Remembering Buddy Nolan

Words and Pictures by Bill Bussell

The crowd under the theatre marquee was alert and anxious as the midnight hour approached. They were not here to see the "Rocky Horror Picture Show", as you might expect from the hour. It was time for the annual THEATRE ORGAN AT MIDNIGHT extravaganza. Buddy Nolan would rise from the orchestra pit. There is both GOOD news and SAD news with Buddy Nolan's Story.

Philadelphia native Buddy Nolan arrived at Fort Wayne Indiana in 1947 after WWII duty. Buddy discovered, and fell in love with, the Emboyd Theatre's 4/15 Page Theatre Pipe Organ. He was the house organist in 1952 when the theatre became The Embassy. Buddy would rush to the theatre, from entertaining at a local restaurant, to rise up from the orchestra pit playing intermission music. He remained house organist until the theatre fell dark in 1972. (Don't stop reading here.)

This writer/photographer, as a youngster, heard his first theatre pipe organ at a mid-60's THEATRE ORGAN AT MIDNIGHT concert. The beautiful 2,765 seat atmospheric movie palace, combined with the haunting sounds of the Page Pipe Organ, was impressive. Theatre pipe organs were the original "stereo." An ornate grill on each side of the stage allowed the wind driven pipes, drums and other "toy counter" sounds to fill the auditorium. The pipe chamber behind each grill is filled with a unique assortment of sounds that speak to the audience. The organ originally did the speaking for silent pictures. Local people, and his fans from miles away, would line up under the marquee to get the best seats after the last picture show. Theatre management would never stop films to allow an earlier show.

Buddy always packed the house for a two-hour show that was more than music. His routine included comedy, and the unexpected. He ended one show with the release of hundreds of balloons from the stage ceiling. He introduced a young pianist, Dyne Pfeffenberger, rising on the orchestra pit elevator while playing. Dyne played solo and duets with Buddy, and became a fixture at each successive show. Buddy always left the audience wanting more at 2 AM. He commented that people in the Indiana Hotel, attached to the theatre, needed to get some sleep. The right organ chamber could apparently be heard in some rooms. THE CROWD (BACK)
The Embassy Theatre was facing the wrecker's ball after the 1972 closing. The community rallied to save the theatre when Buddy played a benefit concert in 1975. Proceeds from the show, and the community, saved this fascinating theatre.The Embassy Theatre Foundation and volunteers keep the refurbished building open for a variety of events. Without the talents of Buddy Nolan, the theatre would only be a memory.
I have been told that Buddy Nolan fell silent in 1986 after a battle with cancer. He had not played for several years before he died. He left us a legacy of a theatre building that has his picture on a lobby wall. I have one LP recording of Buddy playing the Embassy pipe organ. If I close my eyes while playing that record, I see a mental picture of Buddy changing the colored stop tabs while playing "Let Me Entertain You." We miss you Buddy.
Let me know if you can help me obtain recordings of Buddy Nolan and/or Don Baker.
E-Mail to Bill Bussell


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