Boomers Say, “Make Mine a Double”

Many boomers recall that in their early movie-going days, theaters presented two movies for the price of one — a double feature. During the intermission between films, there was usually a couple of cartoons along with coming attractions tossed into the mix, too. While some theaters began to discontinue this practice in the 1960s, others continued into the seventies, and it was a staple of drive-in theaters throughout the boomer years.

The idea of showing two movies for the price of one began long before the boomer age. It was, in fact, an invention of the Hollywood studios during the Great Depression. Since so many people did not have extra money for movie-going, the concept was to entice people into the theaters by telling them they were getting two movies for the price of one. Up until that time, an evening at the movies consisted of one film, live acts and comedians, newsreels and shorts.

Unfortunately for theater owners, however, the studios dictated what movies could be shown as double features since they sold them as a package. If a theater wanted movie A, they would also have to take movie B. Therefore, the introduction of the double feature was also the dawn of the B movie. Like the B side of a 45 RPM record, the second movie feature was often of lesser quality, with little or no star power, and definitely made with a smaller budget.

In 1948 a landmark court case was brought against Paramount Pictures challenged the way Hollywood studios controlled which theaters would show what movies. Studios often reserved their own films to be shown exclusively in the theaters that they owned outright or in which they were in partnership. That meant that studios, in addition to having all the actors and staff on contract necessary for making films, also wrote, produced, directed, distributed and showed their own films. By 1945 the studios owned 17 percent of the theaters in the country, which accounted for 45 percent of their film rental revenue. A group of independent theater owners decided to challenge the Hollywood studios for the practice and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the studios were in violation of U.S. antitrust laws, thus marking the beginning of the end of the Hollywood studio system.

Theater owners continued to show two movies for the price of one in the 1950s. Whether they felt patrons expected a double feature, or it was an incentive to make more people go to the movies, because of the court ruling they could pick and choose what movies they would show on a double bill. The result was the B movie was elevated to high art with the first-run science fiction thrillers we all know and love, along with films of the horror genre and re-runs of classic monster movies.

Mister Boomer recalls attending many double features in his early days. Sometimes the whole family would take in a double feature. Those family outings often meant going to the drive-in to see Disney films like Bambi, Dumbo, Pinocchio and Snow White, though Mister B can’t recall which of them were the A or B film. By the time Mister B reached the age of nine, he would go to Saturday matinees with his siblings and neighborhood friends.


Drive-in theaters offered double features and often had a children’s playground situated up by the base of the screen. Families could attend with the kids, and let them play until sunset, when the movies would get underway. Half-way through, you’d get a reminder such as this trailer that the concession stand was open for business. Can you guess who sponsored this groovy clip?

Mister B’s city’s one theater (there was a drive-in theater in the next town over) was about a mile-and-a-half walk via the neighborhood shortcut. This shortcut that all the kids would take entailed walking the railroad tracks across town. The tracks cut a diagonal path across the gridded streets, shortening the route. It also bypassed the busiest intersections with overpasses, so there was no break in the stride due to waiting for traffic signals. Instead, a leisurely, uninterrupted stroll was the order of the day, where rocks could be tossed, sticks picked up and stories traded. They only had to stop if a train was coming. Inevitably, someone would lean down and place their ear to the track in order to ascertain if a train was on the way. When one was visible, someone in the neighborhood group would usually want to set a penny on the track while the remaining travelers waited a safe distance away. Once the train passed, a hot, squished Lincoln was always worth a chuckle.

A typical movie matinee Saturday went like this: Mister B’s father would give him and his siblings 75 cents each. At around noon, anybody in the neighborhood that was going that day would gather and the group would get underway. A few blocks down, right before the area where the railroad tracks were readily accessible, there was a convenience store that sold penny candy. The group would enter the store and, one by one, tell the counter person what they wanted. Mister Boomer and his siblings would allot 25 cents for candy, reserving the other 50 cents for the price of admission. Mister B allowed himself one large candy purchase, like a Snickers bar, Chunky, Mallo Cup, Turkish Taffy or Almond Joy, and the rest was divided among candies that gave him the maximum amount for the least cost. Root beer barrels, candy dots on paper, licorice whips, caramels with a white swirl in them and any candy that gave more than one quick bite for a penny was selected and dropped into a small paper bag. By the time each member of the group had finished, they all held a brown paper lunch bag brimming with candy. It would offer quick sustenance for the track trek ahead, with enough left over to carry them well into the double feature.

Arriving at the “show,” as Mister B’s mother used to call it, what was on the bill was never a consideration. The group would go inside with the hordes of other children out on a Saturday. Once the lights went down and the flickering of the projector could be heard, Mister B was hooked. Pictures he saw in those outings included some old-time classics like Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Wolf Man (1941) and The Mummy (1932), along with more contemporary fare like House of Wax (1953), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), I was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), The Blob (1958), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Screaming Skull (1958).


This clip is a classic that a good portion of Mister Boomer readers are going to remember! Goobers and Red Hots, anyone?

In Mister B’s neighborhood, the double feature was alive and well throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. Whether at the neighborhood theater or drive-in, the double feature was an inherent part of the boomer movie experience. What memories do double features bring to mind for you?

