Hood County News – April 30, 2003
Fleda Mae Williams Keith Schultz
“I’ve seen poor–I know what it is and I like the current good times better,” says Fleda Mae Williams [Williamson – see note] Keith Schultz. The native of Hood County celebrates her 95th birthday, Sunday, May 4 . Born in the Mambrino community in 1908 to Wirt and Molly Williamson, she remembers the poor times for farming families. As a small child she had to follow the family turkey flock to find their nests hidden in the woods to save the eggs and chicks from snakes and varmints.
“I never picked cotton, but my older brother let me ride on his pick sack. All day he pulled me and the cotton he picked,” she recalled.
Schultz remembered that family had meat (beef) one time a week. “Someone in the community would butcher a beef and divide it among the neighbors.”
She moved to Granbury to attend high school and was 17 when she and Fort Keith married. It was then she began her career as the “theatre lady,” in the box office selling tickets.
Schultz remembers that about the time “she went into the movies,” there were 16,000 people living in the county and only 1,200 in Granbury. This was in the mid 1920s, she said.
Schultz said the people who credit Fort’s father, A.T. Keith, with building the first theater are wrong. Fort owned the first one on the west side of the square, she said.
He wanted to go to California to live with an aunt, Schultz said, so he sold half of the business to his father. He disliked California and returned to Granbury. He then reclaimed the half he had sold. Schultz explained.
While still working at the theater, Schultz opened the Casual Shop, a dress shop, near the Palace Theatre on the south side of the square.
Between the theater and dress shop, there was an ice cream store. Schultz’s small son, Bill Keith, would go to the store for ice cream.
Every day, it was the same, Schultz recalled. “The woman would tell him all the flavors, starting with vanilla. Bill would then think a minute or two and always take vanilla.”
Like all small towns before World War II, people living in the country came to town on Saturday. That was the big business day for the movie.
“Saturday was always our big business day and we showed a western movie,” Schultz said.
Many Granbury natives remember their mothers parking them in the theater to watch comedies each Saturday morning.
One or two moms said they bought groceries and ran errands while the kids watched the comedies.
Another woman remembers Keith’s discipline in the show. “When he patrolled the theater, boys and girls did not sit close.”
One time he did not patrol close enough. One Saturday night, a family, for some unremembered reason, did not miss their four little boys until about midnight.
A search was started. Keith got up and unlocked the theater. Curled comfortably in four front row seats were the missing four.
They had gone to sleep before the movie ended and being curled up, they were missed at closing time.
Another of the early customers said, Keith always had first-run movies. “We had them here at the same time they were in Fort Worth.”
“Fort was a great promoter and he was always giving away dishes, money and other things to attract customers on a certain night each week,” Schultz commented.
Remembering the amateur nights he held, Schultz said that she thinks that Opal Maples Durant, who was valedictorian of her class, won one night by giving her valedictory speech.
A lady who claims to have been a constant customer said the films changed four times a week and she seldom missed a show.
When the new Palace was opened in 1929 or 1930 with the coming of “sound” there were no restrooms in the building.
This customer said on Saturdays bunches kids raced across the street to the courthouse restrooms at breaks in the movies.
“Pearl was highway 377 then and I can remember only one kid being hit during a dash. When restrooms were added, it took some of the fun out of going to the movie,” she recalled.
Schultz says that the late Fred Wilkerson, the projection machine operator, worked for them for years and helped her keep the movies running.
When he retired, after working for two more owners, he recalled how the arc lights in the projector would ignite the acetate-based film, so one had to keep a close watch on the projector.
The theater was in the building that now houses Kelly’s on the Square. Wilkerson said the only ventilation for the projection booth was one or two small windows.
The couple built Brazos Drive In theater in 1953. “There was nothing between the Brazos and Norman Lumber Yard.” Schultz recalled.
“We had tremendous business when we opened. Today, people come from all over the state to attend the historic drive-in.”
Not long after the drive-in opened, a storm destroyed some of the fences and part of the screen.
It was repaired. The couple never dreamed Brazos would stand until it became a historic icon 50 years later and again is rebuilt after storm damage.
After Granbury the Keiths operated movie theaters in De Leon and Gorman until the Gorman theater burned.
Keith died in 1958 after a long illness. Schultz recalled that she sat by his bed for five days and nights before his death.
While in Odessa the widow met Floyd Schultz. They married in 1962. Schultz said the couple built a home in Brownwood. They lived there until moving back to Granbury.
The couple built in Rough Creek Estates in the 1970’s before Floyd died in 1979.
After years of keeping her yard like a landscaping ad, she has had to accept the fact that at 95 she needs help with the mowing and heavy work.
When the weather is good, don’t expect to find the hard-working woman in her house. She still will be doing something in the yard.
“I have wonderful neighbors who drive me where I want to go and help me with other things. I try to pay them and they refuse, saying, ‘God put us here, help other people.'”
“Bill and Elaine, son and daughter-in-law, keep telling me to sell this place and move to Ohio with them,” she says.
Her son and daughter-in-law, and all the grand, great and great-great grandchildren will be here for the birthday.
The tough little lady says she is not interested as long as she can take care of herself, “I am going to die in that back yard.”
NOTE: There was a misprint in the Hood County News about Fleda Mae Williams Keith Schultz. Her maiden name was Williamson…not Williams. She is the daughter of William Wert Williamson and Mollie Spaulding Williamson. – J. T. Sears 06/29/2003