When I was growing up, we lived in the country about fifteen miles from the Toombs County Seat of Lyons, Ga. On Saturday we went to town to purchase items that weren’t produced on our farm. Going to town on Saturday was a big day for me. Daddy always gave me a dollar. In those days a dollar was big money. With a dollar, I could go to the movies, see a double feature, a comedy and the news, and buy a bag of popcorn and a coke. There would be enough left out of the dollar to get a milk shake and two comic books. Make a dollar do that now.
The movies were better in those days. They were good clean entertainment. There was no profanity, no drinking, no sexual vulgarities, or blood and guts scenes on the screen. The good guys wore white hats and got the crooks without having to deal with an informant on the inside. If there happened to be an “Adults Only” movie and they were rare, you could bet your buttons that the operators of the theater saw to it that no youngsters slipped in.
The manager, Billy Yarbrough, ran a good ship. He would not tolerate any monkey business in the theater. If anyone got out of line, he would straighten them out in nothing flat. I bought many a ticket from his beautiful blue-eyed blond daughter Becky who worked in the ticket window on Saturdays. Becky and my lovely bride B. J. went all the way through school from the first grade to graduation. She lives near us on the island and we get together via e-mail, text, telephone and cookouts to reminisce about the good old days at the Pal.
I remember the time that someone sitting near me in the theater lit a cigarette during the movie. He had hardly taken one drag on the weed when Gordon O’Neal, the bouncer, appeared at the end of the row of seats. Gordon quickly gave the smoker two choices, “Duck it or hit the street.” The cigarette was out like a light.
One Saturday, my usual seat at the movies was taken so I found one nearer the back of the theater. Sitting next to me was Mr. Ronnie Moore, an avid movie goer. And, as it happened that same day, seated a little farther over on the same row of seats was another Silver Screen enthusiast, Mr. Arthur NeSmith. Now, if you never sat in a movie with these two during a good fistfight on the screen, you have missed a lot.
About fifteen minutes into the movie, a bar room brawl got under way on the screen. Fists were flying, tables were being knocked over, and people were being hit over the head with chairs. It seemed that the ruffians were about to do Gene Autry and Smiley Burnett in when suddenly Gene caught the guy from Robber’s Roost with a right upper-cut sending him crashing through the window to the sidewalk.
When the badlands rambler crashed through the window, Mr. Moore suddenly jumped straight up. Standing erect and shaking his fist at the downed outlaw, he shouted, “There, that’ll show ya who is boss!” Farther over, Mr. NeSmith was jumping up and down, flailing his arms and hollering, “Whoopee! Whoopee!”
A little unnerved at what was happening around me among the noisy adults, I collected my wits and moved to a quieter spot. I learned later that Mr. Moore and Mr. NeSmith were faithful attendants at the Saturday matinee. They could always be expected to get carried away with excitement when a good fistfight broke loose on the screen. Some even reported being backhanded when they sat too close to the excitable two.
Today, the old Pal Theater in Lyons has experienced a new birth; it has returned from the dead in a fantastic way; it is now the Blue Marquee Theater. The Blue Marquee Theater is home to one of the most fabulous productions in Georgia, Tales from the Altamaha.
Today the Blue Marquee (former Pal) is one of the most famous theaters in Georgia. People come there in chartered busses from around the state to enjoy the Tales from the Altamaha. B. J. and I have missed only one performance in the eight years of its running. We love to go, delight in the Tales, and remember the good old days at the Pal.
Next year, the lovely and talented Laurie Jo Upchurch, scriptwriter for the play, will direct the ninth presentation of Tales. She is exuberant and says that she is determined to make this the best performance yet.