BAY CENTER At the height of silent motion picture popularity Hope Wilson-Rhoads Clark played the piano at three movie centers in South Bend and had to take a boat from her home near Bay Center to Raymond to its two theaters and to Ilwaco for its one theater. But Mrs. Clark, who was born in 1896, may be best remembered for her bed.
Clark was born in the big bed at the family home at Wilsonville on Wilson Point south of Bay Center. That bed had taken the circuitous and dangerous route from the east coast and around Cape Horn in the 1850s. The bed followed Hopes father and mother, who had settled at Oregon City in 1852 and soon after relocated to Chinookville and then took a land claim at Wilson Point in Washington.
The details of Clarks life and times were recently brought to the stage by Colleen Cohern at a luncheon put on at the Long Beach Elks Club by the Willapacific Branch of American Association of University Women called Treasures of Time. The event was titled, An Historical Afternoon for Theater A Grandmothers Gift.
Cohern, who has lived at Bay Center for about six years with her daughter Taileen Wilson, became fascinated with Clark and she and Beverly Olson first put on the skit depicting Clarks life at the 100th anniversary of the South Bend courthouse in 2010.
Since both of my grandmothers passed away before I was born, I adopted Hope Wilson-Rhoads Clark, Cohern explained.
Cohern in her skit relates that Clark was born in the bed that rounded Cape Horn on board a schooner. The bed had been lashed to the mast as it was too big to fit in the ships hold. As the schooner rounded Cape Horn in very stormy seas, Hopes mother (5 at the time) and several of her 11 brothers and sisters were lashed to the bed for safety as the hold was filling with water. Clarks mother had been born in the bed as were Clarks two children and Clark eventually died in the same bed in about 1993 or 1994.
In her teen years, Clark was paid a dollar a night to perform on the piano while the silent films played and then Clark also played during the newsreels of the day until 1930. This was when men worked in the woods or the boat yards for 12 hours and also received about a dollar or $1.50 for a long days work. Clark began playing the piano when she was about 14 years old and she was always accompanied to and from the movie centers by her father and beloved mother.
The theaters were merely meeting places with a projector, screen and piano. Chairs were brought in for each performance. There were no concessions so picnic lunches were the norm and the men smoked cigars so the centers were often quite smelly. There was no heat in winter or air conditioning in summer so the movie centers were also often uncomfortable, but no matter. They were packed night after night as they were literally the only show in town.
All of the theaters in Pacific County were owned by men of Greek heritage. Of course the rumors flew about the different owners and their young and attractive piano player. Clark married, but divorced her first husband soon after having two children. Hers may be the first divorce in Pacific County. The Wilson and Rhoads families were two of the first three Caucasian families in the county Cohern explained in her skit.
In 1928 she married a second time. Scott Clark was a fisherman and logger and for the rest of their days they called each other Mr. Clark and Mrs. Clark. At about that time Clark was playing the piano in one of the theaters when Al Jolsin was starring in the motion picture Mammy. As Clark played, Jolsin suddenly said, Mammy. The theater crowd went berserk as that was the first word ever on a talkie.
By 1930 Clark was out of a job as a piano player due to the influx of talking motion pictures. During World War I Clark had taken a job as the South Bend telegraph operator. She was very busy as the Willapa Harbor area was a bustling lumber and boat building area during the war years.
In 1929 a newsreel showed Hollywoods first actors awards. There were a million awards so just about everyone received one according to Cohern, including Bing Crosby for being a young crooner on the radio.
Another newsreel depicted the opening of the Holland Tunnel between New Jersey and New York. Much to the delight of women in the audience, the first vehicle was a light truck hauling womens clothing to Macys department store.
After being forced to retire as a piano player, Clark became librarian in Bay Center for the next 40 years until 1970. The town hasnt had a library since. When Clark remarried, Scott Clarks father was prejudiced against Hope. After all, she was a divorcee with two children, rumors abounded about her and the Greek men and worst of all, she had been in show biz Cohern explained in her skit. Hope was never in her father-in-laws house until after he passed away.
Another habit that her father-in-law no doubt loathed was that Clark was a habitual smoker all of her life, explaining that she just liked the taste. As the dangers of tobacco use were made known, Clark kept up her habit throughout her long life.
In later years, Clark loved Halloween. Even after she became blind, she would have townspeople explain the costumes of the trick or treaters. She would laugh at each princess or cowboy, even though she could not see them and then she would hand out generous amounts of candy.
The town took care of Clark, just as she had cared for them through the years as piano player, librarian, friend and confidante. As she lay on the bed she was born on and would die on, Clark often talked about how she loved her children, how she loved Mr. Clark, but she would always admit, I loved mamma the best. She was my rock.
The proceeds for the AAUW luncheon went to the Young Womens Scholarship Fund at Ilwaco High School.