In the modern world anything less than high-definition
television is old school. It is the cutting edge of entertainment technology
and among the most popular of the Black Friday shopping targets.
But we are not that far removed from much more primitive
In October of 1929 the State Theatre opened in Jamestown.
The new entertainment complex ran a full-page advertisement promoting some of
its unique features.
According to the ads the State Theatre was an “All Talky”
theatre. No more silent movies where you had to read the texts displayed on the
The first movie showed at the State Theatre was “Nothing
but the Truth.” It was a comedy where a crooked stockbroker is bet he can’t go
for 24 hours without telling a lie. He manages to win the bet even though he
has to explain a gold-digging sister act to his wife and try to raise $10,000
for charity in five days.
Like I said, it was a comedy and later remade in 1941,
starring Bob Hope.
The Opera House in Jamestown was also showing talking
movies although it seemed to run a silent feature from time to time. It showed
the movie “The Trespasser” at the same time the State Theatre was opening.
The Trespasser told the story about a kept woman who
lived high in Africa. It won an Academy Award nomination for Gloria Swanson.
Swanson was a veteran film actress, but this was the first movie where the
public could hear her voice.
This movie was remade in 1937 with Bette Davis and Henry
The advent of talking movies in Jamestown in October of
1929 had to be a welcome respite from the other news of the day.
Carl Ben Eielson’s plane had just been lost in the
Siberian Arctic. Eielson was a favorite son of North Dakota known for his
historic flights above the Arctic Circle. The disappearance of his flight and
the subsequent recovery of his body several weeks later made headlines across
Then there was the collapse of the Stock Market. Not that
many in rural North Dakota noticed. The farm economy had been down for several
years. The local newspapers noted bank closings from time to time including the
State Bank of Merricourt in November of 1929.
But a person could escape all that bad news at a talking
movie. Cost for one of the new talkies was 50 cents a seat. Matinees went for a
bargain 15 cents.
I don’t know what a bag of popcorn went for back then but
I’m sure date night was a whole lot cheaper than now.
And you could save your money for the other form of
entertainment of that era. The furniture stores of Jamestown were advertising
the best in radios for your home listening pleasure.
You could get a Zenith radio for $175 in 1929. That’s
equivalent to about $2,200 now or about four times higher than that High
Definition television we watch today.