Boomer Fun in 1961

The vast majority of the 74 million boomers can vividly recall the year 1961. It was momentous for many reasons, but what boggles this boomer’s mind at this point in time is that it was 50 years ago! Set your Way-Back Machine and let’s take a look.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President of the United States. It was a big deal for many people, not the least of whom were the Catholic nuns at Mister Boomer’s elementary school. They were thrilled that “one of their own” was assuming the highest office in the land for the first time. Besides, like most women, they thought he was handsome. Have you ever seen a nun blush? Of course, they knew nothing of his extra-curricular activities.

It was 50 years ago this very month that the Soviet Union sent the first man into space, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The launch heated up the Space Race (The Final Frontier), and the Cold War. A week later, our new president was forced to disavow any involvement in the Bay of Pigs incident in Cuba; Fidel Castro had quickly put down an attempted revolution by Cuban exiles that had the backing and support of the CIA. Kennedy had some ‘splainin’ to do.

Things began to turn around the following month when Astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space, as the Mercury space program took root. This launch was responsible for giving many a boomer the space-age bug, including Mister B. He would watch every launch of every mission from that point through the moon launch eight years later.

The world was changing in the decade of the sixties: Kennedy introduced the Peace Corps; gas was 27ยข a gallon; construction began on the Berlin Wall; Rudolf Nureyev sought asylum in Paris while on tour with the Russian Ballet; residents of Washington, D.C. were given the right to vote via the Twenty-third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and the Vietnam War officially began for the U.S. Meanwhile, the world of popular culture had begun a shift of its own. The Beatles had their first performance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool; Bobby Lewis captured the summer as Tossin’ and Turnin’ stayed number one on the charts for seven weeks; the film version of West Side Story won the Oscar’s Best Picture Award; Diana, future Princess of Wales, was born; Joseph Heller first published Catch-22, a novel which figured prominently in many a boomer’s education years later; Mattel introduced a boyfriend for Barbie, the Ken doll; Pampers disposable diapers were first sold; Libby’s Foods began marketing Sloppy Joes in a can; and Top Cat, the cartoon featuring the irreverent, irrepressible title feline, began its two-year run on TV (Which Cat Was the Coolest?).


In retrospect it sure looks like poor Ken didn’t have a chance right from the start. Can you say “emasculate,” boys and girls?

Yet Mister Boomer, like many boys of his age, didn’t know much about the serious goings-on of the outside world. It was much more interesting for a pre-teen boy to dream of space travel, follow Roger Maris’ march toward hitting his record 61st home run in his team’s (N.Y. Yankees) last game of the season, and tune into the latest rock ‘n roll on his portable transistor radio.

Certainly, the Mister Boomer household ate copious amounts of canned food, but Libby’s Sloppy Joes was not among them. Mister Boomer’s mother made a vat of sloppy joes once or twice a month in her electric frying pan using onions, green peppers, fresh ground beef and tomato paste. It was an inexpensive family meal and all she had to do was toss the ingredients into the pan, turn the knob to low heat and let it cook. Slap the hot concoction on a mashed white-bread hamburger bun and you’d be full before Wagon Train began.


Mister B wonders if today’s kids would buy such a blatant marketing ploy. Probably, but there would be some discussion as to who got to wear the “beef” T-shirt and who’d be the “pork.”

Mister B was a baseball fan as a youngster, so he was aware of Roger Maris’ record-breaking feat as the neighborhood scuttlebutt brought up the latest major league buzz. No player had been able to break the home run record Babe Ruth had set in 1927, until the year 1961. Yessiree, and Mister B had Maris’ baseball card that year, along with his teammate’s, Mickey Mantle. Unfortunately for Mister B’s collection, the cards were lost in a Midwest flood a few years later.

Baseball was near top-of-mind for a young Mister B from spring through fall, so when he didn’t make a Little League team in 1961 (Going Batty for Spring) he joined city recreation baseball. When it came time for the boys to give their team a name, they chose to go with their dreams: the team would be called the Astronauts, combining baseball with their other true passion. Dinosaurs were a big thing with young boys even then, but giant prehistoric animals could not compare with the imaginative stirrings that the Space Race had opened in their young minds.

Along with Tossin’ and Turnin’ emanating from Mister B’s burgundy radio (Boomers Strike Solid Gold), it was Pony Time with Chubby Checker, while the Shirelles wanted to know, Will Still You Love Me Tomorrow? Dion was telling us to stay away from Runaround Sue and Del Shannon sang about the Runaway. The top names on the charts still included the likes of Lawrence Welk, Pat Boone and Jimmy Dean — even Elvis and Roy Orbison still had number one hits — but the winds of change had begun to blow back in 1961.

One year later, Mister B’s family would visit Washington, D.C., where they paid a visit to the White House. Standing in line, the tourists were all abuzz, hoping they would catch a glimpse of the First Lady or maybe even the President. It was not to be, but Mister B thoroughly enjoyed his visit and it ultimately stoked the embers of his life-long interest in history. Less than a year after that visit President Kennedy was assassinated, changing many boomers’ lives forever… but that was not 1961. 1961 was a time for fun in a young boomer’s life, filled with promise and imagination.

How about it, boomers? What memories help you define 1961, that year now 50 years past?