By Jim Sellers for the Laurel Leader-Call    September 30, 1961

    By Marda Burton for the Laurel Leader-Call    February 22, 1969

    by S. M. Welborne in the Laurel Leader-Call    January, 1978

    by Marda Kaiser Burton for the Laurel Leader-Call    May 1982

    by Dena Bisnette for the Laurel Leader-Call    May 1983
    The Pine Belt's Most Important Action People Tabloid

    by Anne Sanders for the Action Newspaper    December 10, 1986

    by Marty Russell in the Laurel Leader-Call    December 3rd, 1986

    in the Action Newspaper    August 18, 1988

    by Ernest Graves for the Laurel Leader-Call    May 16, 1992

    by Ernest Graves in the Laurel Leader-Call    December 25, 1992

By Jim Sellers for the Laurel Leader-Call    September 30, 1961

"When they turned the bull loose I lost every boy in the house," the man sitting across the table said. He was smart and a little more, not that him folding his arms made it so, but because his record stands like the shadow of a tall tree.

W.S. (Sank) Taloyr in his garden
Laurel's Arabian Theatre operator Sank Taylor

At 79 he hasn't lost any of the savvy which he had used as a youth to pad the life he would have to live after the 40s, the 50s, and those precious years that come later.

Though if you pressed him for an answer......Why? Why this fine, easy, comfortable life?

Well, he might have denied that it was mental wizardry and charged it off to fate, the breaks or whatever the ingredient that make the otherwise complicated lives of men a little smoother.

But he wasn't asked, therefore nothing was explained.

This man, W. S. (Sank) Taylor of Laurel, whose record stands with the veterans of the state's movie house operators, might have explained had one asked him, that it was a combination of more sweat than brains, more determination than circumstances of his senior years.

Well, to this he might have said, well, and got no farther. But, then, after all, isn't this circumstantial anyway?

Then he started to call back the years of his youth, because it was there that it all began in 1907.

"When they turned the bull loose," he continued, "he charged out into the ring and then finally he filled up the whole screen."

Taylor paused a moment, reflecting, "I lost every boy in the house." This was the year 1907 and Taylor had opened the first movie house in Laurel. Ed Sullivan wasn't there, but if he had been, he would have predicted that it was going to be a "really biiig shou."

"It was a reel about a bull fight in Mexico and it lasted a breath-taking seven minutes."

To the John Public of that day, the whole thing was as new as a whisper always is. There were no newspapers in those days, he said, so he went all over town advertising the event.

"I used a buggy and a megaphone. That night when the movie opened, there were more people standing outside than there were inside."

Counting the boys who sat in rows between the seats, there were 265 people in the building that night. Taylor had broken the ice and a new heard-about, but for the most part unseen entertainment had come to town and Taylor was going to make it his oyster.

But, if it hadn't been for Taylor's purchase of a movie projector, probably the first in Laurel at the time, the public might have had to wait a while.

Taylor says he bought a projector from a Meridian firm and that this firm had taken him back to Meridian to show him a movie house that had opened there.

"When I came back to Laurel, I rented a building next to the O'Ferrell Building and hung a sheet on the wall." Seventy feet to the rear sat the mysterious machine that would give to the world Valentino and all the Pearl Whites and Charlie Chaplins that have since inscribed their names in moviedom.

In the years that followed, Taylor would open several movie houses and he would see himself voted out of a fourth-share partnership in the still existent Strand Theatre because "they wanted a high-tone man to run it." He said his wearing shoes with run-down heels helped prevent him from owning a share in one of the state's finest theatres at that time.

It cost its subscribers a high figure, Taylor said. The year was 1919 and the cost to the subscribers was $174,000. It closed six months later, however. Poor projectormanship and admission prices of 25 cents and 50 cents were influential in its collapse, Taylor said. He was only charging 10 and 20 cents at his own theater.

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By Marda Burton for the Laurel Leader-Call    February 22, 1969

Intermission is over, and we're again reminiscing about The Strand...Laurel's one and only abandoned and deserted vaudeville theatre, recently revisited. To go backstage one would think it had always been abandoned and unused. At first flashlight arc it seemed a muddle of torn out theatre seats, stacked chairs, grimy flats, rigging and flying scenery.

