December 30, 2003
I've devoted a few of these columns in recent months to the story of movie theaters in Perry. Movies once were the cultural link that kept us close to what was believed to be the heartbeat of the U.S. They showed us the latest fashions and kept us current on all matters of styles. They were important. The film offerings from Hollywood sometimes were based on historic literature, and that saved us the necessity of reading good books, even though movie versions often fell far short of the original author's goals. But, back to reality in Perry America.
Roy Kendrick now operates an antiques business in what once was the Donaldson & Yahn Lumber Co. He came to Perry in 1967 to operate the Perry Theater in the downtown area and the Chief Drive-In north of town. He speaks from a unique perspective regarding Perry's romance with the movies. Here's a sample, as written by Roy:
(When I came to Perry), I'd already been involved in movie business for many years at night-time and working daytime jobs most of the time...The Tates owned the Grand Opera House and the Grand Theater below it. The Grand Theater played many silent movies before the "talkies" came in and the theater's name was later changed to the Annex. Just down the street from it (on the east side of the square), next door to Foster's Corner Drug, was the Roxy, Theater. However, I was told by Charlie Wolleson (who operated the Roxy) that the first movies shown here were at an open-air theater called the "Airdrome" at the southwest corner of the square. I believe that Charlie's dad may have been the original owner of the Roxy. They also put in a small theater below the Arrow Hotel on the north side of the square and had a woman running it to keep out competition. That building is now occupied by the I.O.O.F. Grand Lodge of Oklahoma and has a marvelous mural on the exterior wall depicting a map of Oklahoma during the era of the Cherokee Strip Land Run
...In later years, John Terry, an oilman, built the Perry Theater and (as I recall) bought out the Roxy. And then, still later, B.J. McKenna's Allied Theater of Oklahoma bought the Perry and Roxy Theaters from John Terry and (McKenna's) son, Eugene (Gene) McKenna moved here to manage them. During this time they leased some farm land north of the football stadium from the industrial arts teacher, A.L. Ebersole, and built the Chief Drive-In Theater there, and closed the Roxy. In due time, Gene McKenna decided to quit "showbiz" and become a dealer for Ditch Witch (Ed Malzahn's trench-digging machinery) and moved away from Perry to pursue a career, in this new business. After a few years of local folks' management of the theaters, Allied Theaters (the McKennas) decided to divest themselves of the Perry Theaters. I was working for the Oklahoma City branch of National Theater Supply where B.J. McKenna's sister, Katherine Pierce, was employed as a secretary (she literally ran the place when the branch manager was out making sales). I was in charge of concessions sales and was managing my own theaters at Tuttle and Minco, plus I was in a partnership deal with a friend operating the popcorn stands at Frontier City.
Watch for more of Roy Kendrick's interesting retelling of the story of movies in Perry years ago. We'll bring that to you as space allows.