Today's multiplex theaters are terrible places to watch movies. They are cold, cement boxes with overbearing Dolby sound and zero architectural interest. The expansive, gilded theaters of the forties and fifties had style. Big screen, velvet seats, and tiers of mezzanines and balconies. Radio City Music Hall in New York is one of the last remaining Grand Dames of this genre; sad to say we will never see their like again .
As a child, going to the movies was an all day affair. We arrived at the Colonial Theater on Broadway and Chauncey Street (Jackie Gleason's old block) around 11 a.m. prepared for a full day of entertainment. Popcorn would never sustain us...we carried pepper and egg "sangwiches" in oily brown bags. After paying the 14 cent admission price, we found our seats. As we got older, we always tried to sneak over to the "adult" seats, but the usher or "Matron" as she was called then invariably shooed us back to the kids' section. The Saturday viewing lineup usually started with the Movietone News. This was a black and white newsreel that trumpeted the events of the day. It featured the familiar voice of Lowell Thomas. Also covered was sports, with the great Bill Stern.
Then came the cartoons....21 of them to be exact. Don't ask me where they came up with 21; all I know is that if you were in the audience of the Colonial Theater on Saturday, you were seeing 21 cartoons. Sometimes they would end the cartoon-fest with a sing-along, where the audience followed the bouncing ball as it skipped across the lyrics to the song on the screen. By now the "sangwiches" were gone and a trip to the candy counter was needed.
Next came a movie "serial"which was an action-adventure film that was shown in chapters. Each week a new chapter would be screened, with a cliff-hanging ending that left you gasping for more. Some of the serials I remember are Buster Crabbe in "Flash Gordon" (a futuristic space travel theme with special effects that were comical); and Gene Autry in The "Thunder Riders" (a bunch of kids who resembled the Dead End kids out West).
Wait, wasn't there a movie? Oh yeah, there were two movies, a main feature and what was called a "B" feature. The main feature probably lasted no more than 90 minutes, and the B picture even less. They told their stories with no nonsense, and on budgets that wouldn't cover the director's massages on one of today's drawn-out epics.
Forgive me if I use the word "magical" again in this blog, but a day at the movies was magical to us. Classics like Bambi, Song of the South, High Noon, From Here to Eternity and so many others kept us mesmerized in our seats. And don't forget, Monday was free dish night.
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