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Fridays at the Museum – Movie Stars & Theatres

Gweneth Collins
Washington County News

CHIPLEY - Although we don’t have a movie theatre in Chipley these days, we have had several in the past. In the 1920s, the MANAVISTA was located on 6th Street in a building built by J. O. Blackburn. The theatre had a balcony and seated 475 viewers. Later it became the VANCE and was a very popular spot downtown for many years. When the Vance closed in 2005, was one of only three remaining single screen theatres still operating in the United States? The marquee remains, however the building now houses Gloria’s Venetian Room & Veranda @ 1901 Gallery & Café.

During the fabulous 1950s, the STARLITE DRIVE-IN opened just West of Chipley on Highway 90. After dark almost every night you could find up to 150 cars filled with movie goers peering through windshields at the giant screen. It closed in the late 1970s and, for many years, junkyard cars “parked” in it.

Now for our movie star! Betty Miller aka Elizabeth Rosiland Miller aka “Joan Perry” was born in Pensacola on July 7, 1911 to Fred & Laura Miller. Betty lived in Chipley in 1930. Her father, Fred, was an L&N Railroad conductor. She was tall and gorgeous with bright green eyes. Betty’s acting career began in Tampa and then on to modeling in New York.

In 1935 Joan was dancing in New York’s Central Park Casino and caught the eye of Columbia movie mogul Harry Cohn. She signed with Columbia Pictures the same time as actress Rita Hayworth. Cohn changed her name, the first time, to Joan Perry. It’s said he told her, “Hayworth will be a star, and you’ll be my wife.” During her career, she made a total of 19 films for Columbia and Warner Brothers.

Joan’s first motion picture, Heir to Trouble, was shown at the Manavista in October 1935. It’s a cowboy movie and Joan plays the sweetheart of a miner, played by Ken Maynard, who makes his adopted baby son a partner in a gold mine. Chaos ensues, but it all ends happily.

Joan gave up acting in 1941 and Harry Cohn changed her name, the second time, to Mrs. Harry Cohn. She remained with him until his death in 1958. She inherited $2m and the largest single stock holding in Columbia Pictures. Due to her astute investments, she more than quintupled her inheritance, but she had no interest in running the studio, saying “My job is being a woman.”

Drop by the museum and check out the entertainment section in the Parlor. The museum is located at 685 7th Street and is open every Friday from 10AM until 2PM. Masks are required and social distancing is being observed at this time.