December 31, 1998
The arrival of John and Patti Moore Terry in Perry from Wewoka in 1941 as new owners of the Roxy and Annex Theatres signaled the start of a new era in screen history locally. The Terrys succeeded Charlie and Pearl Wolleson, who ran the Roxy, and Henry and Zoma Tate, who had the Annex. The Wollesons and the Tates were good friends, not arch-competitors. They retired when the transaction was completed and began spending a lot of their spare time at various fishing holes.
Mr. Terry brought his right-hand man, G.M. (Doc) Deen, to Perry as his general manager. They continued operating both the Roxy and the Annex just a few yards apart on the east side of the square until the new Perry Theatre was ready to open just up the street at 412 Sixth, where the Exchange Bank drive-through lanes are now located. Then the Annex was closed but the Roxy continued in operation.
In the 1950s, the Terrys sold their local interests to the B.J. McKenna family who had connections with a Missouri theatrical operating company based in Kansas City. Mr. and Mrs. McKenna’s son, the late Gene McKenna, and his wife, Marty, came to Perry to run the theatres. At about the same time, drive-in theatres became all the rage and so the downtown Roxy was closed and the Chief Drive-In, north of the city, was opened on a former wheat pasture leased from A.L. Ebersole. It was a popular place for families, young people on dates and anyone else who liked the open air of a bucolic setting on warm Oklahoma summer nights. The concession stand was one of the most profitable aspects of the business.
One of the highlights of that period was the 1957 world premiere showing of “The Buster Keaton Story,” a major Hollywood movie roughly based on the life of the famed silent-film comic who spent some of his boyhood in Perry. Mr. Keaton and his wife were brought here for the premiere by Paramount Pictures, the studio that produced it. Donald O’Connor had the title role. Showings were held at the Perry and the Chief, and Mr. Keaton visited both of them.
Movie business started a dizzy downward spiral as television eroded the audience share in the late 1950s, and the McKennas gave up their Perry operation when the handwriting on the wall became clear. Gene McKenna took a position with the advertising and sales department of the Ditch Witch company and eventually became a dealer for the line in Kansas City. Others, including Roy Kendrick, a seasoned theatre man who now has the Cherokee Strip Antique Mall on the north side of the square, took over the business for several years, but the end became a certainty and the Perry, which had become a little bedraggled, was shuttered. George Hall of the Exchange Bank & Trust Co. bought the theatre property for expansion of the bank, and the drive-through bank bays now occupy the location of the old theatre. The Chief Drive-In property was returned to agricultural use, and the city of Perry no longer had a movie theatre.
We’ll wrap up this series on local movie houses with a few more installments.