More Honesty Is His Remedy for Industry Headaches

TOWNSEND, MONT. — Benjamin

"Shorty" Sauter, owner -operator of the

Rex Theatre, began his theatre business

by buying out the L. J. Opie circuit in

1935, which included Basin, Boulder,

Radersburg, Marysville and Townsend, all

in Montana.

"I raised the necessary $200 for the investment

and paid it back within five

months," said Sauter. "In those days, $200

wasn't too easy to come by."

Prior to woriung for L. J. Opie, whose

circuit he bought. Sauter had relieved his

brother-in-law in Rupert, Ida., in the old

Wilson Theatre during the silent era. Said

Sauter: "It was very simple. If I had lots

of time I cranked slow, if not, I cranked

fast in order to end on time."

In September 1935, Sauter made permanent

headquarters at Townsend, He

dropped Marysville from his circuit but

added Harrison and Pony.

He continued with this circuit for four

years, never missing a scheduled show because

of weather, even at 52 degrees below

zero. There were times when he was unable

to get into Boulder by direct route and

went ai-ound by Butte, many extra miles.

There were also many times when he

literally had to shovel his way to the door

of the building where he was to show a



The first picture Sauter ran on his circuit

was "I'm No Angel," starring Mae

West, in the little town of Marysville. He

had 1,000-foot reels of film and one broke.

He didn't know how to patch it so he just

put a paper clip on the broken part and

let it run out on the floor. "My life was

full of emergencies in those days and I

had to meet them anyway I could," said


Sauter's biggest problem seemed to be

how to keep awake when driving home

early In the morning. Once his wife

grabbed the car wheel as he fell asleep.

One time in 30 degrees below zero he found

himself getting drowsy and decided to

step outside his panel truck for a breath

of sharp air. The freezing au- revived him

but when he tried to open the truck door

he discovered that it had locked on him.

About 400 yards from the truck he spotted

a snow-covered dump and remembered

that most dumps harbored at least one

pair of old bed springs. Sure enough, this

dump did Sauter released the springs

from the other junk, fashioned a hook

with it and opened the truck door.

His nearest brush with death occurred

on Feb. 22. 1936, on his way out of Butte

after picking up his film for the week. A

huge rock crashed down through his radiator,

just missed his head and turned his

car over on one side. Pinned inside the

overturned car, Sauter made three attempts

to get the upper door opened before

he finally was successful. His car

was completely demolished

"Durmg the .summer the circuit was



real family affair," said Sauter. "As soon

as we hit town my four kids (three sons

and a daughter) would spill out of the

panel truck and start putting up posters.

As we promoted a baseball game before

each show, there was plenty of time to

advertise. We would hold off the show

until after the game, thus assuring a good

audience. Incidently, so much ball playing

must have had an effect on my children

because they all turned out to be

good athletes. My wife sold and took

the tickets."

Sauter promoted many amateur shows

at Townsend and Boulder but baseball was

always close to his heart. A friend, Father

Harrington, a Catholic priest, was usually

on hand to share his enthusiasm in these

towns, and together they rode donkeys for

donkey baseball. Judging by the regular

turnouts, their efforts were much appreciated.

Needless to say, the baseball fans

usually found relaxation at Sauter's show



Sauter has always recognized a bargain

even when it was camouflaged as a street

car. When street cars were discontinued

in Butte in 1938, a friend of Sauter bought

five cars to use for tourist accommodations.

Sauter at the time was remodeling his

Boulder Theatre so he purchased the five

cars from his friend for $50. He dismantled

the cars, (the reed seats had

strong springs and heavy, double upholstering!

and gave the dismantled cars to

the man who had hauled them to Boulder

for freighting charge.

In 1953 Sauter put in a cryroom in the

Rex in Townsend, the first in Montana.

At the same time he installed 260 fullfloating

American chair seats with two

additional seats for long-legged patrons.

The long-legged row was an immediate

success but it took some time befoie parents

acquired enough confidence to leave

their children in the cryroom. All seats

were closed in at the back to discourage

children from sticking their feet out in

front to annoy patrons in front of them.

By 1940 Sauter had given up his circuit

but retained the Rex in Townsend

as a permanent business. He remodeled

the front to keep pace with the modernized

interior. A marquee with red, blue,

green and yellow flood lights replaced the

out-moded sign.

Only once since 1940 has Sauter raised

admission prices and that was just ten

cents. His present prices are 60 cents for

adults, 50 cents for students and 20 for


Sauter is a charter member of Theatre

Owners of Montana. When the organization

was first formed, members met in a

room in the Film Hotel in Butte. According

to Sauter, it didn't take a very large

place for them as there were only four



Sauter has the best equipment he can

buy including a Cinemascope widescreen

and optical sound. A more powerful sound

system would be too loud for the Rex.

Each Christmas Sauter presents a free

show with his large miniature train, tunnel

and track set on exhibit for the pleasure

of oldsters and youngsters alike. A

youth recreation picture is another annual

free show looked forward to by the Townsend


An ex-mayor of Townsend (from 1945-

1950) Sauter is one of the town's most

popular citizens. During World War II,

he met the farm labor problem by going to

the hay fields at 8 in the morning. He returned

home each evening just in time to

open his theatre for the evening show.

Making his motto "a bond for every seat

in the Rex" Sauters won a presidential

citation for his bond selling abilities.

If exhibitor and distributor would be

more honest with each other the theatre

business would have fewer headaches

Sauter thinks. He said: "A 50 per cent

film percentage is too high for a small

independent operator, I wouldn't object

to paying 50 per cent on film once a week

if I could make a profit but I can't break

even, I prefer a $60 flat rate per week with

a split figure at $240 and split over at 25

per cent at the first dollar," His weekly

breakdown in tenths averages three-tenths

on Sunday, one on Monday, one on Wednesday,

two on Fi-iday and two on Saturday,

Overhead is approximately $325 a


"Every business has its problems," said

Sauter, "When I look back at the socalled

good old days, today seems extra

good. But wouldn't have traded any-


thing else for them. In the theatre business

I have met many fine people and I

really enjoy trying to give them the best

in enteitainment Tovinsend is one of

the best little towns to live iii theie isi

BOXOFFICE :: May 12,19

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