But back to the flats again - proof positive that it was use in 1947 for a high school play called "Strictly Formal" - for the entire cast had autographed the set. They did it to pass the time, little knowing that many years later a cast member would find her maiden name staring at her from the darkness.

The narrow beam of light illuminated the words, "Marda Kaiser - Jane". The light moved on to see the names of Clytee Hughes, True Cauble, Edith Smith, Marie Crumbley, Gaston White, Clay Lee, Jimmy Tant, Bette Hines, Bill Daly, Ann Morgan, Bonnie Fleming, Jane McLeod, Charles Simmons, Elias Asmar and Ann Turman, all of whom got good reviews and packed houses back in March of 1947 in a farce about dates.

Margaret Rushton and Johnny Hassell were the student directors, and between the acts "Viennese Valse" was performed by dancers Mary Holder and Phillip Smith, Annette Sheppard and Joe Tullos, Marcelle Pearcey and Graham Christian, Sylvia Mapp and Clarence Profilet, Joan Barbour and James Dickey, Frances McBride and Alex Case - all accompanied by L.D. Burkett and Bina Ruth Brown on piano and violin and directed by student Sue Ainsworth.

But as exciting as high school plays were back then, they couldn't hold a candle (or an Edison lamp globe) to the performances which went on when The Strand was new and shiny, built by the late Wallace B. Rogers with extremely fine acoustics, sight lines and theatre equipment which even time can't erase.

Mrs. Doye Dickey, librarian at Watkins High School, remembers when road shows came to The Strand at least twice a month playing to packed houses. Excellent New York casts appeared in such plays as "Daddy Longlegs" and between the acts, a chorus line would entertain. Other times she went to the silent movies for just a dime and mooned over her favorites, Rudolph Valentino and Norma Shearer.

Mrs. Katie Hyche recalls sitting in The Strand's balcony with her enthralled second grade at a concert performance of the Minneapolis Symphony done especially for school children. A hometown group tackled "The Mikado" with the late Frank Sullivan in the lead, and Tommy Gibbons pronounced The Strand "much more than a mere vaudeville house" as he remembered his friend Phil Baker playing the accordion on the wide stage.

It was said that when the late Sank Taylor bought The Strand that he just "had to have it because the seats had ST (for The Strand or maybe for Sank Taylor) on them. There, also, Sank's daughter Evelyn began her dancing career in Hyde's Dance Revues, going on to Broadway, and coming home to do benefit performances for Laurel charities. Where? Why, at The Strand, of course.

Before The Strand was built, Laurel's culture came in huge doses called chautauquas, identified in the dictionary as "an assembly for education and entertainment of adults by lectures, concerts, etc. held for several days." These tent shows were set up adjacent to the Court House and jail, and the children were usually sent to the matinees because they would cry at the usually melodramatic fare and disturb the grownups.

But after The Strand was built it became the hub around which Laurel's cultural and entertainment life revolved. A March 18, 1928 issue of the Laurel Daily Leader (found in the box with the sheet music) mentions The Strand some half dozen times on the Women's Pages, not counting the ads. That day the bill included Emil Jennings in Paramount's "The Last Command" plus James Richmond's "Sizzling Men" and a musical revue - "Full of Pep", under the auspices of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Yes, the old Strand was full of pep back then, but in its dark, silent interior today only the ghosts of these past accomplishments linger, their memorial crumbling and dusty, rather sad.

The nice ghosts are no doubt rather sad too, because they probably see the handwriting on the dusty wall and the slimness of the last chance. For this tale is not likely to have a happy ending. Does urban renewal include the restoration of the old landmark as a cultural asset and tourist attraction or must it soon go to make way for progress? If it must, it must - but what a shame.

I can hear it now, just as future generation will, "Did you know Laurel once had a real vaudeville theatre? But they tore it down. It was right there where the Ten Dollar Store is now." Then, only as long as someone is left to remember, will the memories of The Strand "live happily ever after."

