The theater was built in 1938 by Earl Q. Benbow and Percy A. Boone who also owned the Grand Theater across the street. The cinema gained considerable national attention when it was selected to present the premiere of Shirley Temple's film "Just Around the Corner" in 1938. On March 22, 1940, the cinema hosted one of the southern premieres of "Gone With The Wind." In 1958, the premiere of "A Face in the Crowd," Andy Griffith's first movie, was featured at the Earle.
The theater eventually became part of Stewart and Everett Theatres and later Carmike Cinemas. It closed its doors in 1985 and was donated by Carmike to the Surry Arts Council in 1990. After considerable renovations, the Arts Council began showing movies again in 1994.
The use of the original name is part of the Surry Arts Council's vision for further expanding the cinema. The theater will house exhibits and artifacts from the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall, which is moving from its former space on the lower level of the Andy Griffith Museum.
WPAQ's Merry-Go-Round, the second longest-running live radio broadcast in America, will continue to be held in the theater each Saturday from 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. The Voice of the Blue Ridge, a concert with a live radio format, is held on Saturday of select months at 7:30 p.m.
Movies will still be a big part of the theater with showings each week, and school programs and community events will continue to take place there.
The Surry Arts Council also oversees programs at the Andy Griffith Playhouse, Andy Griffith Museum, and Blackmon Amphitheatre.