Movies and Me|
By Nancy Julien Kopp
I grew up in pre-television days. Books and movies were the entertainment of the thirties and forties. Oddly enough, books cost more than movies at that time, so my parents chose movies over reading. They took me with them because it was cheaper than paying a babysitter. Mom and Dad watched the newspapers to see what new films were coming and what theater would show them. We lived in a Chicago suburb and had a choice of several theaters in the surrounding area. Later, when my brothers came along, they took turns going to the movies on Sunday afternoon. Mom and I would go while Dad stayed home with the boys. Then he would take the oldest boy and zip off to the next showing as soon as Mom and I returned home. We went to movies in stages like that until all of us were old enough to sit still and watch the screen together.
Movies then were shorter in length, but theaters generally showed two feature films, a cartoon, a newsreel and previews of coming attractions. We didn’t have the 24/7 news coverage in those days, so the newsreels played to a very attentive audience, particularly during the WWII years. To see on film what the newspapers had written about brought the atrocities of war close to home. The cartoons were not Bart Simpson look-alikes. Instead, we watched Donald Duck and Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweety, and Heckle and Jeckle, the best known crows of the day. I loved seeing the previews of the next films that would be coming. The theaters changed their program two or three times a week, and those previews brought us back over and over again. Even today, I enjoy the previews of coming attractions, even though they give you so much of the story you hardly need to go back to see the entire film.
I remember a period in the forties when polio was a dreaded and rampant disease. Theaters showed a short documentary about the rehabilitative work of Sister Kenny. Heart-rending scenes of polio victims in iron lungs struck fear and sympathy to all who watched. When the film ended, the lights went on and donation cans were passed down each row of seats. The clink of the coins as they dropped could be heard until the last row was reached. Each coin dropped meant help for these poor children and hope for a vaccine to eradicate the disease—a vaccine that finally came into being in the mid-fifties.
My parents loved westerns, my dad especially. John Wayne rated number one at our house, along with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and Gary Cooper. When the fifties rolled around, people like Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Glenn Ford starred in westerns. And who can forget Alan Ladd as Shane? I remember my mother coming home in disgust after seeing Jeff Chandler play the part of Geronimo, the infamous renegade Indian. “Geronimo couldn’t have had blue eyes like Jeff Chandler!” Mom said. She wanted reality in her movies right up to the eyes.
There was a theater at the farthest western edge of the city of Chicago, aptly named The West End Theater. On Saturday afternoons, they showed two western feature films and a western serial. Dad would take me and my brothers every Saturday possible. That serial kept us coming back again and again. We kids sat glued to the screen, munching on the box of popcorn Dad bought on our way into the theater. No drinks to go along with it in those days. Concession stands had popcorn and candy, nothing else. The concession stand aroma is a lasting one. Even now, it triggers memories of movie days gone by.
I liked the movies of those earlier years far better than today. They were meant to entertain us, to take us away from our everyday existence for a little while. We rode along with John Wayne, sang and danced along mentally as we watched the many musicals made in those years, sighed with longing as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford offered melodrama, and we attempted to help Charlie Chan solve a crime. Movies today seem to be meant to frighten, to delve into the depths of psychology, to mystify, or to rack up as many foul words as possible in one film along with baring every inch of a human body. No thanks. I’ll take a Betty Grable musical any day. Corny as they might have been, they were true entertainment.