Pastime: Remember “Bank Night?”

After last week’s Pastime about the weekly “punch card” drawing at the Mad Butcher, several readers asked me about a forerunner of the 1930s and 1940s called: “Bank Night.”

The Bank Night promotion was a unique and loyalty driven jackpot conceived and run by the Wharton family – the owners of the motion picture theaters (Avalon and Pastime) and Warren Drive In theater just outside of Warren.

The Wharton family were the grandparents and parents of Dr. Joe Hank Wharton, MD., Dr. Wharton was one of the academically, smartest young men ever to graduate Warren High School. Dr. Wharton was actually a trained microbiologist before he became a physician.

By Maylon T. Rice

Bank Night was usually held on Tuesday night.

Tuesday Night? You, say. Why then?

All the younger readers of this Pastime need to step back into the 1930s and 1940s for a Bank Night promotion.

This activity was prior to television even existing in Arkansas. There were only local day-time-only radio and many of the local stations in Warren, Monticello, Star City, El Dorado, were not even on the air back then.

Church was on every Wednesday night in every church big enough to have a congregation.

Thursdays were, back then, only half-days with the downtown business houses closed at 1 p.m. Remember that?

So, a Tuesday night trip to the movies was not unheard of … and once the Bank Night promotion began more folks packed and I mean packed out the movie theater just off the Square – the Pastime.

Special tickets for Bank Night were required.

Some dispute that the tickets were 25 cents, some thought less perhaps of dime or 15 cents.

All that will be up to those who were involved in Bank Night movies back then – a diminishing crowd today.

The tickets could be purchased starting at noon on Tuesday from the ticket window at the Pastime.

Each ticket, I have been told, was a double ticket, your name went on the ticket to be included in the drawing and the other half of the ticket was yours to confirm the drawing that evening when the movie as we say in the South… “let out.”

Starting with a newsreel, a cartoon, upcoming attractions and then the feature, the movie kicking off at 7 p.m. let out usually around 9 p.m. or a tad bit later.

The crowd filled out, of course, as all movie crowds do, not so quickly as today. Some attendees like my 1970s friends Lisa Davis, Alice Ann Trantham and others back in the 1970s, would stay as the credits rolled on and on and on and the house lights magically came up to reveal the theater was empty – save the few who stayed reading all the credits.

These crowds in the 1930s and 1940s were fanatical to read the credits and search for the names of the lesser known stars and starlets of the picture show.

Once the crowd gathered outside, the winning ticket was drawn from some type of container and a winner of the jackpot was announced.

Was the winner present, a requirement of the payout?

Yes, you had to be present to win, so don’t run down to Glasgow’s or behind a street corner to smooch with your date – you would lose out if your name was dawn and you were absent.

If no winner was declared, a goodly amount of the Bank Night bankroll went on to next week.

Several families tell stories of their kinfolk – especially older men, who would buy a movie ticket and then retire to the “Tree of Knowledge” on the Bradley County Courthouse lawn, not staying to see the feature. Or these men would slip on down to “Catfish” or one of the then three or four liquor stores along Main Street and a couple of nearby side streets for a half-pint to pass the time until the Bank Night drawing.

Suddenly they would reappear, some in a semi-intoxicated state to see if the Bank Night winnings were theirs.

More than one family would be distraught that the half-pint caused daddy or grandpappy to head home for an early bedtime missing the drawing and forget the ticket stub stored earlier in his big overhauls front pocket.

How big was the Bank Night drawing?

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