July 9, 2002
This column has devoted a lot of space in recent months to the movie theaters that once provided entertainment for patrons in this area. Now the most recent edition of The Chronicles of Oklahoma, published by the Oklahoma Historical Society, has come out with a detailed, interesting story about the movie theaters of our neighbor, Stillwater. That’s of special interest locally because Perry no longer has a film palace of any kind while Stillwater has a multi-screen theater where many of us go to see the movies.
The article deals with all of the many theaters Stillwater has had through the years, including quite a few that I do not remember. The Payne county capital also had its own three-story Grand Opera House located on East Ninth Street between Main and Lewis. A photograph shows the old brick building as it looked in the early days, with space for retail businesses on the ground floor and a central door to the stairway leading to the theater area. It looked much like Perry’s own Grand Opera House when it dominated the east side of the courthouse square.
The Stillwater Grand opened for business on July 1, 1901, while Perry’s Grand opened on May 1 that year. The opening bill on the Stillwater stage was a presentation of the Noble Dramatic Company Band and Orchestra performing The Strategists at prices ranging from ten cents for gallery seats to fifty cents for balcony seating. Box seats flanked the stage.
At one time Perry citizens had a financial stake in the Stillwater Grand Opera House, the article indicates. The opera house owners, Louis Jardot and James Blouin, joined with the “Delaney Theater” in Perry and J.M. Brooks of the Brooks Theater in Guthrie for group-booking arrangements. This made it possible for the Perry, Stillwater and Guthrie theaters to operate as a circuit and thus pool their bookings to secure top-dollar acts for their small town arenas. Incidentally, the “Delaney Theater” mentioned in the Chronicles article probably refers to Mr. John Dulaney, former operator of the Perry Opera House. Mr. Dulaney joined Mr. J.B. Tate, owner of the Perry Grand, in a business deal in 1902, according to a chapter in my book, The First Generation.
Another striking similarity appears to be the resemblance between the old Aggie Theater in Stillwater and the Perry Theater, which was located in a 50-foot front building just off the northeast corner of the courthouse square. Both those buildings are now gone, but the Stillwater theater (opened in 1926) looks very much like the Perry Theater, which I believe opened in 1941. The marquees and other front-end features were very similar.
The Chronicles article was written by Deborah Carmichael, associate editor of Film & History and currently an assistant director of the Oklahoma State University composition program for all first-year students. She credits a lot of her information to Doris Dellinger, who wrote Stillwater’s Grand Opera House for the Payne County Historical Review in 1984, and additional material came from Robert Cuinningham’s book, Stillwater Through the Years. Both of those folks have many friends in this area. Mr. Cunningham wrote the book Perry, Pride of the Prairie in the 1970s. The book is now out of print. If you can find a copy of the spring edition of The Chronicles of Oklahoma, be sure to check out the article by Deborah Carmichael. Even if you are not a movie fan, you will find the piece interesting.