One of the simple pleasures of growing up in a small town was going to the movies, especially during the summer. When school let out, we’d ride our bikes to the local theater and look at the marquee and the “Coming Soon” posters. Of course, in the days before the multi-screen Cineplex, our theater only showed one feature film a week, and we often had a long wait before the movie we wanted to see showed up. We’d check the ads in the paper and save our pennies in anticipation of the air-conditioned escape from reality. Things haven’t changed all that much.
Robert E. Howard graduated from Brownwood High School on Friday, May 18, 1923. The evening ceremony took place at the auditorium in the School of Fine Arts building at nearby Howard Payne College. Summer had begun, unofficially. Three weeks later, Howard was in Marlin, Texas, no doubt so that his tubercular mother could “take the waters” at the Torbett Sanitorium. The trip to Marlin may have put a snag in his summer plans, but it didn’t take his mind off the movies. In a June 8 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, written from Marlin, Howard shows that he’s as interested as ever: “They’re showing Bull Montana in Rob ’em Good here Saturday, tomorrow. Also Charlie Chaplin next Thursday in The Pilgrim.” And he asks Smith, “Have they showed Robin Hood in Brownwood yet?”
I’ve often wondered about that question. Had Howard seen a “Coming Soon” poster for the Douglas Fairbanks (Sr.) film, or a “coming attractions” reel while attending another show, or an ad in the local paper? However he heard about it, he wasn’t going to let it slip by. Back home in Cross Plains two weeks later, June 22, Howard writes Smith: “I have got whooping-cough, curse it, and I’ll bet two rupees that Robin Hood comes to Brownwood while I am laid up with it.” And again, on July 30, he asks Smith, “Has Robin Hood come yet? Any prospects of it coming?” Can’t blame him for sounding impatient and just a tad desperate; imagine if Star Wars had been announced and never quite made it to the local show—Horrors!
Howard had probably found out about the film while still in school, toward the end of his senior year. There were ads for it (above) running in the newspapers in Abilene as early as April. (I can still remember hearing about E.T. The Extraterrestrial as the last few days of my freshman year in high school ran out—oh, the anticipation.) But after his July 30 question to Smith, Howard never mentions Robin Hood in his correspondence again. Summer ends, Clyde goes back to school, and Bob gets a job in the tailor shop.
But he still finds time for the movies. In his October 5, 1923 letter, Howard tells Smith all about his latest trips to the show:
The Cross Plains “Electric Theater” has been showing better shows than usual, which don’t mean they are any good anyway. I’ve seen From Rags to Riches again here, and Heroes of the Street and Brass Commandments, William Farnum, and A Dangerous Adventure, Grace Darmond, and A Desert Bridegroom, Jack Hoxie. I shouldn’t be surprized if they didn’t get Go and Get It, and The Mark of Zorro, some time if those films are still running. They had The Sagebrusher by Emerson Hough, here but I didn’t go so I don’t know whether it was any good.
The very next day, October 6, readers of the Daniel Baker College newspaper, The Collegian, got the news (above) that Howard had been hoping for back in June: Robin Hood was coming to Brownwood’s Lyric Theatre for three days, starting on Wednesday, October 17, 1923. Ads started showing up in the Brownwood Bulletin the following week. The show was so popular that it was held over for a “special morning” show on Saturday the 20th (below).
So, did Howard see it? His last letter in 1923, written on November 4, makes no mention of Robin Hood or any other film. Personally, I like to think that he saw it, even though I thought the movie was a bit on the boring side (it’s no E.T.). I’ll bet Howard went to Brownwood to visit Clyde, like the Cross Plains Review said he did on many occasions throughout the 1920s, and the two saw it together. I’ll bet they even liked it. You can watch it here.