Davidson passed away not too many years ago, but he is fondly
remembered in the Lynchburg, Ohio area and in other communities
where he owned and operated movie theaters and drive-ins for
many years. One of those endeavors was a partnership with Greenfieldís
Kib Roberts in the Rand Theater and the Ranch Drive-In. The
following article about Davidsonís career in the movie
business appeared in the Lynchburg News on August 21, 1975.)
Coffey (visit Ron's
website at www.coffeeweb.com)
When J. Henry (Hank) Davidson
was a boy growing up in Buford, he developed a fascination with
movie projectors. At Buford High School, he was always tinkering
with the film equipment.
After graduation, he was
working at Allis Chalmers in Cincinnati when he decided to take
a course in electro-acoustical engineering at a nearby school.
The young man learned about the principles of the
newly-developed system and was about to receive his diploma when
the school suddenly went bankrupt.
To get back some of his
tuition, Davidson said, "I, so to speak, latched on to some
sound equipment that was put to use in starting my first
That first theater was opened
at the village of Seaman in 1932. However, the town was not big
enough to support the "picture show" and Davidsonís
first venture was soon closed.
However, he rebounded and
eventually built a very successful career as owner of 17
theaters during 43 years in the business.
Hank Davidson is no longer
active in the movie business, although he is co-owner of the
Mound Drive-In at West Union, which is leased to Russell
Rainwater. Davidson recently took a few hours from his busy
retirement schedule to recount his career as a showman.
After the failure of the
Seaman enterprise, Davidson enlisted the help of K.R. (Kib)
Roberts, an automobile company employee. The two men became
business partners and brought their equipment to the Patterson
Show Building in Lynchburg in 1933.
Needing a name for the
business, the men settled on the Rand Theater. The
"Rand" was derived from the "R" in Roberts
and the "D" in Davidson, joined by the letters
By 1934 the business was in
operation. The movie theater was located in the building now
occupied by Howardís Carpet Shop.
The theater was a success, and
by 1935 Davidson bought out his partner. That same year his
landlord decided not to lease the property again, so Davidson
build the New Rand Theater.
The business continued to
prosper until the war years, and was finally closed in 1945. The
birth of television at about the same time contributed to the
demise of many a small town theater, Davidson feels.
The New Rand Theater was
located in the building now occupied by the Lynchburg Volunteer
During the 1930s Davidson and
Kib Roberts got together again and decided to build the Rand
Theater in Greenfield. This 1938 investment proved to be a good
one, and soon after the partners took over operation of
Greenfieldís other theater, the Lyric. They later formed an
affiliation with the White-Lisbon Circuit in Cincinnati.
In 1939 Davidson and Roberts
opened the Grant Theater in Georgetown. Davidson pointed out
that most of the theaters he was associated with were named
after some aspect of the areas they were located in. The Grant
Theater was so named because President Ulysses S. Grant spent
his boyhood days in Georgetown.
In 1941 Davidson became
associated with Harry Wamsley in the operation of the Palace
The Skyway Theater in Osborn
was added in 1944, with William Hitchcock as a partner. This
theater was named after Skyway Park and located across the
highway from Air Service Command.
As the Adams Amusement Co.,
Davidson, Roberts and Wamsley built the Mound Theater at Peebles
in 1945. This enterprise was named after the Great Serpent Mount
During this period, drive-in
movies were making a name. Davidson recalls that the first
drive-in was built in 1938 in Boston, Mass. The inventor tried
to patent his design, but his idea of a ramp system for viewing
was turned down as not original when it was learned the ancient
Romans often parked their chariots the same way when watching
Government permission was
required before certain projects could be started during the
1940s. Each type of project was numbered, Davidson says, and
that is how he knows the Roselawn Drive-In at Allensburg was the
234th drive-in ever built. The drive-in was opened in
In 1948 the 3-Cís Drive-In
was built in Washington C.H. The establishment, which was later
sold to Jim Chakers, was named after the first cross-Ohio
highway, known as the Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland Pike,
shortened to the 3-C Highway.
The Old Fort Drive-In at
Lebanon was built in 1949 by Davidson and Roberts. The name
comes from nearby Fort Ancient.
The Atomic Drive-In at Waverly
was named after the atomic energy plant there. The theater was
erected in 1953.
The Mound Drive-In at Peebles
was built in 1954.
theater, the Ranch, was built in 1956. Davidson said he and his
partners had a difficult time naming the theater. They decided
on "Ranch" because it was built on the spot where
there had once been a pony ranch.
During his time as a showman,
Davidson also owned the Circle Theater at Circleville, the Avon
Theater at New Vienna, the Community Theater at Sardinia and the
Arcade Theater at Georgetown.
In 1971 the Atomic Drive-In
was sold to Edwin S. Payne, Chillicothe, and in 1972 the Old
Fort, Roselawn, Rand and Ranch were sold to B & R Theaters
Inc., Cincinnati. In previous years, Davidsonís other movie
places had been sold, and today (1975) he and Roberts own only
the Mound Drive-In at Peebles.
After selling to B & R,
Davidson remained active as manager of several theaters. He
continued in this capacity until January, 1975.
Davidson and his wife, Dean,
who reside in Allensburg, still maintain an office in Lynchburg.
Davidson opened the Associated Theaters office in 1946 to
conduct business matters, and he likes to come for a few hours
each week. He also owns the Fireside Inn at Allensburg "to
have something to play around with as a rental
As for the movies heís shown
during his 43 years, Davidson says: "Iíve seen them come
from the cowboys to the nudies."
Some of the big box office
stars of small towns in the past were Shirley Temple, Will
Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, Betty
Grable, June Haver and Alice Fay, Davidson recalls, adding that
"Clark Gable was the king of them all."
Davidson feels the sex symbols
of the past, such as Clara Bow, Alice Fay, Marilyn Monroe and
Betty Grable, were far sexier than current stars who disrobe on
Although he does not
personally care for the current wave of "fast-buck"
pictures dealing with explicit sex, Davidson opposes censorship
of "one of our American heritages, freedom of speech, sight
and sound." He feels people should be able to see what they
want, and those who donít want to view certain movies
"donít have to look."
Many R-rated movies have been
seen at Davidsonís theaters, but only two X-films were shown:
"Midnight Cowboy" and "The Graduate"; both
were Academy Award caliber pictures.
Movies have gone through many
cycles: there have been beach party films, motorcycle movies,
musicals, disaster flicks and others. Only the horror pictures
and cowboy movies have been able to hold their own over the
years, Davidson says.
Todayís big box office hits,
such as "Jaws," take in huge receipt figures to place
quickly on the all-time hit list. While Davidson does not find
fault with the movies, he noted that they were aided by
inflation. He pointed out that admission prices were much lower
when "Gone with the Wind" was first released.
Business aspects of the movie
business have changed too. Davidson says most films cost in the
neighborhood of $15 when he began showing them. Now distributors
often demand 90 percent of the theaterís gross receipts, and
Davidson is glad to be out of the business.
However, he feels movies will
always endure as a form of entertainment. They have survived the
competition of television, and new "gimmicks," such as
three-dimensional films, "Sensurround" sound and
others have always added a novel attraction.
Today Davidson devotes
considerable time to fishing and farming and maintains a busy
schedule. Looking back on his 43 years in the movie business, he
says, "I canít figure out how I ever had time to go to