February 4, 1997
First Movie Theater in Perry was the Wonderland at the northeast corner of the square. Hazel and Ivan Kennedy were the musicians who played accompaniment for the images flickering on the screen there in the early years of this century. Mrs. Kennedy sketched this view of the theater as she remembered it in 1980.
Warenne Kennedy Harris, who wrote "Dear Old Perry High," the official PHS school song, began taking piano lessons from her mother at the age of five years, or about as soon as she was able to spread her fingers far enough to cover most of an octave on the keyboard. As an adult during the 1940s she was a professional pianist on the West Coast and frequently played accompaniment for some major stars of the entertainment world in and around Hollywood. Her talent came naturally. Both her parents, Hazel and Ivan Kennedy, had been professional musicians themselves.
Warenne, now 82, was one of seven children in the Kennedy family. All of them took easily to music. After starting their family, the parents settled into a snug frame bungalow on Tenth street and there the radio or Victrola provided a background of music most hours of the day and night. Or, there would be a live performance with Father on the violin or tuba and Mother on the piano, or one of several other instruments lying around. The sound of music was always there.
Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy both were the offspring of early-day arrivals in the Cherokee Strip. Ivan's parents were Elias Marion Kennedy and Mattie Ellen Gowty Kennedy. Ivan was born in 1888 and later was joined by a sister, Sara, and three brothers, Glen, Laurraine and Walter. Glen and Laurraine both were nicknamed "Snake." The family came to Oklahoma from Kansas in a covered wagon and eventually settled in Rock township of Noble county. Mrs. Kennedy insisted on bringing the family's pump organ to the new land and frequently played for church services in the New Hope and Pike's Peak school houses. Her daughter, Sara, later was organist for many years at the First Presbyterian church in Perry.
Laurraine played drums with the acclaimed 101 Ranch Wild West Show band, and Glen and Walter both were trombonists. Ivan's specialties were the tuba and violin. During World War II, Laurraine married a Belgian girl while serving in the U.S. Army in Europe. After the war he died on a troop ship en route home to the U.S. His bride was transported separately and she arrived in Perry, alone, just a few days earlier. The young Mrs. Kennedy sorrowfully returned to Belgium after a short visit here with her new in-laws.
Hazel Kennedy was born on Valentine's Day in 1893 at Wellsville, Kansas, the daughter of George and Ermina Eby. The Ebys came to Perry in 1905. The family eventually included six sons and three daughters: Hazel, twins Faith (Johnson) and Hope (Wolf), and Bill, Pete, Hal, Cecil, Dick and the youngest, Frank, who is now the only survivor. Hazel attended Perry schools and the Kansas City Conservatory of Music. She and Ivan were married in 1912. They had six daughters: Carol, who died young; Warenne (Harris), now of Canoga Park, California; June (Jerome), Shawnee; Marjorie (Talbot), San Antonio, Texas; Betty (Anderson), Prague, Oklahoma; and Donna (Golliver), Enid; and one son, Robert, Shawnee.
Both Hazel and Ivan were musicians in movie theaters in the early years of this century. In the era before movies had sound tracks, when dialogue was flashed on the screen between scenes, audiences were treated to "live" music that was alternately peppy, dramatic, sad or comical, depending on the action being portrayed on screen. Every theater had at least a piano, and some also had drums or another instrument or two. At the Wonderland Theater in Perry, Hazel played the piano and Ivan played violin.
The Wonderland was the first picture show in Perry. It was opened in 1909 by Joe Appleman and Bush Bowman, who also were proprietors of Bush & Joe's Smoke House, in a building on the northeast corner of the square, where Roy Morris' accounting firm is now located. "(Ivan) was the best of all the musicians," Mrs. Kennedy said years later. At the time he also was playing tuba in Dr. W. C. Marshall's community band on Saturday nights and attending classes at Oklahoma A.&M. (OSU).
Mrs. Kennedy later described the Wonderland Theater: "There was no paving near the building. Hitching posts around the courthouse square and the lots now occupied by the Exchange Bank and Foster Corner Drug Store were used for parking wagons and buggies by moviegoers. The Wonderland was a small frame building which seated about 100 people. The audience sat on wooden benches with backrests to watch the latest silent pictures." In those days, films ran only for a few minutes. Frank Johnson operated the handcranked projector at the Wonderland in an upstairs room above the cashier's cage. It probably had a very hot, very bright, very dangerous carbon arc lamp to illuminate the film. In addition to scores played during the movie, the pianist also was called on to entertain the audience whenever one of the frequent film breaks occurred.
Ticket takers at the Wonderland included Otis Hamm, who later published a newspaper here; Kenneth Kirchner and Cecil W. Eby, Hazel's brother. Some theater employees also were performers who sang with illustrated songs that came with color slides projected by a "magic lantern." Among the singers were Nell Lucas, Frank Jones, Dr. Frank C. Hubbard, Sled Ellis and Harry A. DeLashmutt, who sang "The Holy City" for the Passion Play picture. Years later Mr. DeLashmutt was a bank officer and still later bookkeeper for The Perry Daily Journal.
Frank Eby, Hazel's youngest brother, remembers that Mr. Jones, Mr. Ellis and Mr. DeLashmutt were three members of a quartet in those days. They toured the Perry square on Saturday evenings, entertaining shoppers along the way with impromptu concerts. He also remembers that one of his older brothers or a parent would go to the theater each evening about 10 p.m. to escort Hazel to the family home on north Sixth street. Ivan Kennedy died October 23, 1973, and Hazel passed away March 19,1986.
We'll have more about Warenne Harris and the interesting Kennedy family in the next Northwest Corner in March. (The column is now appearing in this newspaper once a month.)