Saturday Matinee

By Unknown, on behalf of the Moore Theatre. Photo and retouching by Joe Mabel. [Public domain, Public domain or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Vaudeville Poster

There are two major themes to Jim’s letter this week. One involves the attempt religion makes to control people’s baser desires for entertainment and joy. The second theme goes straight to one of Jim’s favorite forms of entertainment … movies.

By the time I was ten years old the vaudeville feature of Saturday afternoon was long gone. We still had a wonderful time watching great movies, and the weekly serial. Many of these serials are available on YouTube. It is so fun to binge watch them, because you can see the difference between the situation at the cliff-hanger at the end of last weeks’ episode, and the opening “reenactment” of that cliff-hanger in this episode. What was impossible last week is a simple inconvenience this week.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life worked like that? Maybe the diagnosis of an incurable disease last week could turn into a common cold this week? It worked in the serials, why not in life?

I hope you enjoy this letter.

Jim writes:

Five acts of vaudeville straight from a recent Broadway engagement, a feature length film, a cartoon and an episode from the serial “Lone Ranger and Tonto” … all this packed into a three and one half hour Saturday afternoon at our one and only theatre.

During the summer of 1938 and admission was only 15¢! Every Saturday morning starting at 8 a.m. I beat rugs with a thing that resembled a huge fly swatter, cut grass with a push type reel mower, swept out the garage, washed windows and was kept busy until noon … all this for the princely sum of 45¢! The only problem I had was this was Rev. Rueben Davis and his wife Nora. It was at his house that I performed all these chores!

He was Pastor of the First Baptist Church of which I was a recently baptised member! The problem was Rev. Davis strongly hinted that my Saturday morning labors should be donated to the Lord’s work! Every Saturday I had to go thru this little scene. Without fail he would hold back my salary in his hand while he delivered the same sermon about the good of the Lord’s work! It didn’t faze me … no way was I going to give up that hard earned 45¢ to any cause or anyone!

I always stuck to my guns to the Reverends dismay!

Movies were just one form of entertainment that was frowned upon by the members of my church, better known as “hard shell” Baptists!

I didn’t dare tell Rev. Davis that my sole obsession each and every Saturday afternoon was to be at the theatre ticket window with dozens of other kids waiting to hand over 15¢ for a ticket to adventure!

I could smell the aroma of popping corn even before I hit the lobby … the theatre had a peculiar, strange odor, one that I could never define but was part of my excitement and anticipation! We always sat in the first three rows so we wouldn’t miss one minute of the vaudeville acts. There were juggeling acts, song and dance teams, comedians and acrobats … a real range of talent. And each Saturday they were different … never the same act. I loved everyone of them, never doubting that they came direct to this stage from Broadway!

These acts were followed by a cartoon, then an episode from the serial “The Lone Ranger and Tonto” always to be continued right at the critical moment of life and death! And if this wasn’t enough there was a full length feature film with our favorite stars direct from a showing in Hollywood.

All this on a warm summers afternoon in Athol, Mass. And don’t forget, a nickel bought a huge bag of popcorn, a huge Baby Ruth candy bar and other goodies.

The girls never would have anything to do with us. We were noisy, rowdy and at 14 totally obnoxious to everyone. Those were some wonderful Saturday afternoons and after leaving the theatre I always dreamed (for a while) of being an actor, a dancer, comedian … it was exciting and sometimes frustrating to be fourteen years old in the summer of 1938

Jim Letter035