Carolina Theatre Love Story: Conleys Help Others Make Lasting Memories

Ed Conley remembers where he sat when he saw the movie Hawaii at the Carolina Theatre in March 1967. He had to buy the tickets in advance and reserve a seat – the theatre and the movie (starring Julia Andrews, fresh off The Sound of Music) were so popular.

It also happened to be his first date with Betty Cooke. He picked her up in his dad’s 1964 Buick Wildcat. The car is long gone from the family, but the relationship between the two kids lasted.

Two years previous, they were students at North Mecklenburg High School. Two years later, they were married. But the romance started at the Carolina Theatre.

“I remember we sat on the right-hand side of the theatre. I remember it was a very, very long movie, and it had an intermission,” Ed recalled, before adding, with a laugh. “Of course, I wasn’t paying much attention to the movie. I’ve since seen it on TCM, and it’s pretty good.” 

Time took Ed and Betty from a marriage in Charlotte to a life built in Atlanta, where they moved in the late 1970s and stayed for 42 years. It was there that Ed started volunteering as a tour guide at the historic Fox Theatre, which brought back memories of his youth and Charlotte’s legendary Carolina Theatre.

“I was a tour guide there for about 10 years,” he said about the Fox Theatre. “It was such a neat place, and I saw so many people come through there who had such great memories of that theatre from when they were young. The Carolina Theatre holds that for me.”

To honor his love of the theatre – and the couple’s love of each other – Ed donated $600 to buy the Carolina Theatre’s popcorn machine. Although he can’t remember if they bought popcorn on their first date, Ed suspects they did. Either way, he wants future couples to have the same opportunity to make memories that he did.

Ed grew up in Charlotte and spent many a day at the Carolina Theatre as a kid. He can’t wait to see the theatre’s restoration and for a chance to step back into a past he remembers through the haze of time.

“I didn’t really appreciate all the furniture and decorations at the theatre when I was a kid, because I was a 10-year-old going to cartoons,” he said. “But I’m excited to see them now.”

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