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by S. M. Welborne in the Laurel Leader-Call    January, 1978

Moving from stage to stage for 17 years, Laurel's self supporting community theatre has found a permanent home in the old Arabian Theatre. With $40,000 of donated money, a decaying theatre built in 1927 was restored to its original splendor.

The conversion, which took 2,000 hours of volunteer labor, consisted of extending the stage, installing dressing rooms, bathrooms and a new kitchen, painting and rewiring the entire theatre. The original Egyptian and Arabic style decorations were restored giving the theatre much the same look it had when it open in the late 1920's. The building committee was spearheaded by J.W. (Bill) Clinton, Ernest Graves, R.G.Hynson and Clayton Corley.

The restored theatre held a grand opening November 28, 1977 with the performance of "Our Town." All 257 seats were filled for the play's first two performances. The theatre has sold 800 memberships for the 1977-78 Season. A $12 membership entitles the member to attend each production. The musical "Guys & Dolls" is in rehearsal now with the performances scheduled for February 22-25, 1978.

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by Marda Kaiser Burton for the Laurel Leader-Call    May 1982

In 1961, two would-be actresses, Mary Anne Hays Sumrall and I, got together and decided that Laurel needed a stage to play upon. Both of us had a good deal of experience on other stages: mine in Jackson, hers at USM. We had caught the acting bug in Laurel High School and Rotary Club theatrics.

Next, we met with a couple of other "hams," including Ernest Graves and Gene Gandrau, at the bowling alley next door to the Leader-Call where I worked part-time and where Mary Ann's father, Ralph Hays, was managing editor.

Ernest reminded us of an earlier time, back in the late 1940s, when a community theater began in Laurel, but failed after only two productions. This time there was no stopping us; it simply had to be. By now there were active community theaters all over the state, even a Mississippi Little Theater Association, and we saw no reason why Laurel shouldn't have one, too.

So an enthusiastic group, with Ernest as front man, met Tuesday night, August 29, in the Green Room of the Pinehurst Hotel. Elliot Trimble of Natchez, president of the Mississippi Little Theater Association, attended and gave us good organizing advice. The few people who said it wouldn't work were shouted down.

Mary Anne and I couldn't talk Ernest into being president (or any other officer, for that matter) so it fell to me. Mary Anne took VP in charge of production, and we drafted energetic Annie Ruth Grim to be VP in charge of membership. Secretary was Ruth Tomlinson, and W.E. (Billy) Howard, Jr. consented to handle the money.

Original board members were Blanche Bailey, Rosemary Bouchillon, Gene Gandrau, Irene Fine, Billy Lightsey, Mary Mobberly, John Suffling, and Bob Westover. Immediately after the meeting, the board met to choose the season's plays and a casting committee composed of Eleanor Bass, Gordon Berry, Mrs. Bob Martins, Mrs. William G. Snoddy, and Dot Traweek.

Tryouts were to be held immediately upon receipt of the first playbooks. We knew we'd better capitalize fast on the great initial enthusiasm, so a membership campaign began immediately (September 5-13), and three plays were announced: "Born Yesterday" (director Elton Bateman), "Dial M for Murder" (director Bob Martins), and "The Curious Savage" (director Ruth Tomlinson).

Because of our Leader-Call connections, we received extensive newspaper publicity, and radio and TV stations took up our cause, too. We were big news; the first membership drive netted more than 600 season-ticket-holders. Our plays were presented for two nights on the cavernous and acoustically poor stage of the Wisner Building. Jackson theater reviewer Frank Hains came to our opening night and noted: "This building was built for almost every known indoor athletic and recreational event, with the possible exception of a little theater play."

However, both actors and audiences 'made do' and "Born Yesterday" was a huge hit with Lowell Tew as Harry Brock, Doris Miller as Billie Dawn, and Jim Gibbon as the reporter. Lowell pulled a tendon in his leg just before opening night, and his brace and cane were successfully written into the plot. The production was also distinguished by the casting of Tommy Lester (later of "Green Acres" fame) as the shoeshine boy who had only one line to say.

