Tulsan’s Life Goes Full Circle with Billie Letts


LIFETIME FRIENDS: Barbara Santee, left, and Billie Letts have remained friends through their lifetimes.

On Sept. 28, 2008, the late Dennis Letts, the Oklahoma actor, was honored by the Circle Cinema by having his name added to the “Walk of Fame” in front of the theater. It was a very beautiful occasion, with old friends showing up to remember Dennis and sharing memories with each other and with his widow, Billie Letts, and their sons.

As I stood in the bright sunlight during the dedication, I thought back to more than 60 years ago when Billie, who is my cousin, and I came to the Circle as young kids about nine or 10 years old. We were typical pre-teens, freckly, giggly and lively, always talking and laughing and being mischievous; and we loved coming to the Circle for our favorite time of the week. Every Saturday, our parents gave us a quarter, and for that quarter, we rode the bus to the Circle for five cents each way. We bought popcorn for a nickel, and the ticket to our dream palace was only a dime.

No one ever had as much fun as we did for only 25 cents! Every week, we saw a great movie, a cartoon or a Three Stooges short, and the news of the week where we saw American soldiers marching off to war. We followed the bouncing ball on the screen and joined in the sing-along film with everyone else. And of course, there was the weekly installment of the adventure serials where the hero was always on the edge of sudden death when it ended, and we had to wait until the next week to find out if he escaped. And he always did. I fell in love with the “Singing Cowboy,” Gene Autry, at the Circle.

When I was about eight years old, I was subjected to my first permanent at a beauty shop located where the Circle Cinema business office is now. A reluctant participant, I sat patiently with huge electric curlers all over my head that were connected to wires hanging down from a machine that looked like something from outer space. Now I go to that same spot to help the staff because I am a volunteer with the Circle Cinema.

As Billie and I matured, our lives went in different directions. We both moved away from Tulsa. Billie married Dennis and had two boys; they ended up in Durant, Okla., where they both taught at Southeastern Oklahoma University for 25 years. It was there that Dennis began his acting career, and Billie wrote her hit novel, “Where the Heart Is.” I left to get my Ph.D. and travel the world. However, we both came back home to Tulsa in our later years and picked up our close relationship, which had not waned simply because we lived thousands of miles apart. We still laugh and giggle as we did when we were children.

And on that sunny afternoon in September, we had come back here to the Circle. As 10-year-old girls, we had no way of knowing that 60 years later, the Circle Cinema would be honoring Billie’s husband by placing his name on its “Walk of Fame” amongst such Oklahoma luminaries as James Garner, Jennifer Jones, Joan Crawford, and Will Rogers. These were the very actors who had thrilled us from the Circle’s silver screen back in a much simpler time, back when we were carefree kids.

Billie and I each have purchased a theater seat as our gift to the newly renovated Circle Cinema. Our names are on the seats, and we’ve requested that they be placed side by side. You might say we’ve come Full Circle. Life is funny, isn’t it?

Updated 07-30-2013

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