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The Liberty Theatre

John Conway - Sullivan County Historian
Posted 11/13/20

It was November of 1939, and the management of the Liberty Theatre on South Main Street in the village, “one of the largest and most modern playhouses in this section of the state,” was changing …

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The Liberty Theatre

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It was November of 1939, and the management of the Liberty Theatre on South Main Street in the village, “one of the largest and most modern playhouses in this section of the state,” was changing hands.

The theatre, which had been operated by Fred Starck and Joe Dealy since they signed a ten-year lease deal in June of 1934, would thereafter be run by the partnership of Max Cohen and Louis Kutcher of Monticello, who already operated the Rialto Theatre in Monticello, as well as movie houses in Roscoe and Livingston Manor.

“Active management of the theatre was assumed by the new owners today, Carl Bogner, their attorney, said this afternoon,” the Liberty Register newspaper reported on November 30, 1939. “Mr. Dealy, who has complained of his health and will move to Florida, will be succeeded as house manager by Milton Kutcher, who was editor of the Livingston Manor Times.”

The Liberty Theatre originally opened on June 19, 1920, featuring the movie “White Dove” with H.B. Warner. The theatre, owned by Max Elsen, provided competition for the first time for the New Lyric Theatre up the street, and the ongoing struggle to secure the best movies, the most popular vaudeville acts, and to offer the lowest prices fueled newspaper advertising by both establishments.

The New Lyric, owned and operated by German immigrant William “Pop” Feitner in his remodeled store since 1912, did not survive, and was eventually purchased by the owners of the Liberty.

The Liberty Theatre's grand opening was held without a marquee, which arrived about ten days later, and had to be installed and wired quickly in time for the Fourth of July weekend. Shortly after the grand opening, local insurance man J.M. Beck took over the management of the theatre, along with partners, Julius Friedman and Bob Labriola. Later Henry Weber became owner of the theatre building with J.M. Beck.

By the time Starck and Dealy took over in 1934, the world had changed markedly, and they made immediate improvements despite trying economic times. Starck had previously run a theatre in Callicoon, and then managed the Rialto in Monticello for a time, where he had initially hooked up with Joe Dealy, who was managing some of the vaudeville acts appearing at the Rialto. Starck had also managed a theatre in Lyndhurst, NJ.

He was also a banker of considerable reputation, and had been president of the Sullivan County Trust Company of Monticello and the Sullivan County Title and Mortgage Company. He was on the Board of Directors of banks in both Callicoon and Narrowsburg.

Joe Dealy, a former vaudeville dancer who even before becoming part of the management team had enjoyed a long relationship with the Liberty Theatre, had been among the very first men to ever show a motion picture in Sullivan County.

“Twenty-seven years ago, he introduced this then novel and little-known form of entertainment to Liberty in a theatre upstairs in the Green Building,” the Liberty Register reported in its June 28, 1934 edition. “He showed pictures, too, in a tent on a lot where the National Bank of Liberty now stands. He also conducted a motion picture theatre for a time in Dan Wickham's hall, now known as Recreation Hall. Monticello saw its first movies through him.”

Upon assuming management, the Starck-Dealy team made immediate cosmetic improvements to the 800-seat theatre—the largest in the county at the time—and invested in new cushioned seats. The theatre continued to show the first run features it had become known for. But Dealy's health was declining, and despite the ten-year lease agreement, the partnership decided to sell to Cohen and Kutcher five years after taking over.

From that point on, the Liberty Theatre would enjoy some of its most prosperous years. Meanwhile, Max Cohen and Louis Kutcher continued to expand their theatre holdings, and Milton Kutcher—soon to become Milton Kutsher—would eventually take over management of one of the Borscht Belt's most famous hotels.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.

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