A review of the news that made The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s front pages through the decades.

Mike Thevis wanted to fix the Fox. As a side project, he also wanted to rehabilitate his image.

Thevis, who made millions hustling pornographic materials in the 1960s and ‘70s, was ready to buy and renovate Atlanta’s rundown Fox Theater, he said, because he was tired of being “Mr. Goodguy in private” while being vilified in public.

Born in Raleigh, N.C., during the Great Depression, Thevis spent his youth working “when other kids were playing or going out for the team,” he told the AJC in 1979. The high school dropout found himself in Atlanta, where he finished school and attended Georgia Tech, hoping to become a textile engineer. Again, he dropped out of school, going to work at a downtown newsstand.

By the ‘60s, he had his own string of small newsstands, but after noticing that “90 percent of my profits were coming from 10 percent of my inventory — girlie magazines,” Thevis expanded his business to include sales of pornography, “rubber goods” and peep-show machines.

After making his fortune, he began marketing himself.

“I want the country, and especially the people of Atlanta, to know Mike Thevis as he really is and not as some dirty old man cranking out dirty pictures of little girls in his basement,” Thevis said in a Sept. 20, 1974, article by Constitution’s Jeff Nesmith, claiming he’d rehab the midtown Atlanta landmark and use it for concerts and other non-adult themed entertainment events.

caption arrowCaption
The Fox Theatre marquee announces Atlanta Landmarks' and Southern Bell's effort to save the Fox in June 1975. MANDATORY CREDIT: BILLY DOWNS / THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION

The Fox Theatre marquee announces Atlanta Landmarks' and Southern Bell's effort to save the Fox in June 1975. 
MANDATORY CREDIT: BILLY DOWNS / THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION
caption arrowCaption
The Fox Theatre marquee announces Atlanta Landmarks' and Southern Bell's effort to save the Fox in June 1975. MANDATORY CREDIT: BILLY DOWNS / THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION

ExploreLEARN MORE: Events at the Fox Theatre

READ THE ORIGINAL STORY HERE

To zoom in on the story, click the three bars at top right. Then click "Original Document (PDF)."

>> MORE DEJA NEWS: Check out what we’ve covered before (and again)

It’s not the only time an Atlanta adult entertainment purveyor claimed he might leave porn in the past. In September, the AJC’s Bill Torpy profiled Tokyo Valentino owner Michael Morrison, who says he’s considering a new business venture – fish farming in South America – because the adult store industry is declining.

Tokyo Valentino’s website lists it as a “lingerie store” dealing in “adult related toys, products, lingerie and smoke shoppe” items. Morrison says adult items are a small portion of the store’s profits.

Whether Morrison has a future in fish remains to be seen. Thevis’ plans for the Fox, however, came to a quick end about two months after his grand gesture.

caption arrowCaption
In Sept. 1974, Atlanta's Mike Thevis offered to purchase the Fox Theatre in order to save and rehabilitate the neglected building. Thevis made millions selling pornographic materials locally in the '60s and '70s. AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Credit: AJC Print Archives

In Sept. 1974, Atlanta's Mike Thevis offered to purchase the Fox Theatre in order to save and rehabilitate the neglected building. Thevis made millions selling pornographic materials locally in the '60s and '70s. AJC PRINT ARCHIVES
caption arrowCaption
In Sept. 1974, Atlanta's Mike Thevis offered to purchase the Fox Theatre in order to save and rehabilitate the neglected building. Thevis made millions selling pornographic materials locally in the '60s and '70s. AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Credit: AJC Print Archives

Credit: AJC Print Archives

The Fox, which opened Christmas Day 1929, served for decades as a popular movie house, dance hall and venue for live performances. By 1974, as movie theaters multiplied in the growing suburbs, it was in danger of being demolished during the early ‘70s midtown Atlanta office building boom.

“Southern Bell Telephone Co. has signed an option to purchase the historic Peachtree Street theater and had planned to raze the building to make room for construction of offices,” Nesmith wrote. “In an ensuing furor, the company agreed to resell it to any group in the next six months, provided it is preserved.”

The “ensuing furor” — high-profile pleas from legendary celebrities such as Helen Hayes and Liberace, along with petitions from hundreds of Atlantans to save the building — bought the Fox enough time for interested parties to inquire about buying the landmark. Mike Thevis was among those potential purchasers, but only to a point.

“Thevis said he told Mayor Maynard Jackson he was willing to buy the Fox for $3.3 million,” Nesmith reported. “He also said he was asked by city officials if he would be willing to form a corporation to buy the Fox in order to conceal his involvement, but refused.”

caption arrowCaption
Mike Thevis made millions from selling pornographic materials in Atlanta during the late 1960s and early '70s. In 1974, his offer to purchase and renovate the Fox Theatre raised eyebrows.

Credit: AJC Photo Archives

Mike Thevis made millions from selling pornographic materials in Atlanta during the late 1960s and early '70s. In 1974, his offer to purchase and renovate the Fox Theatre raised eyebrows.
caption arrowCaption
Mike Thevis made millions from selling pornographic materials in Atlanta during the late 1960s and early '70s. In 1974, his offer to purchase and renovate the Fox Theatre raised eyebrows.

Credit: AJC Photo Archives

Credit: AJC Photo Archives

“They can accept this offer from Mike Thevis as he is or they can forget it,” Thevis said. “The thing (the Fox) could rot, for all I care, if they are unwilling to accept this because of what people think about me.”

City officials balked at the offer. Two months later, Thevis lost his battle to stay out of federal prison for interstate trafficking in obscene materials. Ordered to begin serving time in December, he scrapped plans to save the Fox.

“If I had already gone through with (the deal), then fine,” Thevis said in the Nov. 21 Constitution. “But I don’t see how I can be expected to negotiate a deal like that from prison.”

READ THE ORIGINAL STORY HERE

To zoom in on the story, click the three bars at top right. Then click "Original Document (PDF)."

Ultimately, the Fox escaped the wrecking ball, underwent extensive (and expensive) renovations and currently remains one of Atlanta’s most beloved institutions.

Thevis began a five-year prison term Dec. 2, 1974. He died in 2013 at age 81 in Bayport, Minnesota.


ABOUT DEJA NEWS

In this series, we scour the AJC archives for the most interesting news from days gone by, show you the original front page and update the story.

If you have a story you’d like researched and featured in AJC Deja News, send an email with as much information as you know. Email: malbright@ajc.com. Use the subject line “AJC Deja News.”

About the Author

Editors' Picks