Glimpse of the Past, May 14, 2015

C.W. Taylor… Hillsboro's "Mr. Entertainment"

Hillsboro Reporter, Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hillsboro was on the cutting edge of motion pictures as a popular form of entertainment in the 1920s, and movie houses with "silent" pictures were a major draw for residents in town and for rural consumers who packed the streets of Hillsboro on Saturday afternoons and evenings. The Majestic Theatre on the north side of the square (most recently Frenkie's Italian Restaurant) was one of the early ones, but Dixie (now site of Floral Gallery), Queen (105 West Elm), Best (now home to Hill County Insurance), and Star (77 East Side of Square) were hot spots for silent movie goers in the 1920s in Hillsboro.

Silent movie theatres in larger cities employed an orchestra to provide music and sound effects during the show, but in Hillsboro the theatre owners employed piano players to provide music to accompany the movies. Piano players adapted their music to fit the mood of action on the screen: sad music when the baby was sick, scary music when the monster appeared, bright, cheery music for happy scenes, etc.

The transition from silent to "talking' or sound movies came in the late 1920s, and the first movie to employ spine dialogue was Warner Bros' "The Jazz Singer" - featuring hit singer Al Jolson. Soon after sound movies became the norm, Hillsboro soon evolved into a two-moviehouse town, with the Palace opening in 1926 at 107 South Waco and the Best converting to sound movies at 66 West Elm.

Movies in Hillsboro were destined to undergo a radical transformation with the coming to Hillsboro of Carl Walter (Crispy) Taylor and his wife Ada Searcy Taylor in 1926. Crispy Taylor was born in 1892 and spent much of his early life in Collin County. He first was a baker for Show Flake Bakery in McKinney, and he and Ada had a son, Benjamin Searcy Taylor in 1917. The son died in 1923 and the loss of this young son was a tragic turning point in Taylor's life.

In Hillsboro, Crispy Taylor was associated with Robb & Rowley Company of Dallas, and c. 1936 he remodeled the façade of the Palace Theatre and it was renamed the Texas Theatre. The Best Theatre was re-christened the Ritz, and these names were commonly used throughout the R&R network of more than 150 movie theatres in 34 towns in Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

Taylor suffered a second personal tragedy in the death of his wife Ada on March 16, 1944. Ada Searcy Taylor was laid to rest beside her young son in McKinney. On June 29, 1947, Crispy Taylor found new light and promise in his marriage to Hillsboro City Secretary Margaret Chrisman. He and Margaret made a strong team, and the Taylor home became a center for a local movement of AA and for entertaining friends. It was during his life with Margaret that Taylor purchased land south of Hillsboro on US 81 (today's site of Texas Highway Department and Hill County Appraisal District Office) and opened a miniature golf venue that was highly popular with people of all ages. In the early 1950s, Taylor opened the Hill Drive-In Theatre west of Hillsboro on Highway 22 (site of Leonard Lewis/Warehouse Outlet).

For over 30 years Crispy Taylor invested heavily in providing entertainment for people of all ages in Hillsboro and HIll County. And Crispy's personal records reveal his deep desire to bring joy and life to the people challenged through the Great Depression and World War II. He was "Mr. Entertainment" with a heart and purpose.

Caption 1: C.W. Taylor standing in front of the Palace Theatre at 107 South Waco Street. The Palace underwent a major façade change c. 1936 and was renamed Texas Theatre.

Caption 2: Texas Theatre suffered damage from a windstorm in 2006, but with help from a Main Street grant, current owners Hank and Susan Fults have been able to restore the façade. Texas Theatre once was part of the R&R chain across Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.