When Forsyth's Mike Blakesley
was young, he often turned his bedroom into a movie theater,
inviting his family to join him. Blakesley chose his "hits"
from his only source - 16 mm company training movies, loaned
to his father's business.
Today Blakesley remains a movie buff, but his films and the venue
have improved. Blakesley owns the historic Roxy Theatre, a fixture
on Forsyth's Main Street since it opened in September 1930.
"I like to entertain people, but I don't like to perform,"
Blakesley said. "It's so neat to see people having a good
time, enjoying themselves."
Living a dream
Owning a theater wasn't a lifelong dream for Blakesley -- he
just happened to be in the right place at the right time. He
and Tom Clifford,
who is now his brother-in-law, worked at the theater and teamed
up to buy the place when the former owners retired in 1979.
When they first started, Blakesley and Clifford had "really
grandiose illusions" about the business. Among the first
movies they showed, in rapid succession, were Clint Eastwood's
popular "Every Which Way But Loose" and the John Belushi
smash "Animal House," both of which packed the 425-seat
"We thought, 'Oh boy, we're going to be rich!' " Blakesley
said. "But pretty soon reality set in."
Reality means that there are both fat and lean spells in the
movie business and Blakesley, who bought out Clifford in 1992,
hasn't given up his day job at the family auto parts store.
He's learned that the most popular movies generally are released
during summer and the Christmas season, which means it's hard
to draw people on a consistent basis. "People don't come
out automatically," he said. "They have to have a good
movie to see."
A theater experience
The Roxy has kept most of its loyal customers from falling out
of the movie-going habit by making the most of the theater experience.
Many Forsyth residents have been going to the Roxy for as long
as it has been standing.
Forsyth resident Minerva Faust was married to F.X. Faust, the
original owner of the Roxy. Along with his brother-in-law and
sister, Faust owned Forsyth's first theater, the Lincoln Paramount.
He decided to build a new theater to take advantage of the newest
innovation in entertainment -- talking pictures. The Roxy was
designed by Charles Wood, a Spokane, Wash., architect, who designed
the building specifically to meet the acoustic requirements for
Faust still goes to the theater occasionally, although not as
often as she'd like. "Mike has done a very good job of keeping
it up and trying go back to the way it was in the beginning --
like repairing the outside marquee. I think he's got it pretty
well back to the way it was," Faust said.
"It's a very well-built building. After all these years,
it's still in very good shape."
Instead of modernizing the Roxy and selling it, Blakesley said,
"I ended up falling in love with the business."
Blakesley has had the exterior painted four times, returning
to a more antique blend of warm tans, reds and deep forest green
in a Spanish/art deco style. The theater's marquee, added during
the first 10 years of operation, still lights up the night streets
of Forsyth with a bright neon "ROXY." Posters of current
and coming attractions fit neatly in the red-painted square display
boards on either side of the marquee.
"This is a historic building - it's got a lot of memories
in it," he said.
While keeping the old movie house look, the projection and sound
equipment is newer. "We get comments all the time about
the sound here," Blakesley said. "A lot of people compare
it to other places they've been, and say ours is really good.
I'm always looking for ways to make it better."
Blakesley also replaced the original piece of projection booth
glass with a piece of optical glass. He said the visual clarity
is "like night and day."
Sometimes Blakesley slips into the auditorium during good parts
of a movie, stands behind his customers and watches them enjoy
"It's really gratifying to see their response," he
said. "You feel like you're giving them their money's worth."
The Roxy celebrated its 60th birthday in 1990, with a classic
film festival that included "Gone With The Wind," "Casablanca,"
"The Wizard of Oz," "The Sound of Music"
and "The Ten Commandments."
The re-release of "Gone with the Wind" brought people
to the theater who had seen the movie at the Roxy when it first
came out. Blakesley occasionally brings in films that aren't
mainstream, including the Academy Award-winning "Shakespeare
in Love" and "Life is Beautiful."
"I try not to let my own principles dictate what we show
- if it's a hit, if people want to see it, it's not my business
to dictate whether they can see it or not," he said. Tickets
and concession prices are old-fashioned as well.
Chains aren't us
Small-town theaters, once alive in almost every town, are being
replaced by chain-owned multi-screen operations. In Montana,
Carmike Cinema has bought up the lion's share of the screens.
But the Roxy is thriving for several reasons, Blakesley said.
First, it was built specifically to be used as a theater, and
built well, so the building is structurally sound.
Since Blakesley took over,
the Roxy has received nearly $100,000 in repairs and renovations.
With its single screen, the Roxy averages 300 to 400 people per
week. A blockbuster like "Titanic" was one of the theater's
longest-running shows and attracted as many as 1,000 people per
Even though it's a single-screen theater, the Roxy relies on
quality and class, not just landing first-run movies to attract
customers. "We try to make it as good or better than what
people can get in a big town," Blakesley said. "That's
what keeps people coming back."