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Joy Theatre

For 50 years, this movie theater brought joy to people in Pontotoc.

Written and Researched by Leslie Criss  |  Photographs Contributed

“I remember going to the movies on Saturday for a dime or a nickel … and for about 25 cents more, you could get popcorn and a Coke.” — Millicent Shannon Seawright

For at least 50 years, the people of Pontotoc and surrounding communities could purchase a bucket of popcorn and a soda, find a burgundy velour seat that suited them and sit back to enjoy a movie inside the Joy Theatre on East Marion Street.

The Joy’s first owners were Mr. and Mrs. Grady Cook, who opened the theater in the early 1940s with about 250 seats. An expansion around 1950 saw the seating capacity grow to about 530 seats, including the balcony.

Millicent Shannon Seawright, 75, has fond memories of the Joy Theatre.

“I remember going to the movies on Saturday for a dime or a nickel, and seeing a western,” she said. “And for about 25 cents more, you could get popcorn and a Coke.”

In the mid-’60s, Charles Austin bought the Joy; in 1976, Austin sold it to Virgil Easterling; and the final owners of the Joy Theatre were Betty and Danny Walls.

“Daddy bought the Joy in 1978 or ’79,” said their son Kevin Walls, 60. “They kept it going until it became sort of a dinosaur with its 400-plus seats. And it cost so much to heat and cool the building, and video stores were becoming popular. Daddy sold the Joy in the early 1990s.”

Those original prices of admission aren’t the only thing different from today’s moviegoing experience. In its early days, the Joy had a smoking room where guests could smoke while still watching the movie through a window. Easterling turned the smoking room into a storage room during his ownership.

Danny Walls, a lover of country music, tried to also attract people to live music events at the Joy, but at the time, movies still seemed to be a bigger draw.

Under the ownership of the Walls family, the Joy was pretty much a mom-and-pop endeavor. There was one employee who helped out.

“When I was in the eighth and ninth grades, my best friend and I would sometimes work concessions,” Kevin Wall said. “Mom took up tickets; Dad started the projectors, then worked concessions.”

The old Joy Theatre building on East Marion Street still stands today, now serving as offices for the Mississippi Department of Human Services.


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