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Memories of the Ellis Theater - Part I

    Editor’s note:
    Every small southern town should have a “picture show." Cleveland, Mississippi, did and now doesn't. In fact, at one time, our small Delta town had several theaters, but the theater that saw most of us through several decades was the Ellis.

    The old Ellis building is presently being readied (that means fund-raising) for renovation to create an arts complex. As a part of the publicity, Ye Editor was asked to write a story about Ellis Theater memories -- so she sent out a call for help.

    And did the help roll in. So many former Clevelanders had memories to share. Don’t omit a page of these comments. (Links are below.) The remarks are great fun for readers, whether they grew up in Cleveland, Mississippi, or not. Enjoy!


Bettye Rozier Gibson

* I remember the divided balcony for blacks on the left side and that they had to use the outside stairs to enter the balcony. Whites could sit in the balcony on the right side. At times younger theater goers would try to sneak past the usher (not easy to do) and climb the stairs to see what the older students were doing. Making out of course.

* The smell of the ladies rest room---yuck to the max---some awful chemical smell, but one that I will never forget. Plus the restroom was so tiny.

* Popcorn, candy, drinks costing only a nickel. Tickets were a dime and then a quarter!

* Immature boys who would quickly eat their box of Red Hots or Milk Duds and then blow through the box in just the right way and produce a high pitched squealing noise which would summon an usher immediately. The boys were so good at pretending to be innocent. As soon as the usher returned to the lobby, empty candy boxes would rain toward the screen. Only the super athletic could actually bounce a box off the screen.

* The really mean boys who would sneak into the balcony and drop objects on unsuspecting patrons below or even spit over the edge of the balcony.

* The night we saw "Imitation of Life" and sobbed and sobbed – we could be heard all over the theatre. Even boys cried at that Lana Turner tear-jerker. There were many movies that made us cry. We liked to brag about how much we cried and how wonderful (!) those movies were.

* The crushes we had on all those handsome movies stars and we knew everything about them from reading the movie magazines we loved to buy and trade with our friends.

* The Saturday matinees with Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gabby Hayes, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash LaRue, Tim Holt, and those dumb space serials. Remember "Bullet Man" who could fly by turning dials on his suit and stomping the ground hard and he would take off? We entertained ourselves watching the obvious wires that were pulling him.

* Hollywood doesn't make those movies anymore -- the wonderful musicals in living color, the westerns, the Rock Hudson/Doris Day comedies, those plotless Elvis movies, Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe features, Jane Wyman, Lana Turner, Jennifer Jones--all the great movie beauties, Jeff Chandler/John Wayne war movies, the news reels showing what was happening all over the world. I saw them all.

* The time Nancy Grisham, Miriam Jacks, and I skipped Sunday night church -- of course Nancy had her dad's permission -- and we went to a Sunday night movie. Nancy commented that she bet that would give the old ladies of the church something to talk about come Monday morning!

* The young romances that blossomed in the dark of the theater.

* The big banner out front that proudly announced the theater was fully air conditioned.

* The mean ticket personnel who would question your age and tell you that you needed to tell your parents to give you enough money for an adult ticket next time! We always loved it when a "new" person was subbing in the ticket office. We never got questioned then.

* The usher, even meaner than the ticket lady, who would question your age and your having a child ticket, and then he would come down the aisles shining his large spotlight in your face if he thought you were misbehaving in any way. If he had to come back, you were out on the streets.

* The time the very controversial movie "Baby Doll," starring Carol Baker and Karl Malden, came to town. Adults only. Bummer. I remember seeing the movie on TV many years later and wondering what all the fuss was about. All I remember was some heavy breathing. Certainly nothing like even a PG rated movie today.

* The polio scare -- moms would not let their young children go to the movies or anywhere large crowds gathered.

* How grown up we felt when we met our "boyfriends" at the Ellis and sat together in the DARK.

* Meeting your friends out front and "dressing up" to go to the movies -- especially the Sunday afternoon matinees.

* Those three and four hour movie epics with an intermission half way through.

* The long, long movie lines when the big block buster movies came to town --"Gone with the Wind,” "The Robe,” etc.

* "Psycho" -- which scared us from ever taking another shower.

* The other great Alfred Hitchcock movies and how hard we looked to see Hitchcock's brief appearance in each of his films.

* How I loved to read the book before the movie came to Cleveland.

* How we cried during the showing of "A Man Called Peter."

Yes, I lived at the theater and waited with great anticipation for the next movie each week.


Bettye Rozier Gibson, a native of the Mississippi Delta, now lives in Arkansas.
Read more of her stories at USADEEPSOUTH:
My Own Amazing Grace
A Healing Batch of Chicken and Dumplings
Southern Comfort Recipes


The “picture show” memories came pouring in!
Click these links to read all the comments:
ELLIS MEMORIES – II -- Ann, KDD, Jim G., Paula, Don and Jim T.
ELLIS MEMORIES – III -- Gusty, Harvey, Buddy, Noel, Delia and Ken
ELLIS MEMORIES – IV -- Kathy, Lonnye Sue, Mick, Pat, Pam, Nancy, Tom, Eileen and Kent
ELLIS MEMORIES – V -- Clista, Eddie, Linda, Andy, Rosebud, George, Marynell and Lamar

For more movie theater stories at USADS, visit these pages:
Hail to the Chief Drive In Movie by Lonnye Sue Sims Pearson
Moorhead Picture Show by Jim Harrison
The Delta Theater by Tom Givens

Want to leave your comments about the movie theaters of days gone by?
Please visit our Message Board
or write Ye Editor at bethjacks@hotmail.com.
Thanks for visiting USADEEPSOUTH!


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