Population of Abilene, Texas, in the golden age of plush movie houses (ca 1930 to 1950) was less than 50,000 but the small west Texas city was the home of several elaborate movie houses before television took its toll on dwindling movie audiences. The grandest jewel of the bunch was the historic Paramount Theater which, like the other once plush movie houses was slated for demolition. A life-long film aficionado, Robert Holladay was among a group of concerned citizens who lobbied for the preservation of the theater which for years and years had provided an escape into a Spanish mission ambiance of exquisite sculpture and romantic twinkling stars on an indigo ceiling with wispy clouds rolling by.
An angel may have materialized from the magical ether of the Paramount when funds were suddenly made available to restore the grand building to its original magnificence. Renovation began in 1987 and Holladay was involved in the restoration process because of his knowledge about the theater from years of attending every movie shown there.
Today, Robert Holladay is one of the local stars of the Paramount with his monthly lectures about the movie currently being shown. Betty Hukill, executive director of the Paramount, agrees with the comparison of Holladay to Osborne who introduces films on TCM. He knows all about films and generously shares his knowledge, according to regular movie goers at the well preserved theater. Holladay recalls the other depression era theaters decorated in grand style. Later, as theater going declined, movie houses like the Majestic, the Texas, the Palace, and the Star folded and their once grand buildings were demolished. “Only the Paramount, the grandest of them all, survived,” Holladay says in a nostalgic tone.
Now the restored Paramount is a magnificent link between the past and the present. Almost every facet of the original theater is restored to its grand opening style, including the workable 35mm projection equipment, “which we cannot use because of the unavailability of those films,” Betty Hukill said. So today, Holladay gives his lectures before the showing of old classic films on re-mastered DVDs. The theater stage was modified to accommodate live performances during the renovation process.
Robert Holladay, who owns a collection of over 2,000 classic films didn’t hesitate to name his favorite film, Raintree County. “In my opinion, the greatest film of all time was a 1927 movie, Napoleon, which was discovered and restored by Frances Ford Coppola.” People who have had the privilege visiting personally with Robe rt Holladay will all tell you that the visit was better than seeing a movie. Holladay’s passion for classic films is a rare blessing for the people of Abilene, Texas.