Researched and Written by Gracie Leininger and Mary Hudson - 2006 NOTE: colored underlines are links to photographs. The Lyric Live Theater, operated by the Regional Opera Company, located at 117 First Street, Newburg, Missouri, was constructed as a movie theater during the era of silent movies. It occupies the same block as the oldest existing building in the city, the Houston House, built in 1883 and is next door to the old Sullivan Hotel, which was built soon after the Houston House. Newburg, a city developed by the Frisco Railroad, was given a birthday of 1884 by the local citizens. The railroad workers brought their families to the new city, businesses soon followed, and Newburg was looked on as a boomtown. In 1895, Dr. William Franklin Burns, a physician from Mackinaw, Illinois, married Sarah Elizabeth Johnson of Newburg, in the city of Newburg. The new family made Newburg their home and worked toward making the new city a better place to live. Dr. Burns was owner of the local pharmacy in April 1919 when he made the decision to build a theater in the fast-growing city. He contracted William J. Mitchell of Rolla, Missouri, to build the theater, and work on the building commenced shortly thereafter, with the expected opening to take place by the first of June 1919. Mr. M. F. Meade, editor of The Phelps County Record newspaper, was showing movies on the second floor of the Pinto store in Newburg. He took a five- year lease on the new theater building while it was under construction and together, Dr. Burns and Mr. Meade named the new theater building “The Community Theater” because they expected to make it a real community enterprise—a theater they hoped every person in Newburg and vicinity would take pride in. The Community Theater was to be one of the best country theaters in this section and would compare favorably to many theaters in cities of two to three times the size of Newburg. To guarantee that the movies would be shown without interruptions from the undependable electric system familiar to Newburg residents, the theater installed its own power plant. Mr. Meade often mentioned in newspaper reports that he was striving to bring top-quality entertainment to The Community Theater. Not only was the building to be used for motion pictures but, at a very reasonable charge, would be made available to the community for other uses. The Community Theater was one of the very few businesses in Newburg not directly related to railroading. The theater building illustrated the growth of the community and the diversification of its economy. As often happens, the project did not go as planned. The facing brick was not delivered on schedule, causing the construction to be held up. Therefore, the June opening date had to be postponed. The next opening date was set for July 24, 1919, with a planned grand opening showing the movie “The Heart of Humanity,” a first-run film in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis. All seats were sold well in advance of this date, but the film did not arrive on time. The first event at the theater was not a movie, but a live stage lecture and demonstration by Chief Wm. Red Fox, a full- blooded Sioux Indian, son of Chief Black Eagle of the Rosebud Agency, South Dakota. This lecture was on General Custer’s Last Fight, the Battle of Wounded Knee, the Habits and Customs of Indians, as well as War Songs, War Dances, Blanket Dances, Green Corn Dance, and other Native Indian Dances. Chief Red Fox served seven years in the United States Navy and was a graduate of Carlisle Indian School. He used his lectures as a means of helping people understand the Indian’s viewpoint. The first movie shown at this theater was “Shark Monroe,” on August 05, 1919, one of William S. Hart’s best offerings at that time. Playbills published in the local newspaper advertising movies on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with a matinee on Saturday, showed that the theater was being supported by the community and thriving quite well. The starting time for the Saturday matinee was 3 p.m., lasting until 4:30 p.m. This time schedule made it difficult for the railroad workers who worked the evening shift to attend the matinee and be at work by 4 p.m. The Frisco Railroad officials made a request to the theater manager to reschedule the Saturday matinee so the railroad workers could enjoy the show and get to work on time without having to leave before the movie was over. The theater manager complied with this request, changing the matinee starting time from 3 p.m. to 2 p.m. The Community Theater was used not only for movies but also for diversified entertainment at no charge. There were school graduation exercises and school plays, as well as fund raising events for the community when needed. Mr. Meade, the manager, donated the use of the theater building on Tuesday afternoon, December 23, 1919, to the Newburg School for a Christmas program. Movies were not shown for two nights in April 1920 so the theater could be used for the Newburg High School graduation exercise. To raise funds for a soldier’s memorial, the