Crittenden Theatre

104 N. Missouri Street,
West Memphis, AR 72301

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Crittenden Theatre

The Crittenden Theatre opened September 13, 1937. It was still operating in 1950.

Contributed by Joe Vogel

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dallasmovietheaters on September 4, 2016 at 4:52 am

The Crittenden Theatre opened with a preview screening on September 13, 1937 which was the first theater since the airdrome in the silent era. It was targeted for $40,000 but costing $75,000 operated by J. Jackson Rhodes and managed by Norval E. Packwood for Crittenden Amusement Co.

The Crittenden Theatre grabbed national headlines for being a main outlet for films rejected by infamous censor Lloyd T. Binford, the Memphis censor who would censor films which had persons of color in the same scenes as white performers. Rhodes and Packwood booked virtually all mainstream films that Binford censored. Rhodes would then create the Harlem Theatre in 1945 as an African American theatre to play films that Binford would have rejected.

“Duel in the Sun” was “unquestionably the dirtiest movie I’ve ever seen,” said Binford which caused a huge crowd to come to the Crittenden (see image in photos). Lack of segregation of band members for “A Song is Born” led to it being banned on the Memphis side and over the the Crittenden in West Memphis. Trade newspaper “Variety” wrote the headline, “Memphis Bans ‘em; West Memphis OK’s ‘em” to describe the situation.

When the 1,000+ seat burlesque house, the Joy Theatre opened by Fred and Zell Jaynes in 1949, it was shuttered just two years later by then Mayor P.M. Dachas. The Joy returned under new owners as the movie house now known as the Avon Theatre. The Avon would replace the overrun Crittenden and West Memphis would get the Sunset Drive-In continuing to play Binford’s rejected films into the 1950s until his retirement in 1955 when he famously banned “Rebel Without a Cause.”

With Binford gone, West Memphis still played censored films but lost its marketing advantage when the MPAA instituted a self-regulatory ratings system in the 1960s. The town would eventually be theaterless as leases reached their termination..

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