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from the Forsyth Independent-Enterprise, Sept. 5, 1996

One of Forsyth's oldest businesses has reached retirement age -- passed it, in fact -- but it shows no signs of slowing down. The Roxy Theatre turns 66 years old this Friday.

The Roxy is actually Forsyth's second movie theatre. The first, known as the Lincoln Paramount, featured silent movies and was housed in a converted storefront building next door to the current Lariat Bar.

The Roxy's original owners were Frank Faust and Tony Wolke, who came from Pierz, Minn., in 1922. They had traveled to Polson to look at a theatre that was for sale there. On their way home, they stopped in Forsyth to visit a friend, and found out the Lincoln Theatre was for sale.

They purchased the theatre, and two years later they purchased the Home Trading building (which was located on the corner where the Roxy is now). In that building they set up a car dealership, selling Hudson Essex and Graham Paige cars, until that business was destroyed by fire in 1929.

Realizing that the Lincoln Theatre was too small for the growing crowds, and recognizing the need to convert their operation to handle the newfangled "talking" pictures, Faust and Wolke purchased an additional lot west of the corner, removed some existing buildings, and the Roxy was built during the summer of 1930. The total budget for the project was $35,000.

In an article he wrote for the Rosebud County history book, Frank Faust said, "Business people of Forsyth were very happy to see some activity during those depression days and to know that someone had faith in the future of our town and community."

The Roxy was one of the finest theatres to be built in this region, according to newspaper articles of the time. The seating was "the height of comfort" and "no detail has been overlooked" in ensuring the comfort of patrons.

An acoustic engineer from Denver was brought in to test the building for sound quality, and he proclaimed it "perfect for the presentation of talking pictures."

The Roxy has undergone many changes during its 66 years. The first was the addition of the neon marquee, sometime in the early 1930s. The building originally featured a flat awning, and the shows were announced by placing large posters called "three sheets" in a frame next to the front doors.

In 1940, the first popcorn machine was added. It was installed in the outer lobby, and popcorn was the only thing on the menu… no drinks or candy.

In 1953, in order to compete with the new sensation of television, the theatre was remodeled extensively. Steel posts which had supported the balcony (and blocked the view from some rear seats) were removed, and replaced with a large I-beam running across the building.

The screen, which had been 14 feet square, was replaced with a new 30 foot wide screen to accommodate the new Cinemascope movies. The bigger screen "makes the old screen look like a postage stamp," according to a 1953 newspaper article.

And finally, the concession stand was built in the inner lobby. Two flavors of pop were offered (Coke and root beer) along with two sizes of popcorn (one plain, one buttered) and a selection of candy.

Another accommodation was made in the '50s: A men's rest room. When the theatre was built, only a ladies' room was provided. When the law required that a men's room had to be built, a broom closet in the lobby was converted. ("It's the world's smallest men's room," according to the Roxy's current owner, Mike Blakesley.)

Tony Wolke died in 1936, but Frank Faust continued to operate the theatre until 1957. Roy Welter operated it for a few years in the 1960s before selling it to Don and Georgie Herndon, who ran it from 1967 to 1979.

In the spring of '79, Mike Blakesley and Tom Clifford, both employed as projectionists, purchased the theatre from the Herndons. Blakesley purchased Clifford's interest in 1992 and continues to operate it today.

The Roxy has continued to evolve and change with the times. In 1980, the projection booth was refitted with automated equipment; and in 1982, the auditorium was remodeled with new seats and wall coverings.

In 1992 the neon on the marquee, which had been missing for years due to vandalism and "just plain old age;" was restored. The windows above the marquee, long painted and boarded over, were replaced as well.

Also in 1992, Blakesley added a stereo sound system, and in the summer of '94, the Roxy became the third theatre in Montana to install DTS Digital Sound.

The latest improvement to the theatre is a new popcorn machine, which was installed in August.
"That was more out of necessity than anything else," Blakesley says. "We basically wore out the old one."

Next up is a new exterior paint job, which has been on the drawing boards for awhile and should be completed this fall.

The Roxy continues to enjoy popularity with moviegoers young and old alike, and Blakesley is grateful for their support. He says he gets a kick out of seeing the audiences enjoy the movies, especially comedies.

"I like to stand in the back during the 'good parts' and watch the reactions," he says. "It's really gratifying when you see people enjoying themselves."

"The Roxy has survived two fires, the TV age, the video age, and the disco age," Blakesley says. "I'm really thankful for all of our moviegoers, because we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them."