Bagdad Theater History
The Bagdad Theater, it would seem, has played out most every scene imaginable. Since its 1927 opening, this Hawthorne District landmark has presented more than 25,000 shows — on stage and screen — ranging wildly from a Hollywood horse named Beverly to R. P. McMurphy and 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.
In 1927, Universal Pictures spent the enormous sum of $100,000 to create a splendid and state-of-the-art theater, complete with an expansive stage, gurgling fountain, grand colonnade, and Middle-Eastern decor, right down to the usherettes' Arabian-styled uniforms. Even Leon Strashun, conductor of the Bagdad's orchestra, was a musician of great renown, having studied under Tchaikovsky. The place was proclaimed "a triumph of artistry and craftsmanship."
In the theater's formative years, the movie industry was revolutionized by the replacement of silent movies with "talkies." Through this transition period, live stage shows were constantly big draws. In fact, vaudeville remained a key part of the Bagdad's programs through the 1940s. Latter day stage shows of note included the "fluorescent dance magic" of exotic dancer, Mercedes. She shared the bill with a xylophonist. The best-known vaudeville star to grace the Bagdad's stage was Sammy Davis, Jr., performing in the '40s with the respected song-and-dance team, the Will Mastin Trio.
More recently, the Bagdad has been the scene of some notable movie premiere galas. In 1975, actors Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, and producer Michael Douglas appeared at the Bagdad for the Oregon premiere of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Sixteen years later, just after McMenamins' renovation of the movie palace, My Own Private Idaho debuted here. In its present incarnation as a cinema-and-draft house, the Bagdad continues as a favorite spot to escape into splendor and make-believe.