Movie Memories

The Palace, Rio, Ritz, XIT and LFD. They gave us a place to kill a Saturday afternoon as kids, and a place for a fairly inexpensive date in our later school years. They provided jobs for several of our classmates. Now all five are gone. But some really great memories remain.

Perhaps I can share a few theater memories with you guys/gals. Maybe a few of you recall that I spent a great deal of my youth working for Bill Chesher who owned the Palace, Rio, Ritz, LFD, and XIT drive inns. He later sold the concession rights to one of his relatives, Ms Lyons. I started when I was 10 and worked til I graduated. The Rio and Ritz mainly ran Mexican films for the many migrant workers that arrived each year to help with the crops. The LFD Drive Inn on the Bula Hiway was the first drive in and it closed first. The XIT on the Leveland Hiway was the newer of the two. Many a youth hid in the trunk to slip in to their favorite movie. I started out delivering show calendars and working as a popcorn boy at the Rio and Ritz. Pokey Hays, Jimmie Grimes and many others also worked there. Truitt Vinson, Mgr., One of Lamb Counties most decorated soldiers, gave me an opportunity when I turned 15 to be a projectionist. It was big money, ($1.00 per hr.) Over the next 3.5 yrs. I was one of his several projectionists.

ABOVE LEFT: Elmer Koller in the Palace projection room

ABOVE RIGHT: Billie Hagerty and Jerry Nipp

Elmer Koller, Jerry's dad, worked there for several years. I'm sure he was on a different pay scale than us kids. That gruff lady who worked the Palace taking tickets and making sure you kept quiet and your feet on the floor was Maude Harp, Deanie Vinson's mom and Truitt's mother in law. Deanie was the red haired lady who sold tickets. There was one other gruff lady who worked the Rio and Ritz. Her name was Francis Allen and she could really get after the kids and 3 ex husbands. Tommie Allen was her son and he also worked there. As Elvis became more popular and his movies came to LFD, I remember that gruff Mrs Harp falling for him, she was always going on about that upstart from Mississippi.

Now about the same time, a certain lady graced the screens to the delight of us hairy legged ones. B.B. was how she was known to us. By the time her raunchy movies reached LFD every projectionist from Dallas to LFD had cut out a frame or two of her best scenes and there was nothing left to see. ( I got Mine) I remember several of the old Western stars coming to make personal appearances at the Palace. One was Lash LaRue. He accidentally popped a hole in the screen with his whip. He and Bill Chesher got into it because he did not want to pay for the repairs.  [SEE AND HEAR WAYLON TALK ABOUT THAT INCIDENT BY PLAYING THE VIDEO LINKED AT LEFT OR ABOVE!]  Tommie Jennings, Waylon's brother, worked the gate at the XIT for a while. Wow, you asked what time it is and I build you a watch. Sorry for the rambling of an old Wildcat, but as you can see I also have a lot of fond memories of those Theaters. - Max Ball

I also have a lot's of memories about the Palace theater. I don't remember about Lash LaRue being there, I guess I didn't go to the movies that day. I do remember seeing Hoppy Long Cassidy on one occasion. I remember because someone pulled a bullet out of his gun belt and they wouldn't let any body out of the theater until they returned the bullet. Do you remember that? I also remember all of those migrant workers that used to come and work in the crop fields. It was nice because, on the week-end downtown main street was full of people, it was good for most of the business in town. By the way, that's how I met my wife. We have now been married 43 years. We had 3 boys and 1 girl, two of my boys graduated from Texas Tech. - Silverio Esquivel

My Dad, E.L (Elmer) Koller was the projectionist for the Palace, and the drive-ins, when needed, until he retired in 1977. He showed many a show at the Palace. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures. I literally grew up in the Palace, cause before my Mom started working at the telephone co., she sold tickets and worked in the concession. Before school age, on Sat/Sun, I stayed ALL day at the Palace-- and after school age, everyone wanted to go to the movies with me, cause they thought they could get in free, too. Ha My first memory was the showing of THE THING. It scared me so bad, that my Mom had to come and get me out cause I was screaming and crawling on the floor, underneath everyone’s feet, trying to get out of there. I also remember, when I was older, going in the mornings and helping him pick up all the trash inside the theater. He would give me a couple of dollars, but I thought that was great!! I also remember him getting up on that BIG ladder and changing the marquee, what 2 or 3 times a week. Lots of memories!! Makes me sad to see that empty place, where the Palace once was. - Janis Koller

