Back in the Fifties when it seemed that most kids had older siblings or babysitters to look after them, I was looked after by the movies. From the time I was 9 until the age of 12 or 13 they were my second parents. My father was usually away with his job somewhere (Inspector General in the USAF), so my mother – who had shopping. volunteer work and friends to keep up with – would post me into any one of a number of local cinemas, and there I’d stay for three or four hours while my mother went about her business. It was great.
Saturday mornings or any morning during summer school holidays would see me ensconced in an air-conditioned theatre, like the Imperial on Austin Avenue in downtown Waco, Texas, which was always freezing cold, even in the middle of a central Texas summer. It’s a wonder I didn’t die of the flu.
Saturday mornings I’d usually go to the kiddie matinee at the 25th St Theatre, not far from where we lived in Gorman Avenue. I remember voting in the kiddie straw poll in the 1956 Presidential elections. You voted by putting your ticket stub in the box with Eisenhower’s picture or the box with Stevenson’s. Most kids voted for Ike cos they’d heard their parents say he looked like someone’s grandfather. I suspect that still how Americans vote today, and probably always will. Diet or image, breakfast of metaphor!
When I was growing up, most of the movie theatres featured double bills – or doubles features, as they were called. You could go in whenever you felt like it stay all day if you wanted to. I only ever walked out of one movie during my childhood – On the Town with Frank Sinatra. I must’ve been about 10. Sailors singing in New York, yuk! But when the pictures were really good and Mom was busy, I’d happily stay there all day, living and re-living the adventures of the heroes that tore across the screen.
Some times, on special holidays, they’d have more than two films, plus the News of the Day and a cartoon! I’d usually come in halfway through the first picture, watch all the next one, then watch the start of the one I’d missed. War movies, monster movies, sci-fi action/adventure films, I loved them all.
Some of the more memorable films stayed with me for many years – films like The Plunderers, The Mole People and The Searchers. Years later, revisiting some of the films I loved in my childhgood, I was surpised to discover that some were as good if not better than I remembered, and others – which at the time I thought were terrific – no longer worked their magic.
In my childhood, the ritual of going to the movies wouldn’t have been complete without at least one visit to the snack bar or refreshment stand in the lobby. The usual practice was to buy something on the way in, and then buy something else during the interval. Candy bars and popcorn always tasted better when you bought them and ate them at the movies.
Naturally, over the years, my taste changed, but the smell of fresh popped popcorn always takes me back to my childhood. Even the names of the candy that you could buy has a strange effect on me – like some curious and bygone mantra that once held sway in some unformed brain. And the packaging of course.
The early spectacle of the candy bar with its lights and smells is one of those childhood experiences that still haunts my memories at times, so here’s a rather personal, pictorial odyssey back to an 1950s American snack bar, and some of the items that sustained us lids through the horrors of Tarantula, and the joys of Our Gang.