At The Movies

A few steps down Fourth Street from the high school a wedge-shaped marquee hung over the sidewalk.  In neon letters and paint it identified the Gregg Theater.  Clean, soft carpeting, comfortable furniture in a sunken lobby, padded seats in the theater and a well-stocked popcorn and candy booth made The Gregg a first class movie theater.  I spent many Saturday afternoons sitting with my classmates in the first few rows looking almost straight up at the screen.  We clapped and cheered as Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Johnny Mack Brown, or any one of several other cowboy heroes shot another "bad guy."  Along with the feature movie there was always a serial that seduced us into attending every Saturday matinee we possibly could.  Like soap operas, these serials always left the hero in a perilous, impossible-to-get-out-of situation.  We had to be there the next Saturday to see by what powers or miracle he escaped.

When we grew a little older we moved back several rows of seats and cringed as vampires, zombies, werewolves, Frankenstein, and other evil monsters came to life on the screen during the Saturday “Midnight Movie”.  Joe Gregg scheduled a Saturday Midnight Movie once a month.  These starred the most horrific monsters, ghouls, and hellhounds Hollywood could conjure.  Had the violence been real the apron in front of the screen would have been awash in a sea of bloody viscera and tissue.  If we were fortunate enough to have “our girl” sitting alongside us we might put our arm around the back of the seat behind her and put our hand lightly on her shoulder.  If we got that far without being rejected our arm would slowly slide our arm forward off the back of seat where we left it, motionless, until it “fell asleep” from lack of circulation.

The balcony in The Gregg was not really a balcony in the sense of a "second floor" hanging out over part of the main floor.  It was rather a sharply inclined section of seating at the rear of the theater sort of like bleachers in a gym.  Seats in the balcony were implicitly reserved for adults and older teenagers.  It was said that the expressions of affection demonstrated in the higher rows of the balcony where it was quite dark were of a more daring nature than those expressed on the main floor.  Having led a life no more sexually exciting  than that of a monk I never learned if that was true or not.

Movie theaters of the forties ran newsreels before showing the feature.  They were our virtual reality.   Following the newsreel we sat through a barrage of home grown commercials consisting mostly of still life slides and text that attempted to persuade adults to visit Blackledge's Furniture Store, Elliott’s Grocery Store, Ludwig's Service Station and various other businesses.  Then the real entertainment got underway.  First, came "Previews of Coming Attractions" then a cartoon starring Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and other characters from the Disney or Warner Brothers artists.

At last, it was show time.  The screen would blossom with the picture of a fierce lion whose snarls boomed out from monophonic speakers alongside the screen.  The lion was surrounded by a wreath, beneath which were the words "Ars Gratia Artis."  Neither I nor anyone else in Caneu with the probable exception of Miss Williams our Latin teacher, had the slightest idea what that meant.  I was probably the only kid who ever wondered.   If not a lion then a picture of a tall radio tower planted on the North Pole of a spinning world, sending lightning bolt signals all over the world opened the movie.  In my younger days I actually wondered if there was such a radio tower on the North Pole.

The projection booth was at the highest level in the center of the balcony.  Inside it had two 35-millimeter projectors and a table filled with equipment for cutting and splicing film.  High school boys were hired as projectionists.  My brother Willard worked as a movie projector for several months before joining the Army.  It was considered a “plum” job and had very little turnover.  The projectionist's main task was to load the two projectors and watch the reels unwind.  As the first reel neared its end, he had to artfully start the second projector so that it began without anyone in the audience being aware that a different projector had taken up the story.  There were times when the projectionist dropped the ball.  The screen would go suddenly brilliant white while a loud flap-flap-flapping sound, caused by the tail-end of the first reel's film hitting the inside of the projector, told everyone what had happened.  When that happened, whistles, jeers, hoots, and catcalls filled the air.  Miscreants threw popcorn up into the projector's beam and Babel reigned until the projectionist got the second reel underway.

Some kid discovered that the 35-millimeter film on which movies were printed, when properly wrapped in notebook paper, made a fine, stinky, smoke bomb.  The trick was to take a piece of film six inches or so long, lay it on a piece of notebook paper and then roll them together into a little cylinder in such a way that the film was always separated from other film by a layer of paper.  The paper had to extend outward far enough to be twisted into a sort of fuse.  The prankster would light the fuse and let it burn until the flame began to eat at the paper-wrapped film, then blow the flame out leaving the little cylinder to smolder.  When the smoldering paper reached the film, there would be a fine “whoooshh” sound while a thick cloud of pungent smoke belched out of the paper cylinder.  It may have been toxic.

Saturday Night Was Lively
Ah, We Had Soda Jerks With Benefits

Comments 3

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Charles William Spratt (website) on Monday, 01 August 2011 13:03

We made our smoke bombs out of kitchen matches and toilet paper. It worked pretty well

We made our smoke bombs out of kitchen matches and toilet paper. It worked pretty well
Millard Don Carriker (website) on Monday, 01 August 2011 17:13

Did they stink and make you cough? Ours put out a pretty hefty dose of smoke - depending on how much film we put in it.

Did they stink and make you cough? Ours put out a pretty hefty dose of smoke - depending on how much film we put in it.;)
Tom Cormier (website) on Monday, 01 August 2011 21:43

Great fun. And very creative!

Great fun. And very creative!