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March 24, 1998

A brief item in Darlene Roads’ “Perry Past” column the other day read like this: “During this week in 1929 – The Roxy Theatre in Perry featured the first talking picture in Noble county.”

If you’re interested, the title of that film was “The Voice of the City,” starring Willard Macks. It was advertised in The Perry Daily Journal as “the first 100 percent all-talking film” shown in Noble county. Although the ad appeared in March, the film actually ran on April 8-9, 1929 . That takes you back to an era when movies were still in their infancy but their influence on America and the rest of the world was just becoming understood. Most of us in Perry were not too concerned about the social significance and the changes being wrought. Going to the movies was a wonderful treat, an occasion of the highest order, even before they provided a sound track. It was ENTERTAINMENT! It was clean comedy and honest drama without the explicit language and naked bodies so obnoxiously prominent in today’s film fare. There were make-you-want-to-dance musicals and pretty showgirls doing Busby Berkley numbers. Handsome leading men, wholesome and fresh-faced leading ladies and tousle-haired juveniles with winning smiles. It was the kind of pleasure you couldn’t get from listening to the radio or the Victrola. Moving pictures on the silver screen were sheer magic. When they added voices and actual dialogue, it put them in the realm of mysticism.

Today we must travel to Stillwater, Ponca City or some other larger nearby community to see a movie, but once upon a time Perry had two, sometimes three theatres offering the latest feature films from Hollywood. Those days are long gone. The old Roxy, Annex, Perry, Chief drive-in and other earlier motion picture palaces have vanished and are merely something to talk about, thoughts to conjure up mental images of another time in Perry.

During the 1930s and 1940s, movies enjoyed their golden age of popularity. For most of those decades Perry had two theatres and both of them were on the east side of the square. The Roxy was operated by Charlie and Pearl Wolleson right next door to Foster’s Corner Drug in a building now occupied by a dance studio. Just down the street was the Annex, operated by Henry and Zoma Tate, on the ground floor level of the storied old Grand Opera House which was demolished, perhaps prematurely, in the 1960s. Far from being bitter rivals in the business, the Tates and Wollesons were close friends. They socialized together when work schedules permitted, went fishing together, and just generally enjoyed the lives they led.

Film programs were changed three times each week at the Roxy and the Annex. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, first-run features from Hollywood’s major studios were shown. On Wednesday, a newly-released B-film at the Roxy or a Western at the Annex were the usual attractions for one night only. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, first-run major films returned. Matinees were shown only on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. In the 1940s, after John B. Terry purchased the Roxy and the Annex and opened the sumptuous Perry Theatre down the street at 412 Sixth, “previews” were added each Saturday night at 11 for those able to stay up that late. More about the John Terry theatre properties in a later column.

The Annex showed more Westerns than the Roxy, for some reason. All programs ran continuously beginning with the first feature at 7 p.m. Included would be a newsreel about 10 minutes in length, a cartoon for the kiddos, perhaps a funny short subject with Chaz Chase, Laurel & Hardy, Wheeler & Woolsey or one of the other comedy kings of the day, a few film commercials for local businesses, coming attractions and then the feature movie, usually running about 90 minutes. If you arrived after the film started, it was not a problem. You just waited for the cycle to start all over again for the “second show” at about 9:45 p.m., and then watched until the film returned to the place where you originally came in. A lot of kids routinely stayed for both programs in their entirety, and some even came back the next night for another dose of double features.

We’ll have more notes on the old Perry movie theatres in the next installment of this column.