Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas at the Rio

In December of 1935, Helena was still suffering from the Great Depression and the devastation of the recent October earthquakes. The series of temblors left many families in dire need, camping out in their yards for weeks as winter cold set in. Thanksgiving passed with more earthquakes, more terror for the community. Children especially felt the uncertainty of these very bad times. But with the start of the holiday season, people got into the spirit, stores realized good profits, and things began to look better. Movies helped people cope. The Rio Theater on North Last Chance Gulch had opened the year before, in 1934, and was celebrating its first anniversary. Theatre manager Paul McAddams had an idea for a way to celebrate this special occasion. He teamed up with the Helena Kiwanis to throw a special Christmas party for all the children of Helena. There was a flurry of planning, and Christmas morning dawned cold, clear, and mercifully, the Helena valley was peaceful. As the sun came up, there was a steady procession of children streaming into the theater.  After a morning of free comedies, novelties, and cartoons, Santa Claus arrived on the stage and the Kiwanis Club helped distribute free candy from his pack. McAddams said at the time, “We consider children our best friends as they consistently advertise the shows. Their knowledge of pictures and stars is remarkable … It is our Christmas present to the children of Helena in celebration of our first anniversary, and we wish them a Merry Christmas.” Following the party, shows resumed with continuous showings of In Person starring Ginger Rogers.


  1. The Hughes family just read your piece on Helena and Christmas at the Rio. We love Ginger Rogers and your blog!

  2. Hi Cheryl, thanks for your comments. Have a wonderful holiday! Best to your family!