New Castle News

May 21, 2013

Movie Memories, Part 2: Monsters, cowboys and ultimately, sex, were staples at State Theater

Dan Irwin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — For Richard Kalata, soda pop was something to consider before he got to the movies, not after.

“In the late ’40s, I lived within walking distance of the State Theater,” said Kalata, a New Jersey resident and New Castle native who also spent some time as a projectionist at some of the city’s now-defunct movie houses. “The admission price was 25 cents for adults and 12 cents for children. To see a movie I had to find two large Golden Age pop bottles and one small pop bottle.

“The two big ones were worth a nickel each, and the smaller one was two cents. I would take them to a store, collect the 12 cents deposit and go to the movies.”

The State Theater opened around 1930 on Long Avenue, supplanting the nearby Strand, an early nickelodeon. Both were owned by the Baltimore family.

Since 1987, it’s been home to the New Castle Playhouse. Before that, though, it was a second home for Dave Kalata.

“Growing up, the State Theater was practically in my back yard,” said Kalata, who is Richard’s cousin. “I have to say that I probably spent a third of my time at home, a third of my time outside and a third of my time in the movie theater.

“A lot of kids in the neighborhood spent a lot of time at the State Theater, because they changed films at least twice a week. It was such a golden time with all those monster movies and cowboy movies, we were there a couple times a week.”

Dave Kalata, though, didn’t always see every minute of the monster flicks.

“I tell you, they scared a lot of people,” he said. “There’d be a group of us, five or six guys, who would go in together and sit all in one row. I’d be looking at the movie thinking something scary’s going to happen, and it’d be ‘Oops, I gotta go to the bathroom’  or go get a drink of water or go buy some candy. ”

He then would hide out in the lobby or behind the low wall at the rear of the auditorium until he was brave enough to sneak a peek to see if the frightening moment had past.

“Then I’d go back and say, ‘What happened?’ and they’d tell me, and I’d say, “Geez, I shoulda stayed to watch that.’ But it just scared me.”

Also daunting to the youngsters were the candy prices at the State’s concession stand. Kalata & Co. got around that, though, by making their first stop at Joe’s Smoke Shop just up the street. The store was owned by Joe Slamon, father of renowned cancer researcher Dr. Dennis Slamon.

“It was cheaper there,” Dave Kalata said of the sweets. “We’d buy our candy, and then hide it so no one would see us bringing it in.”

Eventually, Dave Kalata became such a fixture at the State that manager John Hammet, who also managed the Hi-Lander, would ask for his help when he had to work on the North Hill instead of the South Side.

“Since I lived just around the corner, if there were any emergencies, he would call me and I would go down there,” Kalata said. “I became almost like an assistant manager. I opened up the theater, I gave the box office people their money, I counted the money after the end of the night, inventoried the candy.”

For a while, the 17-year-old Kalata was even dispatched to the film exchange in Pittsburgh to select movies to show at the State.

“I must have had the magic touch because a lot of them that I had picked did pretty well,” he said. “Some of these never really played at the Hi-Lander, maybe at the drive-ins as a second feature, but if you missed them there, they never came back. Like ‘The Patch of Blue,’ ‘Flight of the Phoenix,’ ‘In Like Flint’ —  movies like that, more adventure-type, action films that were only there over a weekend or maybe just a week, but they were busy.”

That was pretty much the way of the State, according to Jack Oberleitner, a New Castle native and owner of a cinema consulting firm, Oberleitner & Associates.

It “was almost always a second-run house with occasional foreign language specials (because of the mix of immigrants inhabiting the surrounding South Side neighborhoods),” he said.

“Its last incarnation was, briefly, as an triple-X house before closing as a film theater.”

(Tomorrow: A world premier with Bill Cardille and other Hi-Lander memories)