by Lynda Hollenbeck
There's a bit of irony to this week's segment of Sense & Nonsense. On the same day that we are introducing a reading column, based on what area people are reading — and which I'm putting together — I'm basing this week's regular effort on memories of the place where I saw my first movies.
Not that movies and books would be viewed as opposite entities anyway — at least not exactly — since many of our most revered films originated in book form before finding their way to the Silver Screen.
While I love to read, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool movie buff and have been since I spent my growing-up years in Cotton Plant, where the hub of our social scene was James Theatre.
Only we didn't refer to it as a theater most of the time: It was "The Picture Show." Or, in intimate circles, "The Show."
In those simpler days a family didn't have to take out a loan to enjoy a night at the movies complete with Cokes/Dr Peppers, the freshest candy bars you could ever want, and popcorn that equaled what you can still get today when you walk up the street to catch a Royal Players production at the Royal Theatre. (Never miss a chance to get in a plug for my favorite hang-out.)
In my early years, I was a regular attender at James Theatre, catching every attraction that was offered.
If I remember correctly, Sunday and Monday offered the same movies; Tuesday and Wednesday brought another choice; Thursday and Friday gave us a new flick; and then came Saturday, the BIG DAY.
Kids lived for the Saturday matinee, which included the feature film (usually a western starring one of the greats of the day like Roy Rogers or Tim Holt or Gene Autry); a cartoon (when cartoons featured pretty characters); and the weekly serial, a huge draw for us.
Among the serials I remember were "Nyoka, Queen of the Jungle," "Jungle Jim" and similar intriguing fare. Every segment ended in a cliff-hanger that brought us back week after week. And of course we loved the Tarzan movies, which led to reenactments later on the Proctor yard where there was grapevine to swing from as we turned into our versions of Tarzan, Jane, Boy and even Cheetah.
Regardless of the day/night at the show, there were always "coming attractions," which baited us for what was coming down the pike; and then the weekly newsreels giving clips of what we had seen in the headlines earlier in the weeks before. Occasionally you can catch one of these on the Turner Classic Movies channel and it conjures up those moments out of my past.
My cousin, Bettye Sue (aka Sissy), recalled that Tuesday was designated as Bank Night at the theater. This involved a drawing held at the end of the night's showing and the amount would increase from week to week if the winner wasn't present to claim the prize.
Sissy said she was the first child selected to draw the winning name on the introductory bank night. (I'm several years her junior and wasn't around yet to witness this.)
She told about a really disgusting incident that occurred in the midst of actually doing the drawing. The emcee — whose name shall be relegated to obscurity — had used his handkerchief to publicly blow his nose just before he was ready for her to draw the winning ticket. Before allowing her to place her hand in the squirrel cage to draw the winning ticket, he pulled out that same handkerchief to use as a blindfold for little Sissy.
She was too intimidated to turn and flee, but she hasn't forgotten it.
Incidentally, the winner turned out to be my aunt and Sissy's mother. There's no way she could have cheated, but the issue was contested for a few days. Eventually, Auntie got to claim her $10 prize, but not without a thorough "investigation."
It's probably the only time in her that Sissy's integrity was ever brought into question.
One of the really special times in my James Theatre memories occurred during the 1950s when there was an outbreak of polio. The March of Dimes produced special short films featuring a big star promoting donations to this campaign. I remember one in which Howard Keel sang "Look for the Silver Lining" as the segment closed.
Each film portrayed stricken children in iron lungs or in hospital wards and all of us would dig out our change to give to this cause that was crippling youngsters all over the country.
After the film was shown, Mr. Johnny (James) would turn on the house lights and somebody would pass a cigar box to take up the donations.
The box was never empty.
Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.