Alwyn The Organist

Alert “06880” reader Sandie Cole — a former Westporter now living in Virginia — was at Lincoln Center’s Performing Arts Library the other day.

A small business card caught her eye.  It read:

Alwyn T. Nikolais
Present SOLIST of the
Fine Arts Theatre
Westport, Ct.

It wasn’t the misspelling of “soloist” that she noticed.

It was the reference to Westport’s Fine Arts Theatre — the movie theater that opened in 1916, 11 years before the 1st talkie movie.

(New to town?  Think of Restoration Hardware; envision the theater’s doors and interior there.)

Sandie looked closely at printed information next to the card.  It read:

Nikolais was born in Southington, CT on November 25, 1910.  He studied piano and, as a teenager, put that training to use by playing the organ in the Westport Connecticut Movie House during the waning days of silent film.

While seated in the orchestra pit below the movie screen, he could not discern characters and action distinctly, but by interpeting the dynamics and timing  of shadowy forms above him, he was able to improvise appropriate music for romance, mystery, fright , chase scenes, etc.

Nearly a century ago, there was plenty of great, vivid cinematic entertainment in downtown Westport.

Now we trudge off to Norwalk, Fairfield or Bridgeport.

Ah, progress.

The Fine Arts Theatre in its early days -- the Alwyn Nikolais era. (Photo provided by Miggs Burroughs)

5 responses to “Alwyn The Organist

  1. I had no idea that Miggs was old enough to have taken that photo. He looks pretty good.

  2. The Dude Abides

    1911? Wow. The theatre used to be a hot spot for kids on Saturday matinees in the 1950’s. Big balcony and side door that allowed for many an opportunity for mischief seekers like me Following the “picture show,” there was always a fight up by the court (now the police station). Then, after Joey Bocanfuso usually beat the hell out of someone, it was off to the YMCA for a game of pool or ping pong. Sounds rather mundane by today’s standards but it was fun and I don’t ever remember an adult being around except that poor usher who tried to keep things under wraps. Fun!

    • Just a half decade after the Dude’s Wonder Years, many of us were still heading over to the Y on Saturdays to play basketball and badminton, and occasionally to shoot some pool (with no adult supervision).

  3. Missed the Boat :-(

    Cool photo! Sounds like fun, Dude & Fred…can’t we turn back time ? (Besides, there’s nothing worth buying at the “new” Restoration Hardware…it’s filled with pricey McMansion furniture now.)

  4. The Dude Abides

    :-[ – Darien and Fairfield have tried with little success.