I interviewed Lance Wolf earlier this year for a series about the movie industry's switch from 35-milimeter film to digital projection.

The shift has the potential to put the few remaining small theaters in the area out of business unless they purchase costly equipment.

Wolf, who is in his 70s, remembered a time when several small theaters operated in downtown York. Many others operated in boroughs across the county.

Some started out presenting theater shows and vaudeville acts. Others were built as guilded movie palaces.

By 16, Wolf was a systems manager at the Dallas Theatre. Charles MacDonald, who ran a few York movie houses, became his mentor.

Wolf, who now works the projector at York's Strand-

Capitol Performing Arts Center, showed me a book MacDonald gave him years ago.

He was told it listed acts from a York theater, but he was unsure which one.

I took the book, and told him I'd try to find out.

Its cover reads "Name of Acts," but doesn't indicate a theater. Acts are recorded in neat script during a 15-year period -1912-13 to 1927-28.

Seasons at the theater started in August and ran through May or June the following year. Hundreds of comedy, acting and singing troupes took the stage during that era.

When I took the book to the York County Heritage Trust a few weeks ago, I used microfilm to match performers listed in the book with theater advertisements in the York Gazette and Daily - a precursor of the York Daily Record.

I crosschecked three acts before concluding that the book lists York Opera House shows.


Here are the descriptions I found:

  • Friday, Oct. 16, 1914: "'Picnic Days,' another one of those attractive miniature comedies with pretty girls, special scenery, etc., is the top-liner at the Opera House for the weekend. The audiences at the opening performance yesterday were well pleased as the applause indicated. The straw-ride, which is the finale, is a pretty picture. The music is catchy all the way through."

  • Tuesday, Oct. 20, 1914: "'In Old Tyrol', another one of those clever girl acts that have become so popular with the patrons of vaudeville, is found on the bill for the first half of the week at the Opera House. With its beautiful settings and presented by a mighty well balanced company, including two good comedians, the piece promises to be a big favorite before the middle of the week arrives."

  • Tuesday, Oct. 27, 1914: "Surely no one can complain of the acts of amusements (on) the bill at the Opera House for the beginning of the week. Each act is different and each can be placed in the 'clever class.' People had to hold their breath during the act of The Kilties, wire artists and dancers."

    I had confirmed Wolf's guess that the book might be from the York Opera House.

    The theater, he said, was neighbors with another theater - The Orpheum - on South Beaver Street.

    Wolf said they were before his time, but he did work for General Telephone & Electronics, which moved into the theater buildings.

    Wolf isn't sure how MacDonald acquired the book of acts, but he shared memories of his mentor.

    Born with a love for the stage, MacDonald used to perform magic at York theaters before heading to Hollywood.

    He split his time between his permanent residence at the Yorktowne Hotel and lodgings at The Hollywood Tower in Los Angeles, where he mingled with stars and befriended magician Harry Blackstone.

    Wolf said MacDonald's father converted a cigar factory into The Jackson theater. MacDonald ran that and The Holiday, formerly The York Theatre.

    "It's heyday was in the 1960s and 1970s," Wolf said.

    By that time, Wolf was in the projectionist union and working at several York movie houses.

    Wolf isn't sure of the year, but said MacDonald passed away in the late '80s or early '90s.

    He was a character, Wolf recalled fondly.

    And now Wolf knows the origins of the cherished piece of York's past MacDonald shared.

    PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 717-771-2051 or send an email to emccracken@ydr.com.

    Read more about the movie industry's switch from film to digital.

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