Cameo Theatre

184 N. West Main Street,
Rocky Mount, NC 27801

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Consolidated Theatres

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Cameo Theatre

The Cameo Theatre opened in 1925. Seating was listed at 580 in the 1940’s and 525 in 1950. It was family owned until the late-1940’s when it was taken over by Consolidated Theatres.

In 1972 the Cameo Theatre began screening adult movies which lasted until the city passed an anti-pornography law on August 1, 1977. It switched to blaxploitation double bills, but lasted only a month and was closed August 30 1977 with “The Screaming Tiger” (a kung-fu type movie) & Fred Williamson in “Bucktown”. It was demolished in May 1980.

Contributed by Chuck

Recent comments (view all 5 comments)

jce13 on February 9, 2010 at 11:18 am

I grew up watching movies at the Cameo and the Center in Rocky Mount, NC. From about the age of 8 to 18, I saw hundreds of movies at these two wonderful theatres. Features sometimes changed 2 or 3 times a week, and I just couldn’t get enough. I would go as often as my parents would allow.

The Cameo was small; I am surprised at the 625 seats. The downstairs auditorium had two aisles. There were 7 seats to a row in the middle section and four seats to a row on the side sections, meaning there were only 15 seats from wall to wall. There was a very steep balcony which was only opened when the downstairs auditorium filled, which was not too often when I was there. The Cameo was part of the Charlotte, NC based Consolidated Theatres chain. I believe the manager during this period was Henry Hobbs.

The Cameo had a triangular marquee with flashing clear lights â€" no neon. The box office was centered between two sets of doors which had (always) shiny brass plates at the bases and handle areas. The lobby was extremely small. The restrooms were upstairs and also small. The men’s room had only one urinal and one toilet. The theatre walls were plain plaster or cement, painted light blue and beige. Plastic looking art deco sconces were attached to the walls. And, the screen was small, at least smaller than the Center’s. The Atlantic Coast Line railroad tracks ran in front of the theatre (probably less than 100 feet), and you could easily hear the trains pass. Still, this was a wonderful place to me.

While the Cameo was small and simple, it was operated like a grand theatre. There were matinees every day, starting usually around 1 PM and closing around 11 PM. It was spotlessly clean, and shows started promptly on time. The Cameo showed every type of movie. They occasionally booked foreign language movies like Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries and The Devil’s Eye. They showed many blockbusters like Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Airport. I tried to buy a ticket for Lolita but was (embarrassingly) turned away because of my age. The Cameo showed almost all the Universal and MGM releases. But, it is the rather out of the ordinary movies that I really remember like Mondo Cane, the many British comedies, the William Castle horror, Blood Feast, The Case of Patty Smith, etc. Showings usually included previews of coming attractions, Universal world news, and occasionally a short documentary/travelogue if the main feature did not have a long run time.

Until the early 1970s, Rocky Mount had only the two indoor theatres. Then, the single screen Cardinal, the Englewood twin, and the Oakwood twin all opened in the early to mid-1970s. So, the town went from 2 screens to 7 screens. This expansion left few good movies for the Cameo and Center. In order to survive, the Cameo switched to x-rated/porno films.

I believe at least two items in the Cameo’s listing are incorrect. The theatre was not converted to retail space; it was DEMOLISHED. I know their location on the lower end of Main Street was only a small empty lot in 1982. Also, I believe the Cameo was still operating a few years after 1975. I was in Rocky Mount toward the latter part of the 1970s, went by the Cameo, and saw one of the same cashiers still working the box office.

The Cameo and Center are the places where I really learned to love movies.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 14, 2014 at 10:00 pm

DocSouth’s Going to the Show lists the Cameo Theatre as operating from around 1925, but not at 180 SE Main. They list it at at 184 N. Main. City directories 1930 to 1958 consistently list the Cameo at 184 Main Street NW.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 15, 2014 at 3:24 pm

John and Charles Arrington, operating as Arrington Bros., dominated the movie theater business in Rocky Mount during the 1910s and beyond. At various times they controlled the Almo, Grand/Palace, Cameo, and Lyric Theatres, as well as the Opera House. Charles H. Arrington, the younger brother, eventually served as President of the regional MPTOA affiliate, Theater Owners of North and South Carolina. Charles Arrington was still operating the Cameo Theatre at least as late as 1948.

dallasmovietheaters on January 2, 2018 at 6:40 pm

The city of Rocky Mount passed an anti-pornography law August 1, 1977. The Cameo Theatre, which was showing adult films, switched to non-adult films but shut down on August 30, 1977. The last advertised show was a double feature of “The Screaming Tiger” and “Bucktown”. The Cameo was razed in May of 1980.

SethG on January 1, 2023 at 5:19 pm

Correct address should be 184 N West Main. There is no 180 at all on the 1956 map.

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