Tag Archives: Alwin Nikolais

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)