Mr. Claude Gentry was one of the best guys I ever worked for. His businesses were both theaters in Baldwyn, an insurance agency, and a small grill with short orders. I worked at the Ritz for a long time. It was probably the hottest place you could work, but you got free popcorn and got to see free movies - over and over.
The projection booth upstairs in the theater is the "hot" place I am referring to. The heat was generated by carbon-arc lamps on the 35 MM projectors that shone the film onto the huge screen. It was over one hundred degrees in there in the summer, but a high velocity fan pulled cooler air (and all of the theater smells) through the projection booth. It was just right in the winter. Besides myself, projectionists were Arch Young, Billy Taylor, Wayne Stone, Roy Strickland, and a couple of others I can't recall. I think that Jim Greene was also projectionist there later. Correct me if that isn't right, Jim.
Across the street from the Ritz, the Lyric theater was another busy place. It only operated on Friday nights and Saturdays. Usually "B" westerns were shown there exclusively, but like the other, a newsreel and five minute cartoon plus some local advertisements led off the main movie.
Rarely were first-run features seen in Baldwyn, it would be about 3-6 months or longer before a "blockbuster" movie made it to town. No problem. The atmosphere in the little town was too laid back to worry about that. "Gone with the Wind", "Love Me Tender", and several other hit movies demanded an extra day of run to satisfy the crowds.
The Walt Disney classic "Song of the South" (1946) that now is shelved and locked up due to being too controversial for modern times was a very big hit with ALL the citizens of Baldwyn. When Br'er Rabbit always got the best of his foes, the entire theater crowd would go wild. See the sidebar of this Blog to preview some of that movie.
One day I was sent for at school to come up to the theater and run a part of the movie "The French Line" for the city commissioners to evaluate a song and dance number "Lookin' for Trouble" that Jane Russell did. The costume she wore was too "skimpy" and had too many "holes" in the front so it did not pass the 1954 Baldwyn censorship statutes. I had to cut that entire number out, show the movie four times, then splice it back in when we shipped the rental film back.
Incidentally, this is the theater where one local guy got more attention than anyone in any movie ever did. Harold "Snowshoe Rabbit" Murley emptied the entire patronage - upstairs and downstairs - once when he brought his pet coach whip snake "Henry" into the movie. One person saw it was real and alive and his screaming "live snake!" while running out on the tops of the seats to escape sent the message to evacuate. And so they did. Everything stopped, Claude turned the lights on and Harold was able to find Henry and leave the theater. It was quite some time before Harold was allowed back into the Ritz, and it had to be without his pet.
Although most of the movies shown at those theaters were of good quality and had a high rating, there were some young couples that sat through them twice and never saw them. You know what they were doing, don't you? That's right. Everything around you gets distracted when you're sixteen and in love. I can assure you of that.
The city censors wanted the Jane Russell number shown twice before making up their minds....they seemed to enjoy it. You can see it at: