Movie News & Reviews

Theater's ticket taker could fill a movie with her experiences

"A ticket for the 1:10 show, and can you share your life story, please?"

Anyone who has gone to a weekend matinee at the Kentucky Theatre this century would almost certainly recognize Lee Overstreet. She's the smiling woman in the ticket booth under the marquee, the one who looks as if she has made the most of every minute of her life. You might have seen her wearing a nurse's cap when Nurse Betty was playing a few years ago, or a tiara when The Queen was in residence.

"Lee would be the first to hop on the back of a motorcycle if one drove by," says theater manager Fred Mills.

The fact that she's 88 years old is only slightly relevant to Mills' comment. Age might be just a number, but one advantage of living a long time is accumulating a rich store of memories. Turns out Overstreet has had enough adventures to fill several full-length features.

Overstreet took up her weekend post at the Kentucky in 1999, but she and the theater go way back.

"I moved with my family from Louisville to Lexington in 1927. My father was interning here at the old St. Joe's (Hospital)," she says. "He was never home, because the only other intern ran off to Europe with a wealthy woman and left Daddy with all the work, but that's another story.

"Downtown was so busy then. My sister Jean and I would walk down to see the serials at the old Kentucky. We never missed a movie. We would sit up on the armrests to see the screen better."

She can remember the organist in the orchestra pit watching the silent movie as he played accompaniment.

Overstreet graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1942 and was one of the first to join the new Women's Army Corps.

"They'd never had women in the Army, so they thought we didn't eat like them," she says. "The men had meat and potatoes; we were served salads. But we rebelled. 'If you're going to treat us like men and march us like men, then feed us like men,' we said."

After that, the women got meat and potatoes, too.

She loved drilling.

"It was like being in a chorus line. But I was always out of step. Once I was called into the office. 'What are you thinking about when you're out on the parade field?'" a sergeant demanded to know.

"My sister and I were both recruiters. She did better than I did. They moved me all over the South — Florida, Atlanta, I lived in the French Quarter for a while, on detached duty. I think they wanted to get rid of me," she says. "I was a little insubordinate. I'd rather go to a movie than a meeting. New Orleans was my favorite post, with the music all night long. I love Dixieland."

After World War II, Overstreet was determined to make the most of the G.I. Bill's free education. She went back to school and trained to be a medical technologist; she even got her pilot's license.

"My father had been a pilot in World War I, so, of course, I liked the idea," she says. "Once I was up over Lexington, and the engine froze. I was going to have to make an emergency landing. My wheels hit the top of a fence and flattened it. I came to rest nose first on a beautiful farm. There were cows in the field, and they all stopped to stare at me. They dropped their cuds. I had to walk barefoot to a mansion to ask for help. I looked a sight. The butler made sure I didn't get any farther than the vestibule."

Being a medical technologist gave Overstreet the opportunity to travel a lot, which was exactly what she wanted to do.

"I never stayed more than three years in any one place, I don't think."

Connecticut. Denver. San Francisco. Alaska.

"It's hard to keep track of every single where and when," Overstreet says with a sigh. "When I got to Fairbanks, the train tracks turned around. A sign read, 'End of the Line.' But it was a party town. Everybody knew everybody."

And speaking of party towns, "I had a ball in San Francisco. Some big old mansions were divided into guest houses back then, and those guest houses were a lot of fun."

A headline on the Lexington Leader's Society and General News page of Aug. 29, 1962, reads: "Miss Overstreet to Leave Sept. 4 For Peace Corps."

A friend told her, "I think they made up the Peace Corps just for you."

She spent two years using her medical skills in Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, which was called Tanganyika at the time.

"It was like being on holiday there, a cosmopolitan city on the Indian Ocean," she says.

While in Africa, she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

"There were a bunch of us. I was in my 40s, the others were in their 20s. One man carried a guitar, and we sang the songs of the day before we got too high on the mountain," she says. "I had to borrow a man's boots to climb, and they were two sizes too big. On the way down, my feet kept sliding to the front of the boots. It was so painful that I ended up backing down the mountain. I did it my way, like the Frank Sinatra song. But later my toenails turned blue and fell off."

She took the long way home from the Peace Corps, touring ancient temples in Thailand and Cambodia in the days before American GIs became a common sight.

Overstreet studied journalism in college and loves to write. After the Peace Corps, she worked in Lexington for a time as an ad copywriter. In recent years, she has reminisced in local publications about old Lexington's bustling downtown and theaters. And script writing is a passion. She takes courses at UK and around town. One of her plays, Tom and 2 Moms, is about an adopted Korean boy whose parents, two gay women, want him to go to art school to study the classics, but all he wants is to be a rapper.

"Why not? Bubba Sparxx made it, Eminem made it. What makes me any different?" Tom asks. In the end, the conflict is happily resolved.

Before starting at the Kentucky Theatre, Overstreet worked at the old Vogue Theater in Louisville, a place known, like the Kentucky, for its midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Until this year, she'd never seen the cult classic. But in the lobby one afternoon last month, she was approached by theater regular Loren Drzal.

"Hey Lee, how about going to the Rocky show together in our underwear?" Drzal asked. "Your underwear or mine?" Overstreet replied.

Although she confessed before the night to a bit of skepticism about all the Rocky hoopla, on Sept. 6, the midnight crowd was treated to an appearance by Drzal, 56, and Overstreet, 32 years his senior, dressed for the occasion in matching boxer shorts. Overstreet added striped leggings and a bra over her shirt. She created quite a sensation, Drzal says.

What did she think of the movie?

"It was hard to stay awake," Overstreet says.

But how about the little midnight adventure?

"That," she says, "was a lot of fun."