Hey, I poured many a drink and sacked many a bag of popcorn at the Palace, in fact I worked every night except Monday for two years there. They never had ice until they remodeled and got rid of the bottles. The only reason you got a cup was Truitt figured that bottles would be dangerous inside and they had to put deposits on them. When the Palace lobby was remodeled, they decided to put in the syrup/carbonated water mix dispensers and get rid of the bottles because profit was better. I remember having to count bottles and sacks everynight in order to check out the cash drawer. - Jimmie Grimes

I guess the thing I remember about the Palace was a young skinny local boy that would occasionally sing there on Saturday night, I remember a lot of people made fun of him, now I think his name is on the water tower and a street is named for him. Also the lady with the flash light always had a long cigarette hanging out of her mouth and she wasn't to be messed with. Can everyone say "Waylon Jennings"??? - Randy Ammons

I remember seeing "The Young Philadelphians" at the Palace and coming out in love with Paul Newman. Breaks my heart to see the poor, pitiful thing now. Not Paul. The Palace. Paul still looks pretty good. - Paula Williams James

Yes, I do also remember going to the movies at the Palace. I remember there was a lady who was always going up the aisles with a flashlight, trying to keep people from talking while in the movies. Being an Hispanic, I also visited the Rio Theater. - Silverio Esquivel

Seems like I remember someone with "the flashlight" also!  I remember first of all that the 'big' movies were always shown at the Palace-- and the Rio showed what were called the "B" movies, including Gene Autry movies. I gotta tell you that such a thing irked me a bit, since I was named after Gene-- My sister was madly in love with him at age 13 when I was born. But the one I remember most--- The Rio is where I saw the MGM version of "Titanic"... will never forget going to see it with my mom and dad. As the ship sank beneath the Atlantic and the total of the dead and survivors were read, I just sat there, stunned. Before I had a car and the 'instant friends' that brought on, I would sit in the little area at the far rear of the Palace, which was under the balcony, and watch a Saturday movie twice... sometimes three times :-) Also remember seeing newsreels about the testing of our various atomic and hydrogen bombs... I WAS impressed! - Gene Bitner

My cousin would get ticked that I could get in for under 12 when I was with him. He was two years older than I and larger, so I looked under 12. - Donnie Bolton

One movie that stands out in my mind that I saw at the Palace was "April Love" with Pat Boone! I guess I have always been a romantic, thanks goodness for Ray to fill my life with love and laughter, it has been much better than a movie!!! - June Garms Minyard

I certainly have memories of the Rio. That is where I moved up to after the Ritz when I started my "popcorn boy" career. When we were in Junior High and High School the Ritz was used to show Spanish Language movies during the picking season until all the farmers went to mechanical pickers, and the Rio was used to show an English language movie. They were both closed for most of the year. Remember the XIT drive-in? - Jimmie Grimes

Oh yes! I even remember a couple of movies I saw out there-- "The Long, Long Trailer" being one of them. And of course there was the LFD drive-in out west of town for a while. The brief run of "3-D" movies was also interesting... I also remember one of them... It was a color western titled "Fort Ti"... I remember an Indian's flaming torch coming right into my face. - Gene Bitner

I remember seeing "The Ten Commandments" at the XIT. During the scene where Moses parted the red sea, there was a thunderstorm brewing in the background which made it quite a sight to see. It was beautiful and that should become a picture as well. Also I ran "GYPSY" with Natile Wood as Gypsy. Before we opened the XIT one night, while it was still daylight and the cars were lined up outside the drive-in, I put on the reel where she sang "Let Me Entertain You" (her strip-tease act) That was another incredible sight to see her on the screen with the sun setting in the background. The cars outside could hear the sound and some of them got mad cause we didn't let them in to see that little test run. - Ned Fairbairn

CREDITS:

COLOR PALACE PHOTOGRAPHS, XIT 8MM MOVIE SNAPS & MOVIE CALENDARS: Ned Fairbairn

Contact Ned if you would like to purchase his book of Littlefield movie calendars.

INTERVIEW SEGMENT: Texas Escapes Online Magazine

RIO THEATER PHOTO: Philip Lamb

"20/20" VIDEO CLIP AND PHOTOS: ABC News

"A HOLE IN THE HEAD" PHOTO & CLIP: MGM Home Entertainment