Mary Anne took the lead in the season's second play, "Dial M for Murder," along with Dr. Colmore Rinehart and a debuting Chet Dillard. Connie Farrell and Auby Rowell were policemen. My husband, Richard Burton, was prevailed upon to play the part of the murdered would-be murderer, also his stage debut. He did so well (you could even hear him, which is difficult to do in real life) that everyone assumed we had discovered a future star. However, my laconic Dick immediately put an end to that when asked to attend the next auditions. He answered with his favorite sentence: "I've been."

The third play, about the inmates of a madcap madhouse, starred Mary Mobberly and included such talents as Loring Burgess, Judy King, Granville Walters, James Wheeler, Glenn Ruffin, Ronnie Davis, Dot Traweek, Sharon Henderson and Marj Craft. According to reviewer Helen West, the audience went away "with misty eyes and palms warm from continuous applause."

The first season saw 29 individuals onstage and countless persons backstage. A constitution was adopted and all officers and board members re-elected for 1962 (legally, the only time this could happen). With the completion in 1962 of the new R.H. Watkins High School, the next season's plays were acted on a more suitable stage. Still, even the Watkins auditorium was too big for the intimacy required by most plays; and rehearsal time was quite limited. Mason School auditorium didn't work either. The very first play review mentioned our dream: Gene Gandrau wrote: "Wouldn't it be nice if someone could find an abandoned building that would be suitable for this wide-awake organization to take over and convert into a real Little Theater building where members could have a permanent place to rehearse, work on sets and give performances?

It was not until 1967 that LLT secured the old Armory in the Civic Center, did a magnificent interior building job under the guidance of architect John Hunt, and had its own home at last, at least until 1976 when the Civic Center was torn down as part of Laurel's urban renewal project. Generating enthusiasm among amateur actors and production people, all busy with real-life occupations, was not always easy. However, the first sparks somehow were never lost; no matter the problems, the show always went on 'on schedule' and to appreciative audiences. Having a real home gave the organization a new and welcome impetus. The first play presented in the new theater building was "The Odd Couple," directed by Dennis Bailey, with Lowell Tew playing the prissy Felix and John Bisnette as the slovenly Oscar.

Meanwhile, the six years of hard work had given Laurel at least 18 of Broadway's best offerings, and excellent performances by many Laurelites. Their reactions ranged from Pat Westover's "I felt like throwing up every time I had an entrance" ("The Man who Came to Dinner"), to Page Jones Harris's "You'll have to drag me off the stage to make me stop" (Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof").

During those years I remember ripping down my dining room drapes (like Scarlett O'Hara) to make the ball gown for my part as Tracy Lord in "The Philadelphia Story." On the second night of performance my entire body turned red and itchy, because, unknown to me, the drapes were made of some weird synthetic material called fiberglass.

Another time, Ruth Tomlinson, after getting almost every gal in town to be in the cast of "The Women" (44 of them), unexpectedly added actress to her director role when Sharon Valentine's husband had a heart attack.

In 1964, a highlight of the season was the production of "All the Way Home" directed by Broadway actor Rufus Smith, the husband of Laurel's own Broadway dancer Evelyn Taylor. To publicize the play we put on a parade of old cars and costumes. Many times we utilized such publicity gimmicks. One almost backfired, when we staged a gunman's (John Hunt) mock-escape from the police station and an off-duty policeman thought it was the real thing.

In 1966, LLT took part in Laurel's Fine Arts Week with "Our Town," directed by Ruth Tomlinson, and by importing Jackson's Frank Hains and Jane Petty, both New Stage actors, for "An Evening of Theatre" at Lauren Rogers.

In 1968, a goal of 1,000 members was set and met, LLT hosted a statewide meeting of the Mississippi Little Theater Association, and a directors' workshop was held. The first musical, "The Apple Tree," was presented in 1969. LLT put on talent parties, and gave out "Laurel Awards," introduced patron parties and memberships, and went to a sold-out four-night run.

In 1970, professional directors began to be utilized on a regular basis, including Don Toner, Robert Mesrobian, and Blaine Quarnstrom, the latter two USM faculty. Mike Howard, choral and theater director at R.H.Watkins High School, later director of Tulane's Summer Lyric Theatre, was responsible for many of LLT's popular musicals as well as several dramas. Around this time, Robert Lowe and Wess Hughes took on directing honors, too. LLT is most fortunate that throughout the years it has had access to talented directors, both amateur and professional.

