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April 24, 1998

When the first “100 percent all talking picture” was shown at the Roxy Theatre in May 1929, the Roxy was owned by John Huston, brother of the late R. J. (Bob) Huston and uncle of Ruth VanArsdell and Helen Voigt. John Huston bought the Roxy from the Tucker family in the 1920s. Mr. and Mrs. Tucker’s daughter, Margaret, played piano in the theatre during the silent film era. Mr. Huston’s wife, Ella, sold tickets from the box office and even allowed Helen, her young niece, to take a turn at the job on occasion. After John Huston sold the Roxy to Charlie and Pearl Wolleson, he moved to Missouri and operated another theatre there. As an interesting sidelight, his brother, Bob Huston, owned a 50-foot front building at 412 Sixth street, where the elegant Perry Theatre eventually was established. That building was leased from Bob Huston by John B. Terry early in the 1940s, and it then was converted by Huston into the closest thing Perry has ever seen to a local movie palace.

Mr. Huston originally acquired the building, which was constructed around the turn of the century, about 1918. Mr. Huston and Harry Barnett operated a J.I. Case farm implement business in the building, and it later housed several businesses, including the Cole Buick auto agency, Charlie’s Machine Shop, operated by Charlie and Bertha Malzahn, and the R.J. Huston and W.P. Elliott Construction Co.

Mr. Terry came here in 1941 from Wewoka with his wife, Patti Moore Terry, and their two sons, John Jr. and Jerry. They bought the Roxy and Annex Theatres and leased the Huston building as the future home of the Perry Theatre. Mr. Terry also brought G.M. (Doc) Deen to Perry as general manager of the theatres. Their arrival here signaled the start of a new era in the local movie business. Mr. Terry and Mr. Deen were well-schooled in the business and they put all their skills to work here. Theatre advertising in The Perry Daily Journal was increased substantially and it seemed that more attention was given to landing first-run films. The Huston building was gutted from front to back and the interior was turned into a truly first-class movie theatre. The seating capacity was easily twice that of either the Roxy or the Annex. An impressive illuminated marquee promoting current attractions was hung from the front of the building beneath a large neon-lighted vertical sign bearing the name “Perry.”

The interior was graciously furnished. Plush carpeting was used in the long lobby, where showcards were displayed to promote coming attractions. Even the rest rooms were large, well-lighted and usually clean. Seats in the theatre were comfortable and divided into three sections. A small stage in front of the screen was occasionally used for presentations or announcements. When Cinemascope-size screens were introduced, one was installed at the Perry Theatre, enabling local audiences to get the full benefit from the new wide-picture projection technology.

For a time, weekday matinees were offered. Attractive young ladies were employed to handle ticket sales at the box office and neatly dressed young men were stationed in the lobby to tear off ticket stubs for each guest. Lois Magee was one of the young ladies hired for box office duty, and in time she became Doc Deen’s bride. Her striking good looks and manicured nails caught the attention of Jane Schneider, a member of the news staff at The Journal. Jane commented on this in her column, “Perry Parings.” It was just one of the indications that the new theatre people were having quite an impact locally. More to come on the Perry Theatre in a subsequent installment.