theater was donated by the manager on Friday, April 30, 1920. The play selected was “The Triflers,” featuring the popular comedienne Edith Roberts, along with a planned music program. Not only was the theater donated for this benefit, but the services of the staff as well. In 1922, for the price of 40 cents for adults and 20 cents for children, one could be entertained by high-class entertainers such as Domingo’s Filipino Seranaders, the only celebrated violinist in America of the 1921 era. And in 1922, W. C. Buckner’s Original Dixie Jubilee Concert Company, the best African American singing ensemble of its time, entertained the residents. This group presented a great company of artists in a high-class program of melody, mirth, and humor, and classic comic, sentimental, and character numbers. It is quite possible that Blind Boone entertained at this theater because it was his practice to travel by railroad for his engagements. Since The Community Theater is located across the street from the Frisco Railroad tracks, the historians of Blind Boone believe that he may have entertained there. The Community Theater was made available from April through May in 1922 for the Newburg High School senior play, “A Southern Cinderella!,” as well as a boys band concert and an 8th grade graduation party. In September 1922, the theater was used by Mrs. C. D. Huckins and Miss Francis Baggatt, teachers of expression in Springfield, Missouri, assisted by locals Mrs. H. Bull, and Messrs. Houston, Houck, Johnson, and Williams to raise funds for a relief fund. They raised $240.00, which was quite a sum to be raised in those days. About 1925, the theater name was changed to “Lyric Theater.” Along with the name change, the front of the building was changed to a look that most residents of Newburg fondly recall. The sunburst window over the door was covered over and a three- sided canopy was added to the front of the building with lights illuminating the name “Lyric” on all three sides. Playbill holders were placed on the sides of the building near the entrance and covered with chicken wire to hold the playbills in place. Some of the older residents of Newburg can recall their days of youth spent in this theater. They remember that there was no running water and no restrooms. A coal stove in the front of the theater heated it in cool weather. Most of these people were on stage during their school days when the theater was used for high school plays or other school events. Zoe Virginia Tankersley, born in 1918 in Newburg and now a resident of Michigan, said that she went to see the movie “Ben Hur” in the Lyric Theater in the mid-1920s, accompanied by her mother, and that she preformed on the theater’s stage when she was in high school. The Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR) Library, Rolla, Missouri, has a copy of a program for the Newburg High School junior play in 1930, “The Busy Bee,” and an advertisement for a movie in 1934, “The Forgotten Men.” The program and the movie advertisement indicate that the theater was surviving in the depression years. However, Newburg and the theater did not escape the hard times felt across the nation, and in 1937, the theater building was deeded to the city of Newburg, a municipal corporation. The theater has an on-again, off-again history, struggling to survive the adverse economy brought about by the depression of the early 1930s. The building continued to be used to raise money for benefits, as shown in advertisements in “The Newburg Times” newspaper. On the night of April 4, 1939, the proceeds from two showings of the movie “Start Cheering” were donated to purchase bats and balls for the Recreation Center. That same month, on the evening of April 18, the movie “There’s That Woman Again,” along with music by the school band and a two-reel comedy with talkies, was presented in two showings to raise funds for a hot-lunch room. And on June 27, 1939, a benefit for the building fund of the Christian Church was held at the theater. Having seen better days, the theater was in need of repairs to the interior. Mrs. Beulah Fuller, mother of Edward Fuller, a Newburg boy who had made good in his career of acting, brought the plight of the theater building to her Newburg Civics Club meeting and asked for assistance from the club to repair the interior of the building so that a regular series of movies could be established. The club approved the suggestion offered. (Years later, Edward’s brother Ron Fuller made a statement to Helen Berg, theater secretary, that he felt his brother became interested in acting from watching the movies in the Lyric Theater.) In October 1939, the theater was named “Newburg Theater.” Under the management of a local resident, Homer Coffman, and with a completely remodeled and redecorated interior, thanks to the Newburg Civics Club, the theater interior was once again in first-class condition. The theater held a grand opening on Thursday, October 19, 1939, with the movie “Only Angels Have Wings,” with movies scheduled to be shown on Monday and Thursday nights. A large crowd attended the