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I Just Feel Like Writing...Thoughts About Movie Collecting PART 3 (1 Viewer)

Dick

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Part Three -- The Saturday Matinees

"Kiddie" matinees of the 1950's & 1960's are tightly-woven into the fabric of my childhood nostalgia, and remain among my fondest memories.

My guess is that a great many members of this forum are in roughly my age range and remember these shows as though they happened last week. Kid matinees were popular in the 40's -- before my time, but not by much -- and were in full swing in the 50's. I guess they made money for the theaters and studios, otherwise, why fill a theater with little kids paying little kid prices and tying up the place for two or three hours every weekend? Still gotta pay the staff and the projectionist and the heat bill and the print rentals.

And when they called these programs "kiddie" matinees, they weren't kidding. A given local theater might have as many as 800 in the audience, but there was nary an adult among them. We got dropped off, our parents having earned a brief respite from our being underfoot around the house, saying "There's nothing to do!" or "Can I watch TV?" The theaters were, essentially, mass babysitters in these days before cable television, and usually the folks found it cost-effective to drive us to and from these shows just for a few hours of relative peace and quiet. We waited in lines outside the theater for as much as a half-hour before reaching the elusive ticket booth. At that time, we entered the venue and were transported away into a world only young kids inhabited.

And once inside the theater, the behavior of us tykes, although somewhat exaggerated in films such as MATINEE, could be a bit rowdy if the movie was slow in spots, but was usually amazingly respectful, in my memory. We had attention spans then...remember those? Almost invariably, there were multiple cartoons ahead of the feature. Seeing that screen-size image of Bugs Bunny inside the Looney Tunes rainbow circle, or an enormous Technicolor Woody Woodpecker drilling his name into a wood plaque was mesmerizing enough to quiet most of us in the theater. A preview for the next matinee was highly anticipated --- we couldn't wait to see what gem we would be begging our parents to drive us to the following Saturday afternoon. It was a social and communal event that brought together hundreds of 6-12-year-old kids (there were very few empty seats for any given show) for the common purpose of getting lost in a world completely removed from school and bullies and grown-ups and home rules and obnoxious siblings.

Admission for kids in those days was 25-35 cents (for me, anyway). Popcorn was a dime. Candy bars were a dime as well (overpriced), but within quick walking distance of most theaters there were news/magazine/tobacco shops that sold candy bars for the nickel they were supposed to be. But they also sold things like fireballs (the big ones, a penny each) and Lik-M-Aid and... pea shooters and small dried peas in white, stapled sandwich bag. In my case, my parents gave me dollar for the show (which was a bonus, because my allowance was only a quarter per week). I would skip the theater popcorn and spend 25 cents at that nearby store and have plenty to get me through the show. A pea shooter was a nickel, and a bag of peas was another nickel. I could blow peas at the backs of the heads of kids in front of me, causing them to turn in surprise, but without ever being able to identify who the shooter was. And I had a pocketful of penny candy and nickel bars, and perhaps the latest issue of Famous Monsters Of Filmland.

Before 1962, the two theaters that offered kiddie matinees within easy driving distance of me in Westchester County were The Rome in Pleasantville (which not so long ago was transformed into a performing arts center) and the Bedford Playhouse (which has also been revived as a multi-media venue). In late 1962, The Mt. Kisco Theater (within bike-riding distance of me) opened with IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS, and often also offered special one-time weekly afternoon shows on Saturdays.

My Saturdays would begin by making a phone call to all of these theaters, where I would be treated to pre-recorded announcements of the regular evening program plus the special Saturday Matinee. Then I would talk our parents into driving us to the best of the choices for the day. Then I would hook up with a friend or two who would go with me. We'd be dropped off in advance of the show, and walk quickly to the nearest tobacco shop and get our candy for less than the theater would charge. In Bedford that store was Trella's. In Mt. Kisco is was Kaminer's. I do not recall the name of Pleasantville's corner store, but it was packed with treasures.

The Rome Theater had a relatively small screen that, before and after the show, was covered by curtains and was lit from below with colored lights. The smell was a mixture of popcorn and something unidentifiable and sweet. If you wanted a drink, you had to consume it behind the barrier between the theater and soda machine. You dropped a dime, a cup dropped, and a combination of carbonated water and syrup filled it up. If a boy needed to use the restroom, he had climb a flight of stairs to a door right next to the projection room, and could hear the film running through the machine as he were peeing in the urinal.

Some of the Kid Matinees I attended at this theater were:

THE LOST WORLD (1960)
JOURNEY TO THE 7TH PLANET
STOP, LOOK AND LAUGH
GORGO
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
MASTER OF THE WORLD
BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE
THE MYSTERIANS
HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959)
X-THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES
THE FLY (1959)
HAVE ROCKET WILL TRAVEL
DANCE WITH ME HENRY (Godawful)
FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
WHEN COMEDY WAS KING
SNOW WHITE AND THE THREE STOOGES
JACK THE GIANT KILLER
THE MAGIC SWORD
CAPTAIN SINDBAD

The Rome was, hands down, the theater in which I caught the largest number of delightful genre films, most of of them now on video (some on Blu), and I have them all.

