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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Theater History. Courtesy: Telegraph Herald
Spensley Theater c. 1929. If you look closely you will see the movie is "My Four Years in Germany". This film, based on a book by James Gerard, was made for $50,000 and grossed of $1.5 million. It was such a hit, Warner Brothers decided to concentrate on film production rather than being only a distributor. Paul Hemmer

SPENSLEY THEATER. From 1910 through 1934, Harker Brentnal Spensley, Sr. owned the MAJESTIC THEATRE and added the title of president in 1929 when it was renamed the Spensley Theater. Mrs. William L. Gallogly, daughter of Harker B. Spensley, Sr., remained a part owner from 1934 through 1955 after it had been purchased and renamed the ORPHEUM. (1)

The theater's first program was a presentation of the talking motion picture, "Rio Rita," the "audifilm" version of the famous Ziegfeld musical success. (2) Jack Dempsey, former heavy-weight champion boxer of the world, and his vaudeville act "A Roadside Razz" appeared at the theater in 1930. (3) In April of the same year, Dubuque's own H. A. "Heinie" ENGEL wrestled "Bull" Montana. (4) The famous Red Grange appeared in a musical on December 31, 1930. The stage was turned into a huge cooking school with demonstrations of "ranges, refrigerators, and other culinary equipment" in 1933. (5) Famous Hollywood character Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle performed to the Spensley the same year. (6)

In 1932 even as the U.S. economy foundered, RKO, an American film production and distribution company, began buying up theater after theater to add to its exhibition chain. RKO was formed after the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) theater chains and Joseph P. Kennedy's Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) studio were brought together under the control of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in October 1928. The Spensley, one of many purchased, became part of the RKO film theater circuit and was renamed the RKO Orpheum around 1934. (7)



1. "Chronology 1972," Telegraph Herald, December 28, 1972, p. 20

2. "New Spensley Open to the Public," Telegraph-Herald and Times Journal, November 17, 1929, p. 22

3. "Dempsey Comes Here Wednesday," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, April 1, 1930, p. 5

4. " 'Bull' Montana and Heinie Engel Ready for Their Finish Match," The Telgraph-Herald, April 4, 1930, p. 13

5. "Make Spensley Theatre Ready for Cooking Demonstration," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, Apr. 11, 1933, p. 5

6. "Looking Backward", Telegraph Herald, June 28, 1953, p. 12

7. "RKO Pictures," Wikipedia. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RKO_Pictures