GENERAL ARTICLES

One Man War Effort

A cold and hungry sentry stirred the sympathetic Mr. Payne into action. He gives the boys in uniform a break

FREDERICK EDWARDS January 1 1942
GENERAL ARTICLES

One Man War Effort

A cold and hungry sentry stirred the sympathetic Mr. Payne into action. He gives the boys in uniform a break

FREDERICK EDWARDS January 1 1942

One Man War Effort

GENERAL ARTICLES

FREDERICK EDWARDS

A cold and hungry sentry stirred the sympathetic Mr. Payne into action. He gives the boys in uniform a break

NEXT time some morose misanthrope moans in your ear the misquotation that “nobody loves a fat man,” tell him about Lionel Warner Payne, who weighs two hundred and seventy-five pounds and is loved by thousands, especially sailors, soldiers, and airmen.

L. W. Payne owns and operates the Capitol Theatre in Listowel, Ont. No teeming metropolis, Listowel is a cosy, neat town of three thousand population, located in the heart of central southwestern Ontario, about halfway between Guelph and Kincardine. The Capitol, open every night except Sunday, changes programs three times weekly, seats four hundred, is Listowel’s only cinema.

On a winter evening in the first year of the war Mr. Payne was walking home after closing his theatre. His route took him past Bennett Barracks, where an activeservice unit was stationed. The soldier on sentry duty at the entrance to the barracks looked cold. Also hungry. Payne is a man who thinks highly of good food, suffers severely at the thought of anybody being hungry. Particularly a soldier. One of Payne’s two sons is overseas with an artillery unit. Two of his six daughters have husbands in the Canadian Army.

The theatre man hurried home, coaxed his wife into their ample kitchen. They brewed coffee and made sandwiches. Payne carried the food to Bennett Barracks. There was enough for every member of the guard, with second helpings.

Since then, L. W. Payne and his wife have devoted a large amount of their limited spare time to distributing modest luxuries among men in uniform, and to aiding civilian war efforts in Listowel and elsewhere.

The Paynes act on their impulses, all of them generous. They do the darndest things. Last summer they were remembering the boys of units that had been moved from Listowel to Petawawa and Borden Camps. L. W. Payne bought twenty-one baskets of peaches and ten gallons of cream. Mrs. Payne and he drove to Camp Borden, which is a long way from Listowel. That was one night when the boys had peaches and cream for supper.

Every six weeks the Capitol owner turns over his theatre to the Women’s War Service League for three nights. The League pays the film rental, takes all the proceeds. Mr. Payne

looks after everything else; lighting, heating, tickets, help. Up to December, 1941, the League had collected $3,426.30 from Capitol theatre benefits.

Fordwich, a village a few miles north of Listowel, has a Red Cross organization. More than $200 has been turned over to the Fordwich Red Cross through Capitol Theatre shows.

While the N ew York Yankees were winning the last world series, L. W. Payne wrote Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy and asked him for a new baseball bearing the autographs of all his players from Joe DiMaggio down. McCarthy sent him the ball ; and that was a nice gesture too. Payne paid for the printing of a thousand tickets, raffled them at a dime a throw. He sold 956 chances, made up the balance to an even $100 out of his own pocket, then forwarded $183.15 to the Toronto Telegram’s British War Victims’ Fund. The $83.15 came from a special Capitol show put on in connection with the drawing. A local young lady named Anne Bradshaw won the prize. Not a baseball fan, she sold the ball back to Payne for a dollar. If the Yanks get into the next world series, there’ll be another raffle. So far the Telegram Fund has received $368.15 through L. W. Payne.

Last fall a touring blitzkrieg unit

of the Canadian Army was in Listowel over Sunday. L. W. Payne got permission to run a special Sunday-night show for the men, wangled a permit from the provincial film control board, opened his theatre to men in uniform only. When the show was over Payne and his ushers distributed packages of cigarettes— the large size—to every soldier in the audience. A service uniform is a free ticket to all the Capitol Theatre’s performances, any time.

In 1940 L. W. Payne gave away to men of the Navy, Army and Air

Force 25,000 cigarettes—the total is now over 60,000 -1,710 free tickets, 900 cups of hot coffee and tomato soup, 675 chocolate bars, 650 icecream bars, 555 cigars, 350 automatic pencils, thirty-two cases of tomato juice, and six crates of oranges. He has supplied pianos to five Army recreation halls.

Every pupil of Listowel High School received a War Savings Stamp with which to start a collection. L. W. Payne bought those stamps, and forbade the school board to tell the students where they came from.

Early in the war Mr. Payne tied in a benefit show with Listowel’s “Mile of Pennies” campaign. Listowel’s mile grossed bigger receipts than that of the town’s nearest big neighbor, London.

He ran the local aluminum salvage drive practically singlehanded. Salvage officials had no use for handles or rivets, not made of aluminum. L. W. Payne and a friend, Arnold Gibson, who owns a barber shop, put in hours of toil prying rivets and handles from utensils contributed by Listowel housewives. “Nobody else seemed to want to do it,” he explains.

A couple of years ago the Listowel United Church burned to the ground. For sixteen months thereafter United Church services were held, every Sunday, in the Capitol Theatre. L. W. Payne refused to accept money

from the church for rent or anything else.

Fiftyish, with scanty blond-grey hair, L. W. Payne doesn’t look his weight. Of course he is stout, but he is muscular, big-boned, and moves lightly as do many heavy men. Brought up around St. Thomas, Ont., he has been connected with the motion-picture business since 1905, thinks he is one of three Canadian cinema pioneers still living. He moved to Listowel in 1915, when he took over the town’s back room film show. The Capitol is comparatively

new. He made it out of two vacant stores, rebuilt and fitted with a smart lemon-yellow glass tile front and trimmed with red.

Mr. Payne is no millionaire: just a small-town theatre owner. He used to have a garage and service station, but turned that over to one of his sons three years ago. Now he devotes all his time to the Capitol and a tiny soft-drink and sandwich booth tucked into a corner of the theatre building. He is his own projectionist, so works from nine in the morning until close to midnight. His face is round, comparatively unlined, with a pallor that derives from long hours spent indoors. His eyes are light-blue, sharp and twinkling, serious and gay.

He doesn’t seek publicity, grumbles amiably at interviewers. “Don’t you write anything sloppy about what I’m doing,” he admonished us. “Look at it this way. I can’t fight. I like soldiers. And I’ll be dad-blamed if I’m going to stand for any Heinie running my theatre. I have to do what I can to stop that happening, see?”

People give him things. He is honorary member of ever so many officers’ messes, wears two gold signet rings, gifts, one on each hand. They bear the crests of Canadian Army units he has helped. One regiment gave him a silver tray and a coffee percolator. “That was for my wife,” he explains, feeling slightly apologetic about it. The gift of which he is proudest is a wrist watch from grateful members of the United Church. One of those ultra-elaborate chronometers designed for aviators, carrying four dials. “It does everything but teach me how to fiy,” he said.

What does Listowel think about L. W. Payne? Ask any citizen. Ask the publishers of the Standard and the Banner, the two local weekly newspapers. Ask Mayor David Hay. Ask John Arnaud, manager of the local branch of the Bank of Montreal. Especially ask Miss Adelaide Clayton, head of the Women’s War Service League, and the Rev. A. K. Edmisson, pastor of the United Church. Ask Fred, who runs the bar in the Royal Hotel, or Tom who drives the ancient limousine that carries passengers and mail bags to and from the station.

What they’ll all tell you boils down to this: “He’s just about the biggest man in this town; and we don’t mean his weight, either.”