About the Book

Remembering the Orpheum Theater is the story of Easton, PA's first real vaudeville theater. It all started on July 23, 1907 when it was announced in the local newspapers that Wilmer & Vincent were planning to construct a 1497 seat vaudeville theater on Front Street in Easton. They broke ground on August 29, 1907, and the theater opened exactly 125 days later on December 23, 1907.

Wilmer & Vincent was a very well-run theater circuit, and during the Orpheum's vaudeville years (1907-1910), Wilmer & Vincent booked the best acts of the Keith and Proctors vaudeville circuit into the Orpheum - everything from dancing elephants to Will Rogers and Buster Keaton. In the fall of 1910, Wilmer & Vincent changed the Orpheum into a legitimate theater and they booked many of George M. Cohan's musicals, Madame Sarah Bernhardt, Blackstone the magician, Ethel Barrymore, Ed Wynn, the great Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic's, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the John Phillip Sousa Band. They also showed many of the major silent film epics of the day accompanied by twenty-piece orchestras.

There was no shortage of great shows playing the Orpheum, but what was in very short supply were people and box office receipts. Despite dismal attendance and rising debt, Wilmer & Vincent continued to make improvement and tried to make a success of the Orpheum. Finally, in January of 1934 they shut it down and put the theater up for sale. The theater languished there until February of 1943 when it was purchased by the Easton Sanitary Milk Company for a parking lot.

Unfortunately, the Orpheum's story does not have a Walt Disney happy ever after ending, but it is non the less a compelling story. Remembering the Orpheum Theater goes into so much detail with over 60 photographs and more than 100 Orpheum newspaper advertisements within its 115 pages, that you will feel transported back in time.

About the Author

Author, Kenneth Klabunde has written another book on local history, Remembering the Orpheum Theater. His first book, This House is for the Ladies, was the story of silk baron Herman Simon and his family, his silk business, and his mansion on North Third Street in Easton, PA.

His more than 60-year love affair with theaters, and the theater business were the result of his parents who took his brothers and him downtown to see the latest family film at the State or Boyd Theaters in Easton, PA. Little did his parents know then the effect that these theaters would have on him. One of the first times he went to see a movie at the State, he was pretty sure that God had to live there. He had never seen architecture like that before. Going to the Boyd was initially a little confusing. Why, when you would get tickets for a show and you went to your seats in the auditorium did it seem like you were outside again. He didn't know anything about atmospheric theaters back then. Needless to say, on futures visits to Easton's downtown theaters, he always wanted to sit farther to the front of the theater so he could take in the architectural wonders of these fantastic buildings.

He became a union projectionist and stage hand, and later traveled with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians on their cross-country road tours as their electrician and follow spot operator for nearly 3 years. This afforded him the opportunity to work in and see hundreds of classic movie palaces all across the country.

He came back to Easton and became one of the projectionists and assistant manager of the United Artists State Theater, and later went on to manage United Artists theaters in Reading and Williamsport, PA, and Albany NY. In the summer of 1974, the UA State Theater in Easton needed a manager and he requested to be transferred back to the State Theater. UA reluctantly said he could go back, but to also recognize that this would be a step down the ladder not up. He happily returned as manager of one of UA's least profitable theaters, because it was his favorite. He spent the next 6 years trying to overcome the stigma of operating a battle worn 50-year-old theater in a downtown that businesses and people were leaving in droves. When United Artists decided to sell the theater in 1980, he, along with four other like-minded preservationists, planted the seed that would eventually grow to become the fabulous State Theater Center for the Arts!

For about 10 years he wrote a monthly column in the Easton Irregular newspaper on historical tidbits in and around Easton. He also was the Community Relations Representative for McIntyre Management Corporation for 20 years.

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