Sidney Miller
of Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas


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1/11/2004 MILLER TIME: Sidney Miller chose hometown over Tinsel Town
 

Sidney Miller may have left the theater business for apartment ownership, but he couldn't bear to leave Corsicana for California. Daily Sun photo/SCOTT HONEA

By MICAH CHAPLIN/Daily Sun Staff

Sidney Miller is deeply rooted in Corsicana. So deep, in fact, that he once turned down a terrific job offer in California because he couldn't stand to leave his hometown.

"All my family was here," Miller said. "I just couldn't leave."

Thus, Miller rejected the offer from Warner Brothers and stayed in Corsicana to start his own picture show. Movies had peaked his interest long before Warner Brothers, however.

After graduating from Corsicana High School in 1934, Miller went to work at State National Bank as an elevator operator.

"Those were the days when there was no heat and the winters were brutal," Miller said. "I stayed sick all the time. Finally, my doctor told me I couldn't work there anymore."

So Miller went to talk to the owner of the bank.

"He told me I should go work in picture shows," Miller said. "I'd always been crazy about picture shows."

Miller's boss wrote letters of recommendation for Miller and sent them to all of the theaters in town, but none would hire him.

"Just to get work, I had to work for free," Miller said. "I worked at the Palace for free for a long time. Once I finally got on the payroll, I made $1.70 a week. That was in 1936, things weren't very good at that time."

He quickly became assistant manager, and ended up working at the Palace for seven years. He remembers well the night the Palace burned down.

"They called me at midnight and told me. I didn't believe it, I had to go down there and see for myself," he said. "I still couldn't believe it. The balcony had fallen in. So much damage and all from one ladies' cigarette."

At the time of the Palace's demise, Miller said they were in the process of building another theater -- the Rio. The Rio was located on Beaton Street, and because of it's location, they did tremendous business.

"There were many nights when we sold more than 2,000 sacks of popcorn for a nickel each," Miller said. "We would take the machine outside on the street and sell it to not only the movie-goers, but to people on the street."

Several more theaters would drift in and out of Miller's life and career, including the Starlight, the Ideal and the Hillside Drive-In.

"I built the Starlight in 1946 for the black community. That's when theaters were still segregated," he said. "It was called the Starlight, because when it opened, we didn't have enough money for a roof. It stayed open for 11 years."

Then, he bought the Ideal.

"It was so much more of a theater than the Palace. It was simply magnificent," he said. "It had a big lobby and all the great stage shows were there. Houdini, Will Rogers, Gene Autry. All the big shows came here."

The Ideal was located on Fifth Avenue, where an empty lot stands today.

In 1950, Miller built the Hillside Drive-In between Interstate 45 and 15th Street, where Carmack Watkins Construction resides today.

"I never thought drive-in theaters would go out of style, but they did," he said.

In 1963, Miller sold out of the theater business and went into owning apartments. He still holds onto fond memories and memorabilia from his theater days, however. The theater was his first love, and his wife Jane doesn't mind being his second.

"You can't imagine the wonderful life I've had being married to him," she said. "And he didn't even want to go with me at first."

Jane first encountered Sidney when he was working at the Rio with her brothers. At that time, Sidney was 21 and Jane was just 15.

"He didn't want to go with a kid," Jane said. "But I thought he was so handsome."

Jane moved away and was married for five years. When she divorced and returned, she told a friend that surely no one would want her now. The friend knew otherwise, however, and re-introduced Sidney and Jane. And on Feb. 1, 1954, they were married.

"He's a wonderful man," Jane said. "When my mother and grandmother were still alive, he used to cook for my mother and grandmother just to make sure they were eating right."

The Millers have one daughter, Melissa Krause, who lives in Dallas, and a grandson Miller, 7.

"We told Miller he would inherit the apartments when we were gone, and he looked around and said, 'it's going to need a lot of work. And a new roof,'" Jane said. "We all just laughed. He's only 7 and saying all this."

But the Millers aren't gone yet, and they aren't done seeing the world, even though they've already seen most of it. They travel every chance they get and have visited almost every continent and dozens of countries. For their Golden Wedding Anniversary, they are going to Easter Island for a week.

"You name it, we've been there," Sidney said.

No matter where they travel, however, the Millers only call one place home -- Corsicana.

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Micah Chaplin may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]

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