State Theatre New Jersey


War Bonds Sold at State Theatre During WWII

In 1942, three New Brunswick theaters, including State Theatre New Jersey (which was known as RKO State Theatre at the time), took part in the war effort by selling bonds. This was part of a larger effort made by theaters across the United States to support the U.S. Treasury Department. State Theatre was joined by RKO Rivoli Theatre, located on George Street, and RKO Albany Theatre, located on Albany Street. The managers of the three theaters, David Levin (State Theatre), J. Beverly Anderson (Rivoli Theatre), and Thomas Wright (Albany Theatre), started off by purchasing $650 worth of saving stamps, which they planned to resell at their respective venues. This was the first of many purchases of stamps and bonds that were resold via the theaters.

Managers of the local New Brunswick Theatre in the 1940s
The managers of the RKO theaters in New Brunswick meet to buy war stamps, which will be resold to fund the war effort.

Oftentimes, the theaters used creative methods and hosted community events in order to promote the sales. State Theatre hosted a Free Movie Day for those who had purchased bonds. They also held a Baby Beauty Bond Contest, which allowed parents to submit photos of their children for the chance to win prizes. War bonds could be purchased in exchange for votes for the child of the buyer’s choice. The winning families then received additional war bonds. Another common tactic for racking up bond sales were movie premieres, which were often hosted at all the RKO theaters. They usually featured the Camp Kilmer Band, as well as John Creighton Murray, a concert violinist who served during the war. Occasionally, movie stars would attend the premieres as well to drive up sales, and on one such occasion, Albert Dekker (Dr. Cyclops, The Killers) and Helen Walker (Murder, He Says;  Cluny Brown) were the featured guests (Jan 28, 1944). Additionally, on Pearl Harbor Day in 1944 (Dec 5, 1944), RKO theatres offered free admission for bond purchasers. Using all of these strategies, theaters played a very important part in raising funds for the war effort. 

Celebrities sell war bonds
Albert Dekker and Helen Walker before the movie premiere war bond fundraiser.

Hedy Lamarr, one of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars, played a large role in the success of the bond sales. She was an Austrian-born American actress who became famous for her role in the American film Algiers. She worked with actors such as Clark Gable and James Stewart. She was also an inventor, and helped develop technology during the war that is now often used when developing Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi systems. She visited New Brunswick in August of 1942 on behalf of the War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry and the U.S. Treasury Department. The purpose of her visit was to attend a fundraiser luncheon, and then to tour around New Jersey, stopping in Trenton, Newark, Plainfield, and Elizabeth. The luncheon was hosted in the ballroom of the Roger Smith Hotel, which was located across the street from State Theatre, and a ticket to enter was worth the price of a $1,000 war bond. Over 250 guests were anticipated to participate, which would raise $250,000 in war bonds.

Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr's presence is anticipated at the fundraiser luncheon for war bond sales.

After only six months, the State Theatre had sold $101,975 of the $146,000 total sales from bonds (70%), and $11,183 of the $23,363 total sales from stamps (nearly 50%). All three theaters’ contributions greatly aided the country in funding the war effort.

By Laura Duffy

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