Women’s History Month: Connie Moses’ Legacy

March 12, 2024 by Sandy Lerebours

During Women’s History Month, we honor the women who were integral in the development of the Carolina Theatre of Durham throughout its storied history. Perhaps no woman was more instrumental to the Carolina Theatre’s existence than Connie Moses. One of Connie Moses’ daughters, Mollie Moses speaks on her legacy at the theater below. 


CTD: How old were you when your parents took over the Carolina Theatre and started renovating it?

MM: The initial revolt against the Carolina’s demise was in 1977. At that point, I was almost 24. It was NOT a renovation at that time, merely a “spiffing up” of the auditorium and lobby. What Connie and Monte wanted, in the short run, was to save the historic, yet rundown, structure from the wrecker’s ball in order to have a decent place to show arthouse and foreign films. The Rialto Theater, at 119 E. Main Street, had been my parents’ favorite local theater to see such films, but it had closed its doors forever in 1970 and had been demolished shortly after, another victim of the scourge of Urban Renewal.

 

Photo of Connie Moses examining a damaged wall at the Carolina Theatre.
Connie Moses examines damaged wall.

CTD: What inspired your mom to take on the project of renovating the Carolina Theatre?

MM: The spiffing-up and cleanup of the auditorium (cleaning the seats and floors, shoveling pigeon poop off the marquee, the second and third balconies, and the facelift of the giant space Connie saw as the future ballroom and intimate performance space) were NOT a complete renovation, nor were they ever (while she was alive) meant to be so.

It was simply a restoration, using volunteer “moose muscle” and funds from the Carolina Cinema Corporation (which would later become the nonprofit Carolina Theatre). Connie wanted people to flock to the theater to enjoy films and possibly local performances, but the areas she concentrated on had to be cleaned, organized and made “presentable” (in her words).

 

CTD: Did you help with any of the restoration at the time?

MM: Yes. The time period we are looking at is 1981-1983, when Connie kept a diary of progress with the ballroom. I held the scaffolding for her, drove her to various places to obtain supplies, and scraped paint off the ballroom windows (painted on both sides for bombing prevention in WWII). I also shoveled poop for a while but couldn’t handle the really nasty part, which was having to approach the area wearing rubber waders and wearing an over-the-head filtration mask to protect against inhalation of toxic bird guano fumes that caused histoplasmosis (aka Bird Fancier’s Lung). Another thing she had me do quite a bit was make posters describing the progress in the ballroom.

 

 

CTD: What kind of arts background did your mom have?

MM: Connie’s mother was a milliner (she made ladies’ hats) and did some dressmaking as well, so she learned early about cooking, knitting, crocheting, and sewing. After her father left the home a few years after Connie’s birth, she was put into convent school at age five and stayed there until she graduated from the convent’s high school.

After that, she went to Bates College, where she performed in several college productions on stage and helped make the costumes. She and Monte met during a production of “Arsenic and Lace.” A few years later, they met and became lifelong friends with Margaret “Pepper” Dutcher and her fiancé, Donald Fluke. Pepper should be honored hand-in-hand with Connie and Monte—once Connie and Monte were both gone, Pepper kept their dream alive of having a historic, vintage theater for films and live events (with a few modern enhancements) in downtown Durham.

 

From left: Sarah Kenan, Mollie Moses, Maggie Dent, Frank Capra, and Monte Moses

CTD: What was one program your mom was most excited about (thinking films, live events, etc.)?

MM: When Connie was doing the ballroom, there were no programs planned, really. The theater was being used mostly for movies since the stage was in bad shape, the backstage area had not been improved, and there wasn’t any real funding for anything else. She and Maggie Dent (the manager at the time, and former manager of the aforementioned Rialto Theater) would put their heads together regularly to choose the upcoming films.

There was one time in 1978 when a special Frank Capra celebration was planned. Because an actual new carpet was not in the budget, the entire Moses family and several volunteers painted the existing raggedy, ugly, stained carpeting a brilliant lipstick red with paint rollers taped to broom handles. Connie had a heck of a time trying to get it all to dry in time before people began to come in for the show! Frank Capra actually came to the Carolina for the celebration of his work in film and posed in front of the office for a photo. (Connie was not in that photo, since she said that, “someone has to stay and mind the fort [the house].”

 

Connie Moses and Don Priest paint the ballroom ceiling, with Jim Priest holding the scaffolding steady.
Connie Moses and Don Priest paint the ballroom ceiling.

 

CTD: What do you think your mom would be most proud of about the theater today?

MM: Probably that a.) it’s still standing, b.) that her valiant efforts (in spite of her myriad health issues) have paid off, and c.) that her elder daughter is still working there.

Also, since our dad, Monte Moses, was the driving force behind the Carolina Cinema Corporation and the REAL renovation of the Carolina into the grande dame that it is now, Connie would have been so proud to see his name gracing the new cinemas upstairs since movies were his passion. That was one wish that did not come to pass.


Guests can learn more about Connie Moses and the multitude of volunteers that brought the Carolina Theatre back to life in our “Restoring Hope” exhibit. The exhibit is open to the public Monday-Friday from 10:30 am-5:30 pm. Learn more