After the Civic Center containing the theater was demolished in 1976, Laurel Little Theater lost no time in restoring the downtown Arabian Theater to its former movie grandeur. Since 1977 its permanent home boasts an elegant 1927 Persian/Egyptian decor fully as theatrical as the organization's original purpose: to present the very best live theater possible and to offer an outlet for those who want to take part in the exciting life of the theater.

***A version of this history of LLT was first written for the Laurel Leader-Call in 1982, when Marda Burton was editor of the newspaper's Centennial Edition, dated May 11, 1982. Mrs. Burton is now a well-known freelance writer, a contributing editor for Veranda magazine, and co-author of Galatoire's: Biography of a Bistro.

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by Dena Bisnette for the Laurel Leader-Call    May 1983
The Pine Belt's Most Important Action People Tabloid

Several years ago, Wess Hughes became involved in a hobby that has become a sort of second occupation to him. It takes up as much time as a second job, but he doesn't get paid for doing it.

Hughes moved to Laurel after he graduated from high school on the other side of the state and he took a job with Laurel's Pizza Hut the first day it opened here. He kept that job while attending college and afterwards he eventually became the restaurant's manager and eventually a district manager for the franchise.

At the same time, Hughes has become a permanent fixture in almost anything having to do with live theatre in Laurel and Hattiesburg. He is the past president of Laurel Little Theatre and serves on the board of directors for both LLT and Hattiesburg's Civic Light Opera, and he directs or acts in several productions each season in both cities.

"I saw a play at LLT the first year I moved to Laurel in 1974, and it was one of the very first live stage performances I'd ever seen anywhere," Hughes said. "I had never seen much live theatre growing up, just a few high school productions, but I thought I could do that too, and so I tried out for LLT's very next production. I've been in every play since as an actor, director or member of the crew."

Hughes got started directing plays his second year with LLT when a director dropped out at the last minute and he was asked to take his place. He has directed many small plays since and then became involved directing large-scale musicals a few years ago when LLT selected The Sound Of Music as its featured opening show for the year.

Hughes said directing musicals usually involves working with about 100 people and is much harder than directing a smaller cast. "I was the first one they could sucker into it," he commented. However, he liked it so much he has directed the huge musicals for the organization every year since, and he has also become involved with producing children's theatre projects with the Laurel Junior Auxiliary, directing benefits for the local Cancer Society, and helping local schools and churches with their own productions.

"The reward in this is so great. It's fun, people applaud you for your hard work and they just all seem to love it," Hughes explained. "It's also about the only way I meet people because I'm not extremely social, but at the theatre I meet people from all walks of life."

"A lot of people are reluctant to try out for plays because they think they're not talented enough. Most of them don't realize that most of the ones who try out do in fact get parts. Last year, 98% of everyone that auditioned at LLT got involved in our productions. We can almost always fill the lead roles, but we have to beg, borrow or steal to get supporting actors and chorus scenes filled.

His interest in the theatre has taken Hughes outside of the local area to appearing in plays with other theatre groups in Hattiesburg, Meridian, Jackson and even down in New Orleans.

It also takes him to New York City, where he has been taking a group of theatre lovers about twice a year since he was in school at Jones County Junior College and the University of Southern Mississippi. Usually, Hughes goes there to watch plays and brings back ideas that can be used locally. "I see anywhere from 50 to 100 shows a year and many of those are in NYC. All my ideas come from what I see everywhere else. I sometimes see some subject matter Laurel isn't ready for and for some shows I know we don't have an actor here with the specific ability required."

Hughes said, "On some plays I wait a few years before doing them to see if the right actor will come along. With others, I know we have a couple of people in town with the requirements," Hughes said.

On one of his recent trips, Hughes did something different. To see how a professional audition would go, he tried out for a part in a new off-Broadway comedy. Ultimately, after several rounds of auditions, he was offered the role. He had successfully auditioned against 120 other actors, but after he found out he had been offered the part, he decided to turn the part down.

