Friday, October 12, 2012

Theaters in Baldwyn Long Ago

As printed in the Baldwyn News, 11 September, 2012
By Carl Houston, Guest contributor

I think most of the Baldwynians my age and close can recall the movie theaters in town. It was a pleasurable way to spend a couple of hours of alternate reality watching great performances of musicals with the finely choreographed dance numbers, colorful costuming, and great music. We boys and most men were mesmerized by the beauty of the movie stars and the ladies really doted on the male “heart throbs” they saw on the silver screen.
   Back in those olden days, long before movie theaters, our little town always had some means of public entertainment. There were at least two stages in town at different locations that had live entertainment, and were, in their time, a nice way to be entertained. During the early years in Baldwyn many tent shows came and did live performing and movies. They consisted of Indian, but let me correct myself, native-American actors, vaudeville actors, and others. One tent show proprietor that was usually welcomed warmly was “Daddy” Crouch, a German man who made a living with his one-machine movie. He had only silent films to be shown, and according to Mr. Claude Gentry’s memoirs he narrated vocally everything that happened in his films. He would be the voice of all of the actors, and the way he did it was well worth the price of admission alone. He always sat up his tent show just across the tracks on the left where the storage rental center is now between East Main and Clayton Streets. Bandstands, like the elaborate one by the old Home Hotel around the first part of the 20th century had live musical concerts that rivaled larger towns and cities. Former mayor Lloyd Heflin, Sr. played in an orchestra.
   When movies got sound around 1927, they then became the premiere way to be entertained. Movies, news of the world happenings that could be viewed, and even some funny cartoons that moved and talked were well received by the public, thanks to an upstart cartoon artist named Walt Disney. His characters are still entertaining us even to this day.
   When money was scarce to many families in the depression era, they could find a way to get to enjoy a movie occasionally, providing a little break to the tough times they were living in.
   I am including a photo to this story that I have had quite some time waiting for the opportunity to find some more details about it. It is the old Lyric Theater that was at Front and Main in the early1940s. It was where the Azalea Court is located now, and where the original Bank of Baldwyn was located until destroyed by the fire of 1914. Mr. Gentry rented the building from Buster McElroy for about fifteen dollars a month.
   I remember just a little of this theater, being around five years old the few times I was carried into it. When you entered through the front, you passed under the screen – the projection booth was in the rear. Most often your shadow was cast onto the screen as you scouted around for a seat and people would yell for you to hurry and get seated and off the screen so they could see the action.
   The Baldwyn Theater was on West Main Street and Mr. Gentry bought it from Mr. Audie Coggins in about the mid-40s and moved up there. He renamed it the Ritz and we all remember its’ successful operation throughout the 50s and 60s. Wow-the memories those Saturday western matinees made to young cowboys with their stick horses and at least one .45 caliber toy cap pistol on their side! Once, a B-western hero named “Sunset Carson” came to town and appeared in person with an aide-de-camp who let him shoot  cigarettes out of his mouth and helped him do other rope tricks. I can recall it very well. Other Wild West “stars” of the day appeared locally infrequently and once one drew the first ticket of the Saturday money giveaway. The town was impressed.
   Later, the Lyric was back in business in a building next to the Western Auto Store across the street from the Ritz. It had a successful run only operating on Friday nights and all day on Saturday. It was located in the building currently containing Quail Ridge Engineering.
   Here is a photo (above) I was lucky enough to find some time ago and was taken in approximately 1942 or ’43. I have read that there were many other stores in the building in later years. I only recall one – a wheelchair- bound Mr. Thomas had a shop repairing radios and televisions there for a while. I would go beg tech advice and old parts such as condensers and capacitors from him to keep my ancient radios working.

Photo courtesy Buddy Spight.


  1. I spent a lot of time in those theaters. It was in the old Lyric that I fell in love with Gene Autry. I was 2 or 3 years old. The Ritz had the same movie on Mon. and Tues., a different one on Wed., and another on Thurs. and Fri. Most weeks I saw them all. Daddy was working at Oak Ridge, and I guess Mother and I didn't have anything else to do. Sat. of course was shoot'em up day. Then I "graduated" to the new Lyric on Saturdays. Fun days in Baldwyn.

  2. I remember going to see Sunset Carson. I had never heard of him before that day but I did manage to get his autograph. I kept it for many years before misplacing it.