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Matinee at the Fox
By: Wayne Brown
For so many of us aging “Baby Boomers”, the Saturday afternoon treat was to get to an age where you were old enough to go to the movie matinee at the town theater all by yourself or with friends. Neither mom or dad went along. It was big guy stuff! Saturday just could not come around soon enough and we always prayed for a good movie to watch although back then it seemed like any movie was a good one if you were there.
Our old theater was on the town square. It was called the “Fox Theater” for all the years that I knew it. It was on the east side of the small town square that circled the county courthouse in the center. The outside of the square was a bordering arrangement of stores including a couple of drug stores, some dry goods outlets, a men’s suit shop, a Western Auto Store, a couple of small groceries, a hardware store and a sporting goods shop. Most of the commerce of the town took place right there on that one little square block. It only made sense that the theater would be there and parents could dump the kids off while they shopped in the stores.
I always liked getting to the picture show (that’s what I called) in time to get some popcorn, a drink, and maybe even a sour dill pickle if I had the extra money. I loved salty popcorn and the pickle just added to the excitement. The pickle also came in handy if you got bored and needed something to throw at the screen during the show. Most of the time, we ate them as we always seemed to have some room to pack in the food.
Now, if you got to the movie on time, you saw the preview of coming attractions first. These were trailers which advertised shows that would be coming to town in the next week, month, or next several months. Some were westerns with lots of shoot ‘em up, some were scary Vincent Price or Alfred Hitchcock sci-fi, and then of course there were the gooey love stories that all of us had to endure and groan about but that was back before the women all got naked in the shows…we started liking them better then!
After the previews, several different things could happen. Sometimes they ran a chapter in an on going adventure like “The Shadow”…kind of like reading the Sunday clip of the Dick Tracy series…just enough to get you back the next Saturday. Occasionally, the Marx Brothers showed up in a short clip or those funny Three Stooges. I was a big fan of “Curly” with his shaved head. The Stooges always ripped us guys up but the girls never seemed to like them as much. I guess the Stooges reminded them of us…go figure!
Most of the time, we just had a good old fashion cartoon that started off with that great music….dah, dah, da, da, dun, dun, dah, dah , da, da dun, dun…well you get the picture. Then somebody like Bugs Bunny or Porky Pig showed up in an adventure. I really liked Foghorn Leghorn (I say, son, son, it’s a joke son!) and that little chicken hawk feller. I was also a big Yosemite Sam fan as well. “Consairn it, you dad burn Varmint, stand still so’s I can shoot yer ears off!” And so it went until the music started playing and the end and Porky showed up to say “bid de, bid de, bid de, that’s all folks!”
Then, it was show time! Time for the main event. Now we started getting settled down in our seats and shut our mouths. We were way down front so we had to look up at the screen. It was easier to lay in your chair and watch the movie than sit in it. The scarier the movie, the closer to the front we went and we screamed our heads off when the monsters came. The old theater air conditioning system was one of the best that I have ever encountered. In the dead of summer with temps outside of over 100 degrees, everybody in the theater was freezin’ their butts off and lovin’ it. The older guys really liked it cause the girls wanted to snuggle up to ‘em. We like to sit behind them and watch but usually got run off early in the show.
I saw a lot of Roy Rogers back then. We were still of the age of side holsters and stick horses so a get Saturday afternoon oat burner was right up our alley for entertainment. I also remember Lash LaRue with his whip and another guy called “Whip Wilson”. There was Bob Steele, Gene Autry, along with Gabby Hayes and Andy Devine aka “Jingles”. Ol’ Gabby Hayes had such a chew under his tongue and you could always tell it when the camera flashed on him and he said, “Well, I‘ll just tell you what, Roy.” That was about all Gabby could do. I think he might have been drunk in all those films looking back on it.
Sometimes I got more than I bargained for as we would show up expecting a western and find out that a scary movie was running instead. Sometimes those movies would run a bit long and the sun would be going down by the time we got out of the picture show. I would walk the mile or so down my street back home. If I was lucky someone would be with me and we would pretend not to be scared. If I was alone…I was officially scared and I ran from street light to street light as fast as I could. There were several places along the way like that the county jail that had prisoners in it who always yelled at the window. It was enough to make a young boy pee his pants after drinking all that soda.
One of the worst movies I saw at that time was scary was “The Blob” which starred a very young Steve McQueen. It was about a bunch of Jell-O that showed up from outer space and could slide under doors and through cracks and attack people. When it attacked them, they were totally consumed in the blob and disappeared. I worried about that thing for a real long time after I saw that movie. I was pretty sure it was hanging around my neighborhood.
Another one that set me on edge and sent me running home lickety-split was “I Was A Teenage Weir-Wolf” starring a very young Michael Landon. Gee, he made such a good wolf and scared the crap out of us every single time he made that transformation. As I ran home I could hear his claws digging into the concrete of the sidewalk behind me. Wow! I could run like the wind in those days. I didn’t just run as fast as I could, I ran as fast as I needed to!
Once I was home and totally out of breathe from running all the way, I would promise myself that I was never going to do that again because sooner of later one of the things that I had seen at the movie was going to get me. You see, every single time you see something at the movie it will be there to chase you. It joins the herd of things that chase you…you never forget any of them. The more of them chasing you, the more likely one of them will get lucky. I knew it was just a matter of time before they came up with some beast that was faster on his feet than me. I knew my mama would cry if I didn’t make it home. But, given a week, and the fear wore off and we were back in the theater again for another Saturday afternoon adventure. We were stupid that way.
Then one day, we all just got to old to go to the matinee anymore. We got interested in girls, cars, and sin. We were replaced by a younger wave that looked just like us. A wave that also would spend their early Saturday nights running from creatures in the dark. We no longer understood that. Oh, we knew the creatures were there alright, we understood that, but we didn’t understand why anyone would actually walk past them. After all, by this time we could drive!
Such were the days of us pre-teen wonders as we honed our intellectual skills as young movie critics. Our minds were keen and we remembered every detail for many years to come. Then we started dating girls who didn’t like this movies, and suddenly we didn’t like anything they didn’t like. Besides, our mind was on more important things, like parking out at the lake and watching the submarine races. Come to think of it, I never saw any of the submarines but I am pretty sure I caught a glimpse of Michael Landon running through the trees. That’s not something I like to talk about.
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