I don’t know how old (young) I was when I first started going to movies, probably about 5 or 6. There was a little movie theater in my home town which ran Saturday afternoon matinees. They were often the same movies that adults attended on Saturday night, but back in the 1940s and ‘50s, there were no PG-14 or X-rated movies. They were all safe for kids, although I took shit from my sister for allowing my younger nephew to accompany me to Psycho.
My Mom gave me a quarter a week allowance, and off I went. The adults’ evening shows were 35 cents, while the kids paid 15 cents in the afternoon. That left me 10 cents for a 5 cent individual bag of chips, and a 5 cent chocolate bar, or box of toffee.
As I got to be 9 and 10, my younger brother was now the age I was when I started going to the movies, but it hadn’t occurred to Mom to give him any money. One day he kinda complained, and asked if he could go with me. The next week, I asked Mom if she would give me 30 cents instead of 25, and she gladly said yes. I just never thought to tell her what the extra nickel was for.
For about six months we both attended the shows, just with nothing left to buy treats. Finally it occurred to Mom to ask where he disappeared to each Saturday afternoon. When she realized I was donating half my allowance to him, she started giving him his own.
It wasn’t till I moved away from home to get a job, that I realized what I had been viewing all those years. These weren’t first-run movies! Our little theater ran seconds and thirds. After they’d been seen everywhere else, they came to my town. For about fifteen years, I watched everything they put on the silver screen. I saw every movie!
The theater wasn’t allowed to open on Sundays, so they ran three movies a week, one on Monday and Tuesday, a different one on Wednesday and Thursday, and yet a third on Friday and Saturday. After I started delivering newspapers, and had a bit of cash of my own, I went almost every Monday, Thursday and Saturday night.
In the era of westerns, I watched hundreds of them, the Duke, John Wayne, Alan Ladd in Shane, Rory Calhoun – Martin and Lewis comedies, then Jerry solo, and Dean in the Matt Helm fiascos, James Coburn as Our Man Flint – musicals, Auntie Mame, Oklahoma, Clint Eastwood in Paint Your Wagon – stuff I didn’t understand till later, Kim Novack in Bell, Book and Candle, George Peppard in Walk, Don’t Run.
On the first of July, August, and September long weekends, the theater would run a Sunday midnight showing, actually Monday, to get around the closing by-law. These were often Hammer Films, English horror pictures, good to take your girl, to get her to cuddle closer, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher, or the dubbed Japanese jokes, Godzilla, or Mothra.
Early on, they were in black and white. Later, color film arrived, as well as Technicolor and Cinemascope. Showings usually started with previews of upcoming movies. These were followed by cartoons, Woody Woodpecker or Bugs Bunny. Often there was a “short” before the main feature, The Three Stooges, or The Bowery Boys, always still in gritty black and white.
The bowling alley in town was only open during the summer. Back when pool rooms were dens of iniquity, I was not allowed to enter until I was 18, but started rather openly “sneaking in” when I was 13. When the proprietor found that my Dad had no objections, he turned a blind eye, but all that allowed me to do was watch older players, because most of my same-age compatriots couldn’t get past the bouncer.
I/we frequented a couple of local restaurants, but, if you weren’t ordering French fries, or plugging money in the jukebox, you could get asked to leave. You would also get thrown out if you gathered the ashes from all the ash-trays, and sprinkled vinegar on them. The rank smell from that chemical stink-bomb was good for at least a week’s ban. Going to the movies was the most financially rewarding way to while away some spare time.
If, what was depicted by movies wasn’t a reflection of reality, it at least educated me that other folks did and said things in ways that were different from our little microcosm.
Since the wife can’t attend theater movies because of inhalant allergies, she and I have not been out for years. I still go with the son occasionally, but only for blockbusters which need the big screen. I believe Avatar was the last. I still haven’t watched Star Trek Into Darkness, so nobody tell me the ending. (Did the butler do it?) 😕