formal grand opening. It is unknown just when the theater upgraded the equipment in the projection room to have sound, but the major filmmakers were producing talking pictures by this time. The name “Lyric” remained on the front canopy, and the theater continued to be used by the citizens of Newburg when needed. World War II is credited with reviving the economy in Newburg and creating a boomtown for a second time in its young history. The theater, again using the name “Lyric Theater,” flourished in 1942, with shows being shown seven nights a week—two shows nightly and a matinee on Saturday. The construction of the Fort Leonard Wood military base brought 38,000 job seekers through the doors of the employment office in Newburg. The town’s population grew from 600 to more than 6,000 in a matter of weeks. The military used Newburg as a shipping point for the soldiers via the Frisco Railroad. Since the Lyric Theater was the main focus of recreation and entertainment in Newburg, there is no telling how many of our national heroes graced the doors of the Lyric Theater as they were being shipped overseas during World War II. At the end of the war, changes came for the area, and Newburg again became a small town, trying to survive. The theater did not escape the economic changes that befell Newburg. By the late 1940s, traveling by automobile made it easier for the residents to get outside of Newburg for entertainment other than a movie. Bob Forester, a resident of Newburg, recalls that the theater closed for a while about 1948 and reopened about 1950. Joe Cooper, a former resident of Newburg who operated the projectors at the Lyric Theater in 1951–1952, said that “the Lyric Theater reopened again in 1950 under the management of Tink Huff, of Lebanon, Missouri. ‘Gone With The Wind,’ an all-time classic movie, was shown during the time I was projectionist. The projection booth had to be fireproof. There were small port windows that you could look out at the screen with steel plates above the windows. The old 35mm film was very flammable; it would burn like gasoline. There were 35 frames a second going to the projection head, and the light from the lamp houses was very hot. If the film broke or hung up in the head you had a fire. The theater had a fire burn up three reels of film. Later, they came out with safety film that wouldn't burn. The Lyric Theater was open six nights a week and closed on Tuesday. Along with the main feature, the patrons saw a cartoon and a newsreel.” This was the era of infancy for television, and the theater newsreel was the only way to view the action taking place in the Korean War our country was involved in during the 1950s. By the mid-1950s, most homes had a television for entertainment and instant news, and the Lyric Theater, like others in small towns across the country, did not survive progress. The Lyric Theater closed its doors as a theater about 1955. The city of Newburg sold the theater building in 1957 to a group of businessmen, and the local lumber company used it for storage. After the group purchased the building, the Lyric marquee and the playbill cases were removed from the front of the building, and the sunburst window over the front door remained boarded over. A photograph taken about 1976 shows the building in a state of disrepair. In 1983, “Jay D. Turley” —a playwright, director, and producer from Blackwater, Missouri, with Hollywood and Arrow Rock experience—recognized the value of the old Lyric Theater to the Newburg community. Mr. Turley purchased the building and on October 24, 1983, held a public meeting at the local Newburg School for the purpose of renaming the building and asking for volunteers to help clean up the building and to perform on stage. A sign was painted and placed on the building during this time calling it “Opera House.” The name chosen for the theater at this meeting was “Regional Opera Company.” Antique light fixtures from Mr. Turley’s collection were installed in the lobby and auditorium. Plumbing was installed, and two restrooms were built in the old building. The sunburst window over the door was uncovered in 1991 and the original glass was still intact. Building 2005, with Cheryl Hicks and Gracie Leininger The first show presented by the Regional Opera Company, “Showboat A’Comin’,” opened in December, using an all-volunteer cast. Throughout the years since 1983, numerous improvements and upgrades have been made to the theater building, while keeping the theater in its original state as much as possible. While living in California, Mr. Turley had written material for the Crippled Children’s and Cancer drives, as well as episodes for movies and TV shows. “A Signal for Miss Elizabeth” won the 1975 Writers Guild Award for the best dramatic play of the year. Mr. Turley wrote and sold “Portrait of a Giant” to Federal-One Productions of Los Angeles, California, in 1985. He registered his plays with the Writers Guild in Berkeley, California. On February 1, 1992, Mr. Turley and White-Lawson Productions of San Francisco signed a contract for rights to produce in entirety or