Cody resident Jim Corder began the constructing the theatre in 1936. A state-of-the-art facility, the building was reported built for a whopping $60,000, but came in for about $10,000 less, recalls long time owner John Schultz. “Slave Ship” starring Wallace Beery was the first picture shown at Cody Theatre on July 8, 1937. Schultz began leasing the theatre from Coder’s son in 1963, and assuming ownership about five years later. He continued to run the movie theatre until 1992, when he sold it to Bob and Sandy Newsome. In January 2019, Ryan and Elizabeth Fernandez, a couple born and raised in Cody, Wyoming purchased The Cody Theatre and building from the Newsome’s. The Fernandez’s are excited to see what the future holds for this historic location.
When built, the new movie theatre was filled with 672 seats crammed into the building. When Schultz took over management, he removed 192 seats “ so people didn’t have to stand” when others needed to get by. In 2007, the Newsomes replaced and reconfigured the seating and in 2018 a larger performance platform was built for the live musical Wild West Spectacular performed during the summer. The theatre now seats 274 comfortably.
When the Cody Theatre was first built, it was the town’s main source of entertainment, movies were shown to a full house almost nightly and the bill changed every three or four nights. Admission was 10 cents and the cost for renting a movie from the studio ranged $25 -$100.
“It was hard to make a profit” based on ticket prices, Schultz recalls, and owner Jim Corder didn’t want to put in a snack bar which is where theatre owners make their profit.
If movie goers wanted a treat after they purchased their movie ticket, they could exit the theatre with their ticket stubs and go next door to the “The Fountain” shop where they could get popcorn, candy, pop or Taylor ice cream. But Corder would not allow pop back inside the theatre.
Schultz built a snack bar when he took over the theatre and “feels bad” that he put the “other guy” out of business.
Projection cameras were outfitted with special “Cinemascope” lenses in 1954 to accommodate the wide screen pictures of the time, and surround sound speakers, with four track stereophonic sound, were installed in 1955. At this time the projectors still used carbon arc lamp projection. Carbon arc lamps consist of two carbon rod electrodes in open air, supplied by a current-limiting ballast. The electric arc is struck by touching the rods then separating them. The ensuing arc heats the carbon tips to white heat. Carbon arc lamps operate at high powers and produce high intensity white light. These dangerous lamps were replaced in the 1995 with Xenon lamp houses. Xenon lamps are much safer and provide quality light projection. In 2015 the conversion to digital projection was completed. This allows movies and various other content to be played.
In 1999 as a condition of getting the film “Star Wars The Phantom Menace” Dolby Digital Sound was installed with improved surround sound.
In the late 1970s, Schultz installed a huge 18x35-foot screen to accommodate popular 3D movies, increasing the screen size by 227 square feet. Today less that 1,000 big screens remain in the U.S. as multi-plex theaters with smaller theaters and smaller screens have become the norm.
Like most Cody businesses, the theatre draws its biggest crowds during the summer. Tourists often comment that they have never been in a theater of this size.
During the lifetime of the theatre, there have been a few world premiers at Cody Theatre. “The Young Land” premiered in May of 1959, the western drama film starring Patrick Wayne (son of John Wayne) and Dennis Hopper. “Great American Cowboy” the 1973 documentary film by Keith Merrill. The film, which won the 1973 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, is about the battle between two rodeo stars for the world championship: veteran Larry Mahan and newcomer Phil Lyne. The documentary partially filmed during the Cody Stampede celebration. Although admission to the premier was $5, a pricey sum in the 1973, “people swarmed in,” Schultz recalls, making it possible to collect the admission price. The movie didn’t fare as well at other box offices around the country and lived a short life in theaters.
The Cody Theatre hosted the regional world premiers of the 1994 movie “8 Seconds” about professional bull rider Lane Frost. The premier was planned as a benefit for the Northwest College Rodeo Team, and although the Big Horn Basin was blanketed with 14 inches of snow that night, the movie still attracted a crowd of about 200 people.
“An Unfinished Life”, the movie based on the book of the same name written by local author Mark Spragg premiered on Sept 9, 2005. The movie starred Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez and Morgan Freeman and is set on a ranch near the town on Ishawooa, Wyoming. Mr Spragg and Virginia Korus Spragg wrote the screenplay for this film. http://www.miramax.com/movie/an-unfinished-life/.
There have been a few controversies about the movies shown at the Cody Theatre. In the 1970’s x-rated films were shown and were even listed on the printed monthly calendar. In 2006 the Oscar Winning film “Brokeback Mountain” depicted the controversial story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys and their lives over the years. It played to good crowds although there were many letters to the editor of the Cody Enterprise concerning the content of the film.
In 2007, Dan Miller rented the theater for his Cowboy Music Revue. This was a live show featuring authentic cowboy music throughout the summer months.
In 2015, Wiley Newsome decided to begin to show movies again as well as offer a venue for live music, gaming, and community events. After a projection and sound upgrade to digital and a few other upgrades, the Cody Theatre reopened in the Spring of 2016.
In 2016, The Cody Theatre became home to award winning “Wild West Spectacular”; a live musical about Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show put on by Cody's very own Rocky Mountain Dance Theatre. The show runs for several weeks during the summer and is great for all ages.
Outside of the summer months, The Cody Theatre is a rental venue and can be rented for any wide variety of public and private events.