Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Deville Theater Adventures and Lessons

Technically, my first theater was the Lamar downtown because they had Disney movies.  The very first movie I can remember seeing was Toby Tyler, which I remember more for the painted walls and staircase in the lobby than anything else.  There was a scene in Toby Tyler where a monkey gets hold of a pistol and started acting up that scared the bejesus out of my little sister, who saw the rest of the movie from the crying room, while I sat in the big seats with my grandmother who we called Nanny.   We also saw Snowball Express and the revival of Dumbo there.

Besides the Lamar, the best source for movies when I was a kid was the Deville Cinema, off the recently constructed Interstate 55.  It was closer and newer.  It had a single screen and a capacity of six hundred kids.  Technically, it was close enough for me to ride my bike, but that involved crossing Ridgewood road, so I wasn't allowed to very often.

Deville had a summer Saturday matinee revival series.  For five dollars, a kid like me could see a movie with a coke and a red and white striped box of popcorn.  And, oh what movies they had:  Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The Mysterious Island, The War of the Gargantuas, Destroy All Monsters, Gorgo, King Kong Escapes, and more.  Every boy I knew would be there.  It's possible there were girls too, but I don't remember any.  In those days, girls who liked Godzilla were pretty rare.

Besides the matinees, they had some of the most important first-run movies of the seventies at the Deville.  I saw Star Wars there as many times as I could talk somebody into taking me.  Rocky played there for months, as well as Logan's Run and Westworld.  Johnny Kroeze was my most common co-conspirator in those days, and we saw pretty much everything that didn't have much girl stuff in it.  There was one girl in Star Wars.  That was enough.

The Exorcist played at the Deville.  I wasn't allowed to attend, but I remember the reports on the news and in the paper of the protests.  A movie about the devil in Jackson Mississippi in the seventies had no choice but to draw some heat.  I suspect the hullabaloo increased ticket sales by a factor of ten at least.

Many people from Jackson remember Deville for its Saturday night midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show that ran through the seventies into the early eighties.  I was aware of it too.  I heard it was a gay musical making fun of science fiction and horror movies, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

I didn't know much about homosexuality in those days.  I heard a guy from my church lost his job when he got arrested for "loitering" at Smith Park.  I don't know if he was doing anything nefarious or actually just loitering, but anything involving Smith Park at night could get you in trouble.

There were a couple of times when I would pick my little sister up from United Methodist Youth Fellowship and get catcalls of "Hey!  We're over here!" from the interior of Smith Park.  They didn't seem all that dangerous, but I wasn't taking any chances.

In high school, I couldn't name one single person who admitted to being gay.  In college, I knew precisely one.  Andrew Libby ended up teaching me a lot about that side of life.  He was my first gay ambassador.

Later in college, I met a girl who often got me into trouble.  Maybe more than one, but this one really had my number so I was doomed.  Deville had a one-weekend revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and she not only wanted to go, but she wanted me to go as well.  I won't say her name because she might be reading, but she was from the Delta and had green eyes, and had she asked me to put on a dress and go to a dog fight, I most likely would have.  That probably gave it away.

We packed up our little group to go, including her friend, whom I was equally taken with.  She had skin like alabaster and hair like obsidian and was slightly less likely to get me into compromising situations.  Slightly.  Who am I kidding?  She was just as bad.  Their powers combined, I was pretty much condemned to seeing the whole movie.

They had newspapers, and toast and rice and water guns ready for the performance.  I had a bad attitude and lots of doubts.

The lights went out, and the screen lit up with a pair of lips...

Michael Rennie was ill
The day the Earth stood still
But he told us where we stand
And Flash Gordon was there
In silver underwear
Claude Rains was The Invisible Man
Then something went wrong
For Fay Wray and King Kong
They got caught in a celluloid jam
Then at a deadly pace
It came from outer space...

Holy shit! 

 The scales fell from my eyes.  Gay or not, this was my people.  This was my tribe!  It would be another five or six years for me to learn that my beloved Fay Wray was a gay icon, but just the mention of her name made me open my heart a little bit and accept, not just a new movie, but a who new body of human beings.

Toward the end of the movie, Frankenfurter sings, "Whatever happened to Fay Wray?"  I knew the answer!  She was living in Beverly Hills with her last husband, the surgeon.  Her son had a pretty famous music store there, and her daughter was in New York becoming a writer and teacher.

In the years to come, I would see Rocky Horror in something like twenty different theatres and live at least five times.  I owe it all to two little girls from Millsaps, who knew better what I liked than I did myself.

In the years that followed, multiplex movie theaters took over the business and The Deville faltered.  The last movie I ever saw there was The Nightmare Before Christmas, in 1993 with Jay Cooke.  I loved the movie and Jay was possibly the only person I knew who could have appreciated it like I did, but that was the swan song for the Deville.  

I do love single-screen theaters.  Jackson had some grand ones.  Except for the Capri, they're all gone now.  They hope to keep the Capri going by making it as much of a restaurant as a movie theater.  I hope fortune shines on them.

In the years that followed, the Deville became a pretty popular store for china and whatnot, and a nightclub after that.  It makes me a little sad to drive by it now.  So many memories.  So many movies.

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