portions, five of Mr. Turley’s plays. Titles of the contracted works were “A Signal for Miss Elizabeth,” “Mrs. Ryan’s Heirs,” Flight 409,” “Orphan Train West,” and “Big Molly.” The five plays included in the contract have all been produced in Newburg by the Regional Opera Company. Mr. Turley wrote his plays about people he enjoyed talking to while traveling throughout Missouri and Texas, as well as drawing on some parts of his own life’s experiences. After extensive research, he wrote “Orphan Train West,” which is about the trains that ran from New York west through Missouri, bringing orphaned children to be left off with families along the way. Mr. Turley did an excellent job of bringing their stories to light. Some of these children, as senior citizens, were alive to attend the play. When the play is presented, the audience often includes descendants of these orphan train children. One of the original charter members of the Regional Opera Company, Cherrie Simpson, who sang on stage a few times with Luci Myers at the Cedar St. Center, Rolla, Missouri, is presently under contract as an entertainer at the Meramac Theater in Steelville, Missouri. Her first acting in plays with speaking lines was at the Regional Opera Company under the direction of Jay D. Turley in 1984. Cherrie returned to entertain at this theater as recently as 2004. Carol Van Biesen of Rolla, who played the part of Miss Lotta Lamour in 1984 in “The People’s Court,” a Jay D. Turley play, tells of her mother performing on this same stage several years ago. When Judge Douglas E. Long Jr. was hearing the murder trial of John David Brown in Adair County, Missouri, in August 1989, he made arrangements for the jurors to see the stage play “White Swan” at the Regional Opera Company. The special circumstances meant there could be no one else in the theater while the jurors were there, and the cast volunteered to have a show just for the jury. This is an example of the dedication and generosity of the cast members who volunteer at this theater. Judge Long wrote a letter to Mr. Turley and the cast, thanking them for their extra effort on behalf of the jurors. Mr. Turley continued to write and direct plays at this theater until the end of the 1997 season. Several years earlier, he had sold the building to the Regional Opera Company. When he retired from managing the theater in 1997, he turned the task over to Frank Bridges, of Rolla. Mr. Turley moved back to his hometown of Blackwater, where he resided until his death in November 2004. Mr. Bridges, a retired military officer and currently a REALTOR® in Rolla, continues to carry out the work started by Jay D. Turley, by continuing to offer a place for anyone in the region to show off their talents and learn about the work involved in the theater. A few of the participants have had acting experience in Hollywood; others have been on the stage at the Leach Theater at Castleman Hall, in Rolla. Some of the members have studied acting and performed on stage in Newburg as an extension of their education. Quite often, the cast is actors/actresses who have not had an opportunity to be onstage before, and a few have had no acting experience. Mr. Bridges encourages anyone who wants to be involved with work in a theater—without regard to age, race, sex, or religion—to audition for parts or to become involved in other areas of the theater, from directing to serving as cashier. New playwrights also are given an opportunity to have their plays presented onstage at the Regional Opera Company. One such writer is Debbie McGrath, a longtime member of the Rolla Area Writers Guild, whose poems and essays have been published and awarded numerous prizes over the years. Ms. McGrath’s first play, “The Story Teller,” debuted at the Regional Opera Company on May 2000 and was presented again in May 2006. The late Minnie Bradford of Rolla wrote “The Black-berry Patch,” a three-act play about the Black- berry Patch Restaurant in Rolla, during World War II. This play was presented onstage by the Regional Opera Company in June 2001. The people who are involved with this theater for regular performances are volunteers, including the theater manager. All the money donated at the door is used toward maintaining the building. There are several special shows each season, and these performers have made arrangements to take a part of the door money for their expenses, as they often travel great distances to perform at this theater. 'Bob Milne' internationally known ragtime pianist and story teller; travels from Michigan to perform at the Lyric Live Theater. Bob has performed for past President Bush, the Emperor of Japan, and other heads of state. Bob has been recorded in the Library of Congress. 'Pake McEntire' of Oklahoma; had three hits in the top 20's in the 1980 and is again recording new songs. Pake McEntire has played in bands for several number one country music recording artist. Pake enjoys being the only brother of his famous sisters Reba and Susie McEntire, often giving the audience an insite to the sisters youth. 