June 20, 1956 – John R. Shields to Retire as Manager of Capitol Theater

John R. Shields will retire as manager of the Capitol Theater as of June 30. He will be succeeded by Harry Carlew, present manager of the Commodore Hull, Derby, who will serve as manager of both theaters until his successor at Derby is named July 7.

Mr. Shields became a theater manager for the first time on March 25, 1914, at the old Derby Theater on lower Main Street, Derby, now the Pioneer Bowling Alleys. He worked there for Kennedy and Sullivan, and when their lease on the house expired opened the Shelton Theater in 1916. In the same year, he became the manager of what was then the valley’s oldest and largest playhouse, Derby’s Sterling Theater. When I. J. Hoffman, who held the lease on the Sterling, built the Capitol Theater in Ansonia in 1920, Mr. Shields became the Capitol’s first vaudeville booking agent and has been connected with the Capitol ever since.

One Day Back in 1926

Mr. Shield’s forty years in show business gave him a familiar acquaintance with people who rose to great heights in the entertainment world. He had booked George Burns and Fred Allen for vaudeville appearances at the Capitol, and man others whose names became bywords in show business.

One day back in 1926 when Mr. Shields had rented the Capitol to the  Derby Women’s Club for a concert, a young man came backstage and asked if he had a piano.

“I’d like to exercise my fingers” the young man said.

“How about an organ?”, Mr. Shields asked him. the Capitol had once of the finest pipe organs in the country.

As the young man sat down, Mrs. Frances Osborne Kellogg of Derby came backstage and introduced the young musician to the theater manager.

It was George Gershwin.

And George played for Mrs. Kellogg and Mr. Shields, in the otherwise empty theater, “Rhapsody in Blue“, which was then Gershwin’s newest composition. He became the world’s king of jazz.

Mr. Shields recalled that he became very friendly with David W. Griffith, the great producer of spectacles in the days of silent films. Griffith premiered three of his pictures at Mr. Shields’ theaters, two at the Sterling in Derby and one at the Capitol in Ansonia, and came personally to the communities to observe first hand community reaction to them. The earlier ones were tremendous successes, and the reaction of valley audiences accurately forecast their reception. The last of Griffith’s efforts was “The Struggle“. It was tested before a Capitol audience, which did not like it. The late Charles J. Asimus of the Sentinel reviewed the film. He said it was well named, but that the name should apply to the audience which had to sit through it, not to the young actor who was engaged in a dreadful struggle with Demon Rum. Asimus said it would be appropriate fare for Sunday school entertainment, but would be a flop otherwise.

In older days, Shields booked Charlie Chaplain, the Chicago Stock Company, and many other stock companies for one night stands at the old Sterling.

Mr. Shields showed the first “sound” picture in the valley. It had musical accompaniment, but no voice. That was in 1928. And in the same year he treated Ansonia theatergoers to their first “talking picture”.

He has seen the movie industry from its flicker days in the nickelettes to the grand spectaculars of the silent films, to the changes that came in techniques when sound arrived. He has seen movies face up to and weather the counter attraction of radio. He has seen attendance dwindle when television became a novel attraction, and rise again when people decided movies still had much to offer.

Mr. Shields says some of the best moves ever made are being offered today. A few years ago, they would be featured at special prices. Today they are common, because the industry has understood that it must put its best into today’s more crowded entertainment world. That is just what it is doing.