Monday, February 28, 2011

MOVIES! An Art Form With Great Impact

I wonder if today's generation feels the impact of the movies as much as past generations of Americans and I dare say, the world, has felt it. For me the greatest influence in my "growing up" experiences were Baseball, Music and The Movies. The movies were the most accessible for me, yeah we could play baseball but had to be taken to a game by a grown up. Music was great to hear on the radio but only until high school did we hear the bands in person and then as we dated. The movies however provided entertainment that was readily available, for a cheap price and in a place parents sent their kids to have them entertained and out of their hair for an afternoon.

I grew up in Queensborough Hill, Flushing. If you wanted you could walk a mile or so to downtown Flushing or for a nickel take the Q44 bus or take the Rodman street trolley for the same price. The Lowe's Prospect was on Main Street right across from the Library and a block from the LIRR Station. On a Sat. for a quarter you could catch a double feature, the top bill was a first run that played two weeks prior on Broadway and the second feature was a "B" film that ran about 70 minutes, usually black and white. The Lowe's had the Pathe News Reel, coming attractions and a serial that played Saturday afternoon. But a half a mile down on Main Street and Northern Blvd. was the RKO Keith's that offered all this plus at least five cartoons and Bernie At The Organ. Half-way between on Main Street was the neighborhood itch called The Town which showed older movies. The Lowe's and Keith's had loges and a balcony where those who smoked could sit while The Town was only on one floor with a smoking section to the left. All theatres had a Matron, usually some bulky scary looking lady, that took care of the section where the kids were permitted to sit, usually to the side. She was there to keep order and wore a white type of uniform so she looked official and tough.

Taking the Q44 towards the south there was The Main Street theatre just off 73 rd. ave. in Que Gardens that played older runs like The Town but it had a balcony. Going further south into Jamaica right on Sutphin Blvd. and Jamaica Ave. was the Lowe's Hillside usually playing the same bill as Flushing's Lowe's Prospect. A left turn under the El was a theater on just about every block that played an older bill until you reached the Jamaica bus depot at 165 street where just up the block was the Lowe's Valencia which carried a bill that was to play in Flushing some two weeks later. The Valencia was a majestic theater that was similar to the RKO Keith's. Large and beautiful with chandeliers and winding steps up to the loge and balcony.

For a real treat your parents would take you into New York (Manhattan) to see a first run with a stage show at the Radio City Music Hall, The Roxy, The Strand or the Paramount which had a rising stage. Usually you had to wait on line inside AND outside the theater waiting for the show to end before you could enter. They had all the same things the local shows had except it was one feature with only one cartoon but it was all first run and it could take as long as a few months before the movie would finish it's run and work its way down to the neighborhood theaters. The stage shows featured big bands like Benny Goodman, Louis Prima, Artie Shaw with a name singer like Tony Bennett, or Frank Sinatra before they became mega stars. After the movie the theater would become pitch black, everything was quiet and at The Paramount you'd hear the Big Band playing and the lights would come up as the stage rose. What excitement! What a sound!

The availability was there for us at a reasonable price. We'd sit through four hours or so at the Keith's then run across Northern Blvd. to a Neadicks for an orange drink and a frank for fifteen cents. After that a few stores down on Main Street was Gould's record store where they'd let you play a record in a booth but you didn't have to buy it. We did buy most of our records there but we listened to all the ones we liked and couldn't afford and it was great. During the week we'd play what we saw in the serials or the feature or maybe a Boston Blackie, Chester Morris film about a detective  We'd argue who would be the good guy and who's be the bad guy. There were arguments of who shot who and who was dead or not. All inspired by the movies we saw. Sometimes the arguments would get real heated and a real fight would break out but we were back playing very shortly because that's the way it was back then.

My heroes were Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Lindell among many from the sports world, Louis Prima, Harry James among many from music and of course, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and I fell in love with Barbara Stanwick, Lana Turner among others from the movies. I loved the MGM musicals, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor. Back then good always triumphed over evil, the good guy always got the girl and if you had a garage you could put on a mega show, just see any Andy Hardy movies for proof of that.

It is sad that today this experience is very hard to come by. Our movies are great, the acting is great, but the theaters are band boxes compared to what we had and sometimes the packaging enhances the gift. It is difficult to send your ten year old by themselves to a movie and God only knows what they might see. The cost is astronomical compared to what it was. Somehow TV, iPods and the like, such as digital games just don't seem comparable. I forgot to mention that the older folks, like my parents who were probably in their 30's when I remember them going to the movies on Sat. night. They were always dressed, Mom with her Sunday best all made up and Pop with his suit and tie and of course his Fedora. They were going to a place, they were going out, they were going someplace and they dressed for it. Today nobody dresses for anything unless it is overdressed like for the Oscars. Those were the days my friend. For a few bucks you could spend a few hours in fantasy land and escape the problems of the day by the beautiful people of Hollywood and the art form we call Movies.
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