had also determined to have the Normal in Hoisington because it had been difficult in years past to get teachers from the northern part of the county to attend.
“There is little excuse for Miss Momyer in acting so unadvisedly nor for the Hoisington promoters of the idea. It means that n the campaign this year the candidates from Hoisington on either ticket will be assailed in other parts of the county and a town scrap and bad feeling among business men that will be a long time in healing,” the editor concluded.