A Hollywood happy ending for movie theater owner in Washington state

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Craig Smith in the projection booth. 

CBS News

Craig Smith is living a true Hollywood happy ending. "I got a Frank Capra life here, you know?" said Smith, owner of the Firehouse Theater in tiny Kingston, Washington.

In a report broadcast on "CBS Sunday Morning" this past weekend, the 65-year-old talked with correspondent Lee Cowan about his passion for movies, and about using his life savings 10 years ago to renovate a former firehouse into a two-screen movie theater — the only cinema in town.

Watch the report here:

Now playing: A smalltown movie theater lives 05:58

But running a movie house virtually single-handedly isn't easy, and the subsequent conversion from 35mm film to digital projection was costly. Smith had to use credit cards and renegotiate his lease; when he ran out of cash he stopped taking a paycheck to keep the place running. The stress took its toll; he had a heart attack one day while up in the projection booth.

Fans of the Firehouse Theater have rallied around Smith to volunteer, and set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to support Smith's business. They'd raised about $6,000 by the time Cowan's report aired Sunday.

Within 90 minutes of the broadcast, thousands of donations poured in from "Sunday Morning" viewers, topping $100,000. By Tuesday the total was more than $182,000, from about 4,700 donors around the world, many in amounts of $10, $15 or $25. "Love your spirit and community determination," one donor wrote. "We will probably never be able to come to your theater but here's a donation for two tickets to your wonderful space."

Among the donations were such encouraging comments as this: "Our children hold back a portion of birthday and gift money for donations and wanted to support the theater after watching 'CBS Sunday Morning.' Mom and dad matched. Thank you for bringing some magic our way, and good luck!"

Or this, from the other side of the country: "Greetings from Gainesville Florida! Saw about your theater on 'CBS Sunday Morning,' what a great job you're doing for your town!"

It's a plot twist not unlike the conclusion of Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," when the townspeople of Bedford Falls help rescue George Bailey's failing savings & loan.

Shortly after the explosion of goodwill on GoFundMe, the Seattle Times reported on the Firehouse's changing fortunes. Smith said he was overwhelmed by the response.

In a note to "Sunday Morning" producer Jon Carras, Smith said, "You are all like angels blessing small people like me hidden away in this beautiful country."

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The Firehouse Theater in Kingston, Washington. CBS News
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.