April 7, 1998
The Roxy and Annex Theatres, situated only a few yards apart on the east side of the square in the 1930s and 1940s, were compact little Perry movie houses with 25-foot fronts. The décor was devoid of most frills; the walls were painted in unobtrusive neutral shades, small sconces attached to the walls held muted lights which were totally dimmed when the screen was lighted with the feature film of the day. Narrow strips of carpet led movie-goers through the front glass doors into the obligatory but minimal lobbies and then into the seating area. There were no ushers, no ticket takers. You paid your admission at a box office kiosk out front and walked in.
There were no concession stands in the theatres operated by Charlie Wolleson and Henry Tate, and you could not enter with your own refreshments. They would not even allow independent hawkers of popcorn and other traditional theatre delights past the entry. They did not want the floor littered with paper bags, soft drink containers and other treats. At both theatres, exterior walls on either side of the box office held poster-size promotions of coming attractions locked behind glass panes, and 8x10 scenes from the current offering were contained in a brass-plated display panel in front of the box office. Pearl Wolleson, Charlie’s wife, and Zoma Tate, Henry’s wife, were the usual ticket-sellers.
In the custom of the day, Negro patrons were directed up a narrow flight of stairs to a kind of balcony, adjacent to the projection booth, but they were not offered rest room facilities. For other customers, “lounges” were tiny cubicles on either side of the lobby area. Water fountains also were in the lobby, and as I remember they were not designated for the exclusive use of whites, as were fountains in most public places of that era. Remember, that was a totally different age for those on either side of the issue and sensitivity levels to such things as blatant discrimination were not on most people’s minds. Such practices, cruel as we now view them, were accepted then without question, just as were the so-called separate but equal schools.
The seating area in both theatres was divided into narrow rows of approximately two or three seats along opposite walls, with wider rows of perhaps 12 seats each in the center. The floor was raked from front to back to improve the line of sight for those in the rear. Youngsters usually flocked to the front-most seats in order to be closer to the screen. Until the late 1930s, air-conditioning was unknown, but when it came along more people than ever flocked to the movies where it was “20 degrees cooler inside,” even if the evaporative coolers then in use produced higher, more oppressive humidity levels in the narrow confines of Perry’s two little movie houses.
Projectionists at the Roxy and the Annex changed from time to time, but for the most part the jobs were lifetime careers. Some of those who ran the equipment in those overheated little projection booths were Ted Kimball at the Roxy and Chet Moore and Claud Hixon at the Annex. Mr. Kimball and Mr. Moore are deceased and Mr. Hixon, now 88, is in poor health at a local nursing home. His daughter, Carol Sullins, recalls some of the stories he used to tell. He was the grandson of Anna Marsh, a colorful Perry lady who operated a hotel on the second floor above Foster’s Corner Drug Store. “Grandma Marsh always gave me a nickel and sent me downstairs to get a Coke from Woody Foster at the drug store,” Mrs. Sullins recalls.
I also remember Mrs. Marsh very well. She was what we would call healthily lean and had an erect bearing. Her opinions were freely given on any subject, but her patriotism and loyalty were never questioned. Mrs. Marsh was a dedicated member of the Women’s Relief Corps, the women’s auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of military veterans. She was an authority on the correct ways to display the U.S. flag and she was quick to notify anyone who did it the wrong way. She often called on us at The Journal office to print information about the flag and patriotism in general.
Mrs. Sullins continues: “Dad also carried instruments for Bert Shaw, who played in a local dance band, so he could get in to the dances free.” Before his health failed, Mr. Hixon loved to talk about the good old days when he ran the projection machine for one of Perry’s movie theatres.
We’ll have more on this interesting subject in a subsequent column.