One of his first reasons was that the play was new and might not be successful. He also decided he would prefer to remain in Laurel and didn't want to go into professional acting. "I didn't want to go into acting because no matter how talented you may be, it takes a lot of constant luck. Only a couple percent of the actors in NYC are working any given day. I also didn't know if I would be that good there. Here I have something to offer people and they appreciate me for it," he said.

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by Anne Sanders for the Action Newspaper    December 10, 1986

Growing up in Laurel meant spending every Saturday afternoon at the matinee at the Arabian Theatre and when you got older you and your date had a glorious Saturday night at the theatre for no more than $1.00 which included popcorn and a Coke.

This is one of the few remaining landmark structures in downtown Laurel as the demolition of the Pinehurst Hotel will necessitate massive renovation to save the theatre.

Headed by Mr. and Mrs. William S. Mullins, III, a campaign is underway to raise $64,000 for the renovation of the Arabian. Two thirds of this amount was in hand Friday night so a big push is being made through this week to raise the total amount by next Saturday.

The beautiful Arabian with its Arabic theme opened April 1, 1927 and was advertised as "Mississippi's finest and greatest theatre." It was built by three of Laurel's pioneer citizens, Charles Green, Ben Schneider and Sank Taylor.

From the silent movie era to the "talkies," the Arabian Theatre remained a movie theatre until the mid-1970s when it was sold to Gulf States Theatre. Sank Taylor remained active with the theatre until it was sold. When Gulf States closed the Arabian in 1976, it was purchased just a year later in 1977 by the Laurel Little Theatre which had lost its own home to urban renewal. With more than 2,000 volunteer hours and a three year financial pledge program, the Arabian was restored to its original splendor.

The late John Hunt, a Laurel architect, worked with LLT to restore the original details of the building including the long walkway of a corridor. A larger stage was constructed to accommodate the productions of LLT, but the ornate proscenium arch was preserved as well as the gilt dentil work that accents the moulding.

Laurel's Arabian Theatre with its vintage architecture has been preserved along with the auditorium, lobby and balcony and is very functional as a community facility seating more than 260 for musical events, small conventions and civic programs. More than a dozen different organizations have used the theatre since it was taken over by LLT.

The Little Theatre has provided entertainment for every age group from the Junior Auxiliary Children's plays to some of the finest musicals south of Broadway.

According to Mrs. Mullins, certain structural modifications need to be made to insure the visual and structural integrity of the Arabian. The funds are needed to retire a recent debt incurred from water damage from Hurricane Juan which temporarily closed the theatre. Other improvements are needed to continue compliance with fire code regulations and making the facility accessible to the handicapped.

There is not a Laurelite who doesn't have fond memories of the Arabian. Many held hands with the opposite sex for the first time while watching a film there. Others experienced their first shy kiss between newsreels. It was the meeting place for friends, especially on the balcony. The usher had to often quiet down the laughing and talking crowds. Many had their first jobs as ticket sellers and takers at the Arabian.

"Save the Arabian" is very important to thousands of Laurelites and those who would like to contribute to this tax deductible project, regardless of how large or small, should send them to: SAVE THE ARABAIN c/o Granville Walters, P.O.Box 1228 Laurel Ms 39441. Make checks payable to Laurel Little Theatre/Save the Arabian.

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by Marty Russell in the Laurel Leader-Call    December 3rd, 1986

Like the phoenix gracing its proscenium arch, the Arabian Theatre in downtown Laurel is attempting to rise from the decay of years of neglect and abuse to be transformed to its original splendor.

A fundraising drive is currently underway to raise money for the project, but, according to campaign officials, the $64,000 being sought will only cover the bare necessities for making the 60-year old theatre safe and habitable.

"We're not asking for money so we can go in and install brass doorknobs or new carpet," said Mike Pruitt, publicity director for the campaign. "What we are asking for is just enough money to save the building itself."

About $34,000 of the campaign's goal has already been received, Pruitt said, in advance contributions.

