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The Capitol Threater

The history of the Capitol Cinema reveals Willimantic's interesting relationship with the "movies" since the late 19th century. The $500,000 theater, a "Vaudeville and Movie Palace," opened to the public on Jan. 21, 1926, at 6:30p.m.


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A Letter From Hollywood
Capitol Days - by Charlie Barrett


Russell Barrett Russell W. Barrett,
operator of The Capitol Theater,
1940s-1960s.

 

My father, Russell Barrett, after operating movie palaces for Warner Brothers Studios in Boston since the 1920s, brought our family to Willimantic in 1943 when he took over operations of Warners' Capitol on Main Street. My dad helmed the Capitol's Golden Era in Willimantic during the 20th century until he retired from the theater business in the 1960s. Until 1948, the Capitol was owned by Warner Brothers Studios, but the anti-trust laws that year put an end to studio's both producing motion pictures and owning movie houses. A new company called Stanley Warner Theaters was formed in New Haven, and Russell was a key figure and investor in that new organization when it took over the ownership of the Capitol from the studio. The new firm maintained more than a dozen movie houses in New England. Russell, a tall, distinguished gentleman, always natilly attired (sometimes in a tux), could be seen in front of The Capitol's box office, or in the lobby (often with a cigar) -- greeting patrons, and, at the same time, keeping a watchful, jaundice eye out for pranksters and mischief makers, which there was never a shortage of.

Growing up in Willimantic, I spent a great deal of time at the Capitol where I saw about 5,000 movies if my calculations are correct. It was literally my home away from our family home on Lewiston Avenue. The Capitol influenced my life more than I had ever imagined. I realized at a young age that I too had the entertainment industry "bug" and, after leaving Willimantic in the 1960s - - went on to work as a publicist and producer for 20th Century Fox, Paramount Studios and NBC in New York, London, and Hollywood. If not for the Capitol, who knows, I may have become a mule skinner!

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