The Bedford Playhouse was, for me, weird as hell. Awfully, awfully elite. The lobby and ticket booth and balcony were on street level, but the theater itself was downstairs...down circular stairs on either side of the auditorium. At the bottom, you found what I suppose was a second, and beautifully carpeted, lobby... the men's and ladies' rooms were located there, and each sported a spacious waiting room with plush chairs, and a very elegant bathroom area. Bypassing those, you went through openings in the barrier separating the restroom area from the theater proper. No curtains covered the screen. It was just a ghostly, unlit gray surface at the head of a large theater that was itself very dimly-lit. There was no warning when the movie was about to begin -- no dimming of lights, no opening curtains. Suddenly, the picture was there and the lights went out.

Some of the Kid Matinees I attended at this theater were:

THE TIME MACHINE
BIG RED / THE LIVING DESERT
THE RAVEN
MYSTERIOUS SUBMARINE**
THE MUMMY (1959) & THE BAT
THE GREAT RACE
VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA
SINK THE BISMARCK!
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM

**The recorded phone message announcing the Saturday Matinee that week very clearly stated that THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND was going to be the movie. From Famous Monsters and other sources, I was eager to see this, and brought a friend with me with whom I was sure I could later brag that we had just seen one of the best fantasy films ever. So, we settled into our seats and sat through the requisite three or four cartoons. Then, something odd happened. We were watching the credits of a black and white World War II film. It was called MYSTERIOUS SUBMARINE. I have no idea whether or not it was a good film. I was pissed. We got up and went to the office and knocked on the door. At the time, the manager was a woman who was very obviously not sympathetic to our requests for a refund. "MYSTERIOUS ISLAND...MYSTERIOUS SUBMARINE ... what's the difference?" I argued our case for several minutes before simply leaving the theater in disgust, and we spend the next two hours checking out the overstuffed shelves of Trella's and wandering around Bedford Village.

The Mt. Kisco Theater was my theater, because I could get to it independently. No need for a ride from parents. It was in the town where I lived (although I attended the Chappaqua School system, due to whatever gerrymandering was involved in the bus routes and taxes, etc.) I could walk to it in a half-hour and bike to it in ten minutes. This meant that I could attend repeat viewings of movies I really liked. IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS was the premier program and I saw it no fewer than three times, as much because this was my theater as because the movie was entertaining. And because it was a Disney film, it also served to fill the Saturday Matinee slot that later would feature one-show-only films for kids in the same way Bedford and Pleasantville had for years.

The theater was cool. They sold large boxes of malted milk balls (my favorite candy) for a quarter. The auditorium was sort of art deco, with unique light fixtures across both walls and a screen covered by (I think) beautiful gold curtains. At that time, as was true of Pleasantville and Bedford, there was a single large screen. All three theaters would eventually cut their auditoriums in half or even into thirds, but when I attended them, they were all elegant single-screeners.

Some of the Kid Matinees I attended at this theater were:

GHIDRAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER
THIS ISLAND EARTH
THE 4-D MAN
THE TIME MACHINE (again)

The Kisco Theater was not as invested in these matinees, and so I did not see very many unique titles there. They ran every Disney film that was released between 1962-1967, and these always took the Saturday matinee slots as well as being the main feature for 3-4 days or a week.

The fact that I can actually remember most of the films I attended at these matinees, and can so clearly recall the three theaters that supported them, goes a long way toward explaining how much of an impact these programs had upon me. But I don't think I would be presumptuous in supposing that most kids growing up in the 50's and 60's had at least one neighborhood theater in which they could experience this magic every week.

Now, with our big screen t.v.'s and seemingly limitless choices of what to show on them, we can re-create the Saturday matinees of old (including cartoons), and if we can engage and enchant our kids with those as a viable alternative to Facebook and Twitter, then the 50's and 60's can live on.
 
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JQuintana

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Great post! I was potty training during the early 60's so I missed out on the fun but it sounds like everyone had a great time during that era.

Sadly though, it will never come back. We are too far gone with the advent of the internet, DVD/Blu, streaming,social media and so on. You won't be able to reverse time and get kids today to sit through cartoons before movies. Especially if they are retro cartoons or shorts. Even my 10 year old thinks watching my favorite old B&W TV shows or movies is "boring".
 

Billy Batson

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I think it was about 1955 when my sister first took me to what we used to call Saturday Morning Pictures (I was 5). The only thing I can remember about it was the first episode of Flash Gordon, well that was me hooked. I used to live for Saturday mornings, it was unthinkable not to go, all those fantastic serials, Flash Gordon (I can still remember that odd organ music accompanying the clay men), King Of The Rocket Men, Captain Marvel, Zorro's Fighting Legion, & so many others. I think every local cinema I went to in those days is no more (that would be North West London), in fact a lot of them didn't survive the sixties. I love movies (& I love owning them now).
 

Dick

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Great post! I was potty training during the early 60's so I missed out on the fun but it sounds like everyone had a great time during that era.

Sadly though, it will never come back. We are too far gone with the advent of the internet, DVD/Blu, streaming,social media and so on. You won't be able to reverse time and get kids today to sit through cartoons before movies. Especially if they are retro cartoons or shorts. Even my 10 year old thinks watching my favorite old B&W TV shows or movies is "boring".

Can't go back in time, true, but we can recreate our matinee experiences at home for others to see. I love Blu-ray.
 

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