'Dave Para and Cathy Barton' from Columbia MO.; play several insturments and diverse songs. They travel great distances and talk with many old timers to learn and record the words of old songs which might otherwise be lost. They share with the audience the history of many songs they present on stage Cathy is a master of several music insturments. 'Mick Byrd' of Vienna MO.; held his 6th CD release concert at this theater and will be making return visits to perform here. 'Tribute To The Legends' from as far way as New Mexico and Texas; a music group keeping the 1950's -1980 music alive with both vocal and costume as well as new song's written by the members of this group had their first appearance here in 2007. 'Alex Primm" a local preforming as 'Stub Borders' a Piney River Tie Rafter; as an old-time tie-hacker and rafter with slides, music, tools and oral history audio. At the meeting held at the end of the 2005 season, it was discussed and voted with approval to rename the theater one more time. “Lyric” is the name of the theater which gave the community of Newburg so much service and memories. The members voted to continue using the word Lyric in the name and renamed the theater “Lyric Live Theater.” It will continue to be operated by the Regional Opera Company in the same way it has since 1983 when Jay D. Turley reopened the fine old theater building. Since 1983 until the present, the theater has been in continuous operation as a community theater. This past year, we researched the history of the building and have started the long process to nominate The Community Theater for the National Registry of Historic Places. A calendar is available on the theater’s Web site at www.lyriclivetheater.com. Mr. Bridges encourages large groups to make reservations so they can be seated together. You can make reservation from the web site or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org With the continued support of loyal theatergoers and dedicated volunteer actors/actresses to keep it thriving, the historic Lyric Live Theater will remain one of the area’s most unique attractions.
Helen Burg, Ron Fuller and wife Helen was a long time historian of the theater.
Roy Kendrick, Lyric Theater owner 1954
Bill Sternburg passed away in 2004 More about J.D. Turley
J. D. Turley
Jay D. Turley, a great-great-grandson of Jessie Turley. Jessie Turley, a friend of Kit Carson, Missouri's first recorded Millionaire, a Santa Fe Trader and among the first to free his slaves. Rolla Daily News, August 2, 1985, by: Helen Berg Jay D. Turley, playwright, director and producer with Hollywood and Arrow Rock experience, recognized the value of the old Lyric Theater / Opera House to the Newburg community. Turley, a co-founder of the Lyceum theatre, the Jane Froman Music Center and the Santa Fe Theatre, an outdoor arena, all at Arrow Rock…… In 1950 Turley directed Presidio Military Theatre, San Francisco, California. Turley, an architect and interior decorator by training at the University of California at Los Angeles, California; has been all over the world designing hotel interiors. When in Nevada, took part in restoration of the historic mining town of Virginia City, buying and restoring the Gold Hill Hotel on the south side of town. Turley was first recognized as a professional playwright when he was writing productions for the national fund rising for the National Easter Seals programs and the American Cancer Society. Jay Turley wrote and sold "Portrait of a Giant" to Federal-One Productions of Los Angeles, CA in 1985. Rolla Daily News, year unk, by: Steve Gaynor. Long ago Tennessee Williams said of his fellow Missourian's work. "Jay Turley is the Charles Dickens among dramatic writers." It is that flavor that makes Turley's plays so appealing…………. A number of his plays have been produced on stages throughout this country in which well known actors starred. Several are often seen on British and Irish stages. His biographical play, "A signal for Miss Elizabeth," has been translated into seven languages. Public Notice found in ROC Scrapbooks, On October 24, 1983 held a public meeting at the local school for the purpose of renaming the Lyric Theater building, asking for and getting volunteers to help clean up the building, and volunteers to perform on stage. The first show opened, "Showboat A Comin," in December the same year, using an all volunteer cast. Jay Turley: wrote more than 60 plays and they are registered at the, Writers Guild in Berkley CA. Five play's sold to be used in whole or in part for TV and movie production are: "A signal for Miss Elizabeth" "Mrs. Ryan's Heirs" "Flight 409" "Orphan Trains West" "Big Molly". Turley's plays were written about people he met and places he came in contact with throughout his life. The play, "Orphan Train West," written about actual historical events in history was an exception. This play required research of history and when a production of this play was at any theater in MO., there most always have been either orphans who rode the train or their descendants in the audience. J. D. Turley passed away in November 2004 at his home in Arrow Rock, Missouri