December 2nd, 2019

carole lombard 01
  • vp19

On Catalina Island, the last picture show?

Carole Lombard and Bing Crosby teamed for one movie, the 1934 Paramount songfest "We're Not Dressing," and it was a fun experience for both. Part of this lighthearted twist on "The Admirable Crichton" was filmed on Catalina Island, where the pair played practical jokes on each other. (She yelled to him over breakfast one morning, "Hey, Bing, I can't find my panties! Did I leave them in your room?")

In their spare time, perhaps Carole or Bing took in a movie at the island's only theater, built in 1929. I'm guessing "We're Not Dressing" played there upon its release:

The Avalon Theater, part of the Catalina Casino opened 90 years ago, was the first theater in the world designed expressly for talking pictures. Here's a postcard view of the place from the '30s:

It seats 1,184, but has fallen victim to what we call progress. At the end of this month, the Avalon -- currently showing the Disney mega-hit "Frozen 2" -- will no longer show first-run movies. Thankfully, the iconic venue is in no danger of being razed; it will continue as the home of the Catalina Film Fest, Silent Film Benefit and other events.

However, few of Avalon's 4,000 residents, or many tourists, deign to take in a movie. Average attendance for non-blockbuster films is a mere 37, according to a theater official.

Changes in movie exhibiting also doomed the Avalon. Examine the above herald for a Tennessee theater showing the 1933 Lombard film "From Hell To Heaven." Back in the day, movie lineups were changed every few days; aside from radio, that was the only mass entertainment available.

Now, studios require theaters to show films for a two-week minimum -- OK for multiplexes, not for small-town theaters or a single-screen venue on an island more than 20 miles from the California coast. Is it any wonder most Catalina residents would prefer to use their satellite dishes?


For more on the theater, visit and

We'll close with a view of this romantic venue's exterior in 1940:

  • Current Mood
    sad sad