Off Beat: Kiggins usherette had to put on a happy face

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Seventy years ago, not all the acting in the Kiggins Theatre took place on the screen.

A May 15 story focused on 95-year-old Matilda Baran's memories of attending the 1936 premiere of the historic Kiggins Theatre.

Others from the theater's heyday who are contributing oral histories include Dorothy Dunegan, who was an usherette between 1940 and 1942.

Theaters were packed in the 1940s, so usherettes had the important job of keeping seating orderly. They made sure a row was filled before allowing people to be seated in another row, said Dunegan's daughter, Mary Trute, in a phone interview with The Columbian.

Employees known as "checkers" had what might be considered acting roles. They posed as theatergoers to ensure that usherettes smiled, were courteous to all guests and did their jobs correctly.

Dorothy Orthmann, as she was known back then, wound up getting a stern talking-to one day for failing to smile at a customer. That customer was her boyfriend, Bill Dunegan.

Not thrilled to see him

Earlier that day, Bill and Dorothy had a tiff. The checker caught a glimpse of Dorothy's displeased expression when she spotted her boyfriend. The cause of the tiff has since been forgotten, Trute said.

Bill and Dorothy married in 1946 and had five children: Mike Dunegan, 63; Helen Foster, 62; Pat Dunegan, 60; Clark County Undersheriff Joe Dunegan, 57; and Trute, 55.

Dunegan, 89, was scheduled to be interviewed and filmed this week about her memories of the theater. Like Baran's interview, Dunegan's oral history will be posted on the Kiggins Facebook page and on Twitter, @KigginsTheatre.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.