Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Cat-Walk Ushers ...

My first column in the Beaumont Enterprise was published November 28, 2004. That column told of my being an usher at the Jefferson Theatre back in 1952. Therein were some stories that will not be repeated here. If you would like to have a copy of that article, drop me an e-mail and I will send one to you.

The column ended with this paragraph, “A few months later, another usher and I got fired for climbing on the catwalks backstage and trying to stuff trash paper into the organ pipes. But that’s another story for another time.”

Enter Richard. I’ll tell you later why I am not using his real name. He came to work as another usher and we happened to end up working the same shifts on the same days. We grew to be good friends. Richard was a Beaumont High School Royal Purple and I was a South Park High School Greenie. The two schools experienced a ferocious and exciting rivalry. Richard and I both thought that it was pretty neat that a Purple and a Greenie were working together on the same job.

We went hunting, fishing, and camping together. We teamed up and mowed each others’ lawns (our parents loved us). The thing that seemed to be our shortcoming is that when we were together, we had a knack for getting into trouble. Individually, we were good and productive employees. But when we teamed up, we eased into mischievous situations. For example, we might go into the men’s room at the theatre and place “out of order” signs on some of the stall doors. At times, this tended to cause a little traffic jam.

Anyway, one night Richard and I happened to be backstage during intermission. Al Sacker, the organist played during this time. He would sit at the organ in the orchestra pit and an elevator would lift him and that beautiful instrument up almost to stage level. There were brilliant spotlights trained on him. Usually he wore a white suit covered with reflective sequins. He really looked cool and he was very popular with young and old alike.

There was a cat-walk above the theatre’s stage that had a sign reading, “Authorized Personnel Only. Richard and I decided unanimously that we were authorized since we were employees. One night, we climbed up and proceeded past the sign to see just what there was to see.

That was a huge pipe organ. You could reach some of the pipes from the cat-walk. We two ushers decided that it would be a neat trick to stuff some trash paper into the pipes and perhaps “untune” them a bit. We thought this would be a funny trick to play on Mr. Sacker.

Just as we were reaching over to deposit our stash of paper into those pipes a gruff voice hollered at us, “What’s the matter with you two … git down from up there.” It was Jake, our stage manager/fire guard. He spotted us and he reported us to our manager.

So Richard and I were fired. I went around the corner and began working for the Liberty Theatre. Richard went to work for the Gaylynn Theatre. Our manager at the Jefferson said that we were great employees as long as we were not placed together. So this Greenie and that Purple were fired simply for doing what boys do … getting into unnecessary trouble.

After graduating from Beaumont High School, Richard went on to college, got married and moved to Houston. A few years later, he and his wife died in their sleep from asphyxiation due to a faulty space heater.

And now you know why this memory has been somewhat suppressed until now.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise


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