$20,000 of the total will go toward construction of an exterior facade which will be necessary when the Pinehurst Hotel is demolished next year. The theatre and hotel share a common wall.

The largest share of the campaign's goal, $25,000 will be used to pay off a note due next spring from a loan that was acquired to repair roof damage caused by Hurricane Juan last year.

The remainder of the funds, $19,000, will be used to bring the backstage area up to standard. When the Arabian was built it was considered the most elegant and comfortable facility of its kind in the state.

It made the transition to talkies with ease, but could not compete with television and the influx of drive-in theatres and other movie cineplex houses to the Laurel area. It closed as a movie theatre in 1977.

Constructed at a time when the world was intrigued by the treasures being unearthed in Egypt, the interior design features detailed molding in the style of that ancient country, but with a decidedly art deco slant.

"It was a very plush theatre," said longtime Laurel resident Ernest Graves. "When the Little Theatre took it over in 1977, it looked exactly as I remembered it in the 1930s."

Graves said the theatre was one of the primary centers of social activity in Laurel at that time. "Children in the 30s didn't have much else to do except go to the movies," he said. "There was always good attendance there."

He said the Arabian competed with another theatre, the Strand, but was considered to be the "first class" choice. "The Strand had the serials and cowboy movies, and the Arabian has the first runs," he said. "The Strand was always considered sort of low brow while the Arabian was first class."

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in the Action Newspaper    August 18, 1988

The last of the original movie houses in Laurel still stands, but around it is rubbish where the once elegant Pinehurst Hotel stood. The theater building was part of the old hotel, but the Laurel Little Theatre saved the movie house from the wrecking crane.

The late Sank Taylor opened the first movie house in Laurel in 1907 in the old O'Ferrell building. He hung a sheet on the wall and 70 feet to the rear sat the mysterious machine that he had purchased from a Meridian firm. This machine gave Laurelites Valentino and all the Pearl Whites and Charlie Chapmans that have since inscribed their names in moviedom.

Taylor once recalled that when a bull was turned out of a pen during a movie and charged across the screen, he lost every boy in the house. It was a reel about a bullfight in Mexico and it lasted a breathtaking seven minutes.

There were no newspapers in those days so he went all over town advertising the event. He used a buggy and a megaphone. That night when the movie opened, there were more people standing outside than there were inside. Counting the boys who sat in rows between the seats, there were 265 people in the building that night.

Taylor had broken the ice, a new heard-about, but for the most part unseen entertainment had come to town and Taylor thought he was going to make it his oyster and he did for many years.

In the years that followed, Taylor opened several movie houses including the Strand Theatre where now stands an empty lot on Central Avenue. It was considered one of the state's finest theatres back in its heyday. That year was 1919 and the cost to its subscribers was $174,000, a lot of money back then.

As things worked out, Taylor and the late Charles Green and the late Ben Schneider wound up with possession of the Strand and built the Arabian Theatre in which he kept an interest as long as it remained open.

The Laurel Little Theatre purchased the old Arabian in 1977 when urban renewal took their own building on South Magnolia and they restored the theatre to much of its Arabic splendor with fresh walls and a new stage. The foyer entrance was part of the hotel running underneath three stories of hotel rooms. The Little Theatre was able to use it as long as the hotel remained intact.

Now, a side entrance is available as a temporary entrance. The tornado and heavy rains which hit Laurel damaged the roof, but the organization is determined to keep the Arabian alive through its many fine productions each year and the dedication of its members.

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by Ernest Graves for the Laurel Leader-Call    May 16, 1992

In the 30's and early 40's, Laurel didn't have any "movies"' or "films." Nobody knew what the cinema was. VCRs and videotapes scheduled for the 21st century were figments of the imagination.

But Laurel had several excellent picture shows!

In 1927, the Arabian Theatre was built and its decor looked Egyptian as well as what its name indicated.

But, not to worry, for it was a grand setting for the showing of the likenesses of John Barrymore, Carole Lombard, Wallace Beery and dozens of other dazzling stars. It was the place to be for a big evening of Hollywood entertainment.

