Going to the movies was a real event for Baby Boomers. There were basically three opportunities to see a movie — evenings, weekends and Saturday matinees. For most of us, however, the weekend was the obvious choice because going to the movies was a real time commitment. There was none of this one-movie-and-a-few-coming-attractions back then. Oh no, there were two full-length movies (a double feature!), plus coming attractions and cartoons. Going to the movies was more like the forerunner to today’s program binge watching.
Movie theaters were different back then, too. All through the 1950s and at least mid-way into the ’60s, theaters were big — with room for several hundred people. There were no cinema multiplexes, no multiple-screen palaces where you had your choice of movies. If your neighborhood theater didn’t have the movie you wanted to see, you either had to wait until it arrived, or search the newspaper to see if what you wanted was “at a theater near you.” Most cities had at least one. In the days before the proliferation of shopping malls, the movie theater was often located in the Downtown area.
In the summer, when the temperature became unbearable, the movie houses were among the only places that were air conditioned, and they advertised the fact with signs bearing icicles hanging from the letters, prominently displayed below the marquee.
Saturday matinees were a refuge for kids, whether they were budding film buffs or just there to antagonize each other by launching Red Hots as if they were watermelon seeds. Mister Boomer loved going to the movies, especially Saturday matinees. He enjoyed watching everything — the first movie, the cartoons and the second — B movie — feature. It was at Saturday matinees that he first saw all the classic monster movies, including The Mummy, Frankenstein, Dracula and The Werewolf. It was also where he watched the latest sci-fi movies like Godzilla, The Blob, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Movie matinees — a day’s worth of entertainment — cost 50¢. Several neighborhood kids would all go together. Each kid had 75¢ — that included the entry fee plus 25¢ to buy penny candy at a store along the way. Mister Boomer used birthday money or savings he acquired from redeeming soda pop bottles to fund his movie habit, as there was no allowances in his family. If you chose your candy carefully, you could get a bag’s worth that would last for several hours. Mister Boomer always got a few Squirrels, a couple Mary Janes, Smarties and some root beer barrels. At three or four for 1¢, his stash grew quickly. He always reserved some pennies for the soft, chewy caramels with the white swirl as they were 10 for 1¢. As a treat, he allowed himself one large purchase of a candy bar at 5¢ or 10¢. His favorites included Turkish Taffy, Almond Joy, Payday, Chunky (with raisins and nuts, of course) and Snickers. The group would walk the railroad tracks to get to the Downtown theater, where they always arrived in time. They were welcomed in, half-eaten candy bags in hand.
Drive-in theaters were another option for boomers. Mister B’s family went to see many a Disney picture at the drive-in. You couldn’t beat the price at just two dollars per car! The family would pop popcorn at home to bring, along with a thermos of iced Kool-Aid. There were approximately 4,000 drive-ins in the late 1950s. Today there are approximately 350 remaining.
Mister B has very fond memories of the drive-in, as he saw many classics for the ages there. When the family went, it was often for Disney fare like Dumbo, Bambi or Cinderella. But when Mister B’s mom had her lady friends over to play Bunco, Mister B’s dad took the kids to the drive-in. However, he was more interested in seeing movies he wanted to see, and not kid movies. As a result, Mister B saw Dr. No and From Russia with Love before he was ten years old. That was it. He became an instant James Bond fan, to the point a few years later of following his brother’s lead and staying put in a theater for a second showing of Thunderball.
The movie experience has certainly changed from boomer days. Mister B imagines, though, that kids still act up and get tossed out, like the time he snuck in through the back door of a theater with his brother and cousin to see Sink the Bismarck. (Can you still sing the song?) Things were going great until Mister B’s cousin decided to toss his cup of cherry soda at the German officer on the screen. While kids in the audience laughed, the three made a hasty retreat out the same back door from which they entered as ushers came running after them, slamming the door shut to prevent re-entry.
Movie tickets are now high and getting higher, and it is no accident that many theaters position an ATM machine near the candy counter. Yet Mister B hopes that today’s kids will retain fond memories of going to the multiplex, where they threw popcorn at each other while Transformer movies belched explosions from the screen.
Did you enjoy going to the movies as a young boomer?