THIS SUMMER: the Grassroots, Bootstraps Story of the 1975-1980 efforts to save the Orpheum

“We’re not out of the woods yet. We could still become a parking lot.”

~Hillsman Lee Wright, Orpheum project manager, in September, 1978

In the fall of 2018, StoryBoard Memphis published a feature article on the mostly-unknown and almost-forgotten history of the revival of the Orpheum Theatre by a young group of professionals in truly grassroots, “two boards and a passion” style, who with the help of key influencers and many others, brought life back to downtown and to the historic theatre from 1975 to 1980, before the Pat Halloran era began.

Our November 2018 article appeared only in print, and due to space limitations, there was a great deal of story, history and artifacts left on the editing room floor. Well, here online, we won’t be limited by space. And later this summer, in honor of next year’s 95-year birthday of the Orpheum, we will be publishing a comprehensive feature-length history of the brief 5-year revival period often overlooked in the history of this Memphis institution.

Circa 1970s brochure geared toward theatre patrons and promoting efforts to save the historic landmark. Courtesy Hillman Wright’s private collection.

Featured this summer will be previously unpublished interviews and untold recollections from the people who were there, more artifacts from the period, and more interactive links and recordings to the stories that shaped the period that saved the Orpheum from the ravages of urban renewal bulldozers.

We are inviting you the public to join in as well, by sharing your memories of the Orpheum during those ragtag days of revival. The revival was preceded and heavily influenced by the theater’s rich history as well as the tragic events and urban renewal destruction in Memphis from the late 1960s and early ’70s; our updated history will include those stories as well. So as you submit your memories, please include only your personal memories from the theater’s heydays in the 1940s-’60s, the late 1960s to early ’70s declines, and revival period between 1975 to 1980. For example, if you attended shows during those revival days, let us know!

Your comments may be used as quotes to be included in our feature story.

Use the comments section below for your comments and your personal 1960s to 1980 recollections.

One Reply to “THIS SUMMER: the Grassroots, Bootstraps Story of the 1975-1980 efforts to save the Orpheum”

  1. My memories of the theater go back to the Malco days of the 40s, 50s and 6os. I especially recall seeing “Guys and Dolls” in the 50s and blockbuster “Goldfinger” in the 1960s. We owe so much to Hillsman Wright and others for saving this gem.

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