There were feature attractions such as "King Kong," "Grand Hotel," "Magnificent Obsession" and "Gone With The Wind." The later epic went on and on for four hours which persuaded the school authorities to declare a holiday one afternoon so that students could see it uninterrupted in all of the Clark Gable glory and Vivian Leigh beauty.

Short subjects such as Fox Movietone News, Disney cartoons, the March of Time and "Pete Smith" specials were included. I wonder how long it's been since you thought about that last one.

In the 70's, after television exacted its toll on the old movie palaces, the Arabian was, fortunately for Laurel, purchased in 1977 by the Laurel Little Theatre and was renovated and the decor restored.

The number two picture show was the spacious Strand which was located next door to where Fred's Department Store is located today on the Downtown Mall. A vacant lot now commemorates the Strand's prior existence.

The Strand was a duplicate of the old Broadway theatres of that era with fly ropes, flats and all the trappings which would attract traveling stage productions to come to town.

It was also used by the Laurel Exchange Club for some of its plays, by Gardiner High School for its production annually and by the Rotary Club for the yearly Minstrel Show.

As an added attraction, its owner, Sank Taylor, spurred the attendance sometimes by letting the audience play "Screen-O," a projected spinning wheel game of chance where the winning ticket holders received show passes or 'China' (actually blown Depression glass).

Cowboy and Indian heaven was the synonym for the Strand on Saturday afternoons. Tickets were ten cents and swarms of children would spend three or four hours cheering Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, Bob Steele and other fearless horse opera heroes of the wild west.

The theatre was not 'cleared' of the paying customers after each showing as is the custom today and they could stay all afternoon if they wished. The viewers could also see the 'serial' more than once.

I believe that the all-time favorite serial concerned the adventures of one Flash Gordan-shown by installment for a period of not less than 15 weeks.

Incidentally, Evelyn Taylor, Sank's daughter, fortified by happy Arabian and Strand viewings was very successful in ballet theatre in New York. She danced in the Agnes DeMille troupe on the Broadway stage and later in Hollywood danced in the film of the spectacular musical "Oklahoma."

Still later, Evelyn turned artist and attained more success in her art showings here and in Europe.

Three other Laurel picture shows were the Lincoln on Maple Street, the Royal on North Magnolia and the Jean on Central Avenue, all of which usually showed "B" class movies, as contrasted to the "A" class shown at the Arabian.

Incidentally, those class ratings had nothing whatsoever to do with the present day moral codes concerning decency and non-violence (i.e., G, PG and R). Movies in that day and age were all family fare, as controlled by the Hayes Office in Hollywood. What a change compared to the present situation!

As the director asked the camerman: "What does your picture show?"

Drawing this curtain is overdue.

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by Ernest Graves in the Laurel Leader-Call    December 25, 1992

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Shakespeare "As You Like It"

The second Laurel Little Theatre came into being in 1961. Gordon Berry tells me that the first such theatre was active in the thirties or forties.

During the past 31 years, the group has staged about four productions a year. For a small town to have presented about 120 comedies and musicals (numbering approximately 400 total performances) in that time period is nothing short of impressive.

During the sixties and seventies the plays were produced in several locations including the Wisner Building, Watkins High School, Gardiner Elementary and Mason Elementary, until the Theatre got a "permanent home" in the Civic Center, which was shortly thereafter demolished when urban renewal took its toll.

In the mid-seventies the late Bob Hynson, the late Bill Clinton, Bobby Hynson, Bill Mullins and Gardiner Green, Jr., with the help for other volunteers, raised nearly $80,000 to purchase and renovate that architectural delight, the Arabian Theatre.

Remember carefully as some talented Thespians come down center stage, blink at the footlights, and share their moments of glory in the spotlight which burns no brighter on Broadway than in South Mississippi.

And don't forget that the plays would not have been "hits" without competent directors including the late Ruth Tomlinson, Betty Whitt and Liz Chesser and without expert and loyal support from members.

Since this article is nostalgia oriented, there is no mention of the fabulous eighties and nineties. Because of limited space, there have been many regrettable omissions about earlier productions.

The Little Theatre has given several professional performers their starts. It also has brought countless hours of appreciation for the stage and enjoyment for the local audiences.

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