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from the Hysham Echo, April 4, 2002 ~ By Glenda Skillen-Robison

For the past few months, Roxy Theatre-goers have been anxiously awaiting the premiere of a feature attraction not on the big screen, but on the movie house floor. And, after a long wait and some patience on the part of both owners and patrons, new seats have arrived and are certain to get two thumbs up from big screen fans.

Owner Mike Blakesley is excited about the changes to the theatre over the past year, as it has been one of his biggest ventures with it.

His involvement in the Roxy began years ago. When Blakesley graduated from Forsyth High School in 1974, he was not certain about what he wanted to do, and he stayed in his hometown to work for Carquest, the family business where even today he remains as a salesman/bookkeeper.

When a friend of his quit the theatre in '76, Blakesley applied for the job of projectionist, working for owners Don and Georgie Herndon. When they decided to retire, the couple offered Blakesley and his brother in law Tom Clifford (who had also been a projectionist) a chance to purchase the theatre, and they jumped at the opportunity, originally with the intent of fixing it up and selling it for a profit.

The two immediately embarked on an ambitious series of remodels and upgrades including new seats in 1983. The improvements continued even after Blakesley bought Clifford's share of the business in 1992. Today, Blakesley continues to operate the theatre along with his wife, Lynn.

Now in its eighth decade, the theatre is in the process of undergoing a major renovation. Built in 1930 as a replacement to a silent theatre two doors west of the Roxy, it has operated continuously since then except for a short period in the 1960s when it was between owners, and for a few summers when Forsyth used to have a drive in.

In the time that Blakesley has owned it, the Roxy has undergone numerous facelifts. Painting the exterior and replacing the carpet were the first order of business, but more serious changes followed: automating the projection booth, updating equipment to stay current with technological advances, enlarging the lobby, replacing the seats and redecorating the auditorium, restoring the neon on the marquee, replacing the screen - twice! - and adding stereo sound. These are the biggies that Blakesley mentions if you ask about changes in the Roxy. But nothing quite tops this latest venture.

His newest project new seats in the main auditorium and new wall coverings, carpet, and flooring is almost complete, and while they add to viewer enjoyment, they are also just part of the ownership experience for Blakesley.

A lifelong movie fan, Blakesley was interested in movies since childhood and used to book films, usually product documentaries, through his dad's store and show them to the family. "I had always loved the entertainment business and really enjoyed the projectionist work too, so operating a theatre seemed like the perfect thing to do," said Blakesley. The work suits him as the only bad parts to ownership are occasionally showing a terrible film and changing the marquee in the winter cold. "I feel bad charging people for a bad film," said Blakesley. And the sign changing on blustery days? "Miserable."

These two downfalls are decisively overshadowed by the perks. "My favorite thing is to stand in the back and watch the crowd enjoying the movie, especially during funny parts," he said. Blakesley also likes bringing in popular films, since many people don't expect the newest releases to be in Forsyth, but in recent years, the ability to acquire these types of shows has become easier. The theatre has a booker who buys film for it, and each Monday, Blakesley gets a list of possible choices for the week ahead. The booker begins with the top choice and tries to get the most popular film.

Area movie goers tend to follow national trends in terms of what is big, and the Roxy has seen its biggest crowds for blockbusters like "The Grinch," "Titanic," and "E.T."

Blakesley himself is a fan of action and comedy, but he confessed he has too many favorites to list (although "The Wizard of Oz," "The Poseidon Adventure," and Spielberg all came up). "My favorite movie is any movie that brings in big crowds," he said.

Movie goers now have something else to draw them into the Roxy, which has been an area favorite for decades. Aside from the fair prices, the out of this world popcorn, and the enjoyable atmosphere the Roxy offers its patrons, viewers can now kick back in style in the auditorium.

For the future, we can expect changes in the balcony, roof, and bathrooms. For now, we can count on the doors opening 15 minutes prior to the early show Friday through Wednesday as the Roxy Theatre brings Hollywood and beyond to eastern Montana.


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