Delmar Sherrill says he thinks of Statesville and the Playhouse Theatre every time he sits down to watch TCM Turner Classic Movies. “Last Sunday morning I turned on the TV and the “Harvey Girls” with Judy Garland was playing. I helped to do the publicity for the movie when it played in Statesville in 1946. We set up a carrousel in the parking lot next to the Playhouse Theatre to help promote the film.” The Iredell County Public Library Local History Department will be hosting Delmar in a special program called, “Going to the Movies in Statesville with Delmar Sherrill” Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 7 pm. Mr. Sherrill will be sharing his memories of the movie theatre business in Statesville in the 1940s and 50s. A slide presentation will be presented of his photos of the theatres and some of the movie stars he encountered.
Delmar got his first job at the Crescent Theatre as an usher at the age of 14. His keen ideas for movie promotion soon caught the attention of theatre owner A. Fuller Sams who transferred him to the Playhouse as a manager and promoter. Delmar continued to work for the Statesville Theatre Association which included the Playhouse, State, Crescent, and the drive in, while going through college. He remembers the movie theatre business as being completely different when he began. “We had to do our own promotions.” he says. Delmar possessed enthusiasm, energy, and imagination, all of which he used to create sometimes elaborate displays promoting the movies coming to Statesville. He remembers this as a time when actors often accompanied the movies to help promote them. Through the year’s stars such as The Stooges, Soupy Sales, Smiley Burnette, Little Jimmie Dickens, Tex Ritter, Lash Larue, Minnie Pearl, Rex Allen, Joseph Cotton, Hopalong Cassidy, and Fred Kirby all visited Statesville.
Delmar left in 1953 to enlist in the Air Force. “I became an Air Force Cadet and got my wings and commission and ended up flying jet fighters such as the F-94C and F-89D Scorpion. Later I was stationed at the air base at Cape Cod, Massachusetts where I met my future wife. I left the service in March 1957 and came back to Statesville and worked for two years for Fuller Sams doing advertising and management training for his 17 theatres in N.C. I relocated back to Cape Cod after two years when my wife’s father had a heart attack and she wanted to go back home. I went to work in the office supplies and furniture business and finally ended up owning my own office supply company.” Today Delmar is still going strong at the age of 80 working as the manager of the Electronics Department at Wal-Mart in Cape Cod where he also does promotions.
The Playhouse Theatre was on the ground floor of the six-story Stearns Building built by Jack Stearns in1927. The Playhouse opened on February 19, 1927 with a showing of one of George White’s Broadway revues called “Scandal” based on the Ziegfeld Follies. At the time it was one of the eight largest stage theatres in the state seating 1,100 people. It began by featuring vaudeville acts and live concerts and ended showing its last movie, “The Soggy Bottom Gang” on March 7, 1982. The Playhouse Theatre and the Stearns Building on East Broad Streets were demolished in April 1983.The property was purchased by Wachovia Bank & Trust who tore it down to place a bank office at the location despite local opposition from citizens who wanted the historic property preserved. “Going to the Movies in Statesville with Delmar Sherrill” is a free program and the audience will be asked to share their own memories of going to the movies in Statesville. For information, contact Joel Reese at the library at 704-878-3093.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article was published in the Statesville Record and Landmark in October 2010