Some may think “Foto-Nite” is a misspelling of Photo Night, but that is not the case here. Foto-Nite was a promotional event to boost the attendance of theatres during the weekdays. Foto-Nite at the Selkirk Rothstein Theatre’s Ltd. were held from 1952 to 1962.
What is Foto-Nite?
The concept was copyrighted in 1939 by Fay Pete Barnes in Dallas, Texas. During this time Barnes moved from the U.S. to Toronto to become the Vice President of Barnes & Davidson Theatres Inc. The idea of Foto-Nite was soon adopted by theatres around North America.
During Foto-Nite a theatre would have a cash prize for the winner. The prize would be a high amount of money for the time, say $200. Upon arrival to the event, audience members were given a number.
Each Foto-Nite started with an amateur contest. Contestants were given different set of numbers before the game started. The winner of the contest revealed their number. If a member of the audience had the matching number that person would win the prize. If the person with the matching number was not in attendance the prize money received an extra $25-$50 and carried over to the next Foto-Nite with a fresh pot. Everyone from the pre-existing event kept their number for the next one.
Why the name “Foto-Nite”? Foto is used for how the prize money was given to the winner. During this time, most jurisdictions had anti-gambling and anti-lottery laws to prevent events like Foto-Nite from succeeding. To prevent breaking the law a photo was taken of the winner. Once the theatre had the photo and they were able to post it the money was given to the winner as reimbursement for the photo.
Foto-Nite in Selkirk
The first Foto-Nite in Selkirk was held on April 9, 1952 at the Roxy Theatre and the prize was $350. $100 cash from the theatre and $250 in gift certificates to local businesses including Oliver’s Men’s Shop, Sarbit’s Grocery, Brown’s Bread, Thor’s Meat market, Re-Nu Dry Cleaners, Modern Electric, and Selkirk Garage (Selkirk Garage’s offer was a $100 credit towards the purchase of a car).
Selkirk’s version of Foto-Nite was different from others. The winner of the contest announced the winner at the event. If the winner was in attendance, they had one week to get an 8 x 11 photo of themself to the theatre to accept their prize.
There was a winner in each of the first two Foto-Nite events which was likely worrying to the theatre owners. These were balanced out by a several long runs without winners. The excitement was all too much for Mrs. Margret Galka of East Selkirk in July 1955 who fainted on her way to the stage when her name was announced for $645 in cash and prizes. In March 1954, the pot reached $810, the cash portion was $490, before it was won. The largest pot appears to have been $960, of which $640 was cash, won by Mrs. Audrey Harcus of Lockport on June 30, 1954. It ended a nearly year-long drought without a winner. The Roxy Theatre closed in November 1955 after having paid out $5,370 in Foto-Nite prize money. Rothstein Theatres Ltd. then transferred the contest over to the Garry Theatre.
The last Foto-Nite in Selkirk took place on Thursday, October 4, 1962. An attachment to the Garry’s newspaper ads that week read: “This is the last week Foto-Nite will be held in this theatre. Thank-you for your patronage.”
In all, $8,935 in total paid out in Foto-Nite prizes between the two venues.
Some Winners of Selkirk’s Foto-Nite Contest
May 14, 1952 – Miss Winnie Sanders of Selkirk
June 10, 1953 – Mr. Alfred McKay
June 30, 1954 – Mrs. Audrey Harcus of Lockport
August 18, 1954 – John Prosnick
November 11, 1954 – Mr. A. Shumilak of Garson
July 13, 1955 – Margaret Galka of East Selkirk, and
July 13, 1955 – Joe Zook of Selkirk
February 1, 1956 – Robert Galler of Selkirk
January 2, 1957 – Mrs. Rose Zook of Selkirk
June 30, 1960 – Mr. Nick Onysko of Selkirk
April 26, 1960 – Edward Massey of Selkirk
January 3, 1961 – Ron Peebles of Selkirk