Saturday, December 17, 2005

Saturday Morning Matinees

When I was growing up in Hammond, Indiana, during the 1940s and 1950s, our major pastime, except for playing out in the snow during the winter or playing in the park in the summer, was going to the movies. Not only did we go on Saturday mornings, but we went every time a new film was showing. Going to the movies was cheap entertainment, especially since we didn't have television in our home. Besides, movie theaters were air cooled in the summer (we also didn't have air conditioning in those days), and what better way was there to cool down than by sitting in a cool, dark theater and watching a flick.

There were no cineplexes in those days. We had eight movie theaters with single screens and two drive-ins in Hammond during that time. The Parthenon Theater, an ornate Italian Renaissance marvel built in 1921 which seated 2,500 people, was located in the heart of downtown on Hohman Avenue. The Paramount Theater, built in 1930 and seated 1,921 people, was also located on Hohman Avenue but was not as fancy. The Paramount was more sedate, but was still a nice-looking, well-kept-up movie house. There was also the Calumet, the Columbia, the Kennedy, the Maywood, the Orpheum, and the State which was located on State Street in downtown and seated 3,000 people. There was also the 41 Outdoor and the Hammond Twin Outdoor drive-ins, useful for those hot-date outings on a Friday or Saturday night.

The Calumet Theater, however, was one of those five-cent-candy kind of places where ALL the kids in our neighborhood went on Saturday mornings. The Calumet Theater was located about three blocks from our house on Calumet Avenue. It had 750 seats and, believe me, on Saturday mornings every one was filled with screaming, booing, hissing, loud, boisterous kids eating popcorn and candy, and drinking pop.

We were poor when we were growing up. Even though my parents owned a corner grocery store, we didn't have a lot of extra money. But, one of the things we did have was a 25-cent-a-week allowance. And, since we had all the free candy we could eat from our parents' store, we used that 25 cents for going to the Saturday Morning Matinees at the Calumet Theater. That 25 cents would pay our admission (10 cents) with 15 cents left over for a coke (5 cents) and candy (10 cents). The selection was endless, but I always liked Jujubes because you could chew on them for a very long time. Or, giant boxes of popcorn. Or, Mary Janes. It was a delight for the cavity-prone kid. It would take all day for us to come down off our sugar high.

The purpose of going to the Saturday Morning Matinees was two-fold. First, it was a great way to avoid doing chores on a Saturday morning. Mother couldn't wait for the end of the school week so she could assign chores to my sister and I. We would hurry through them so we could get to the theater by 10:00 a.m. Second, going to the movies gave our imaginations a boost that no book could ever do. For the price of admission you got cartoons, a newsreel, a travelogue, steamy coming attractions, a main feature which was usually a cliff-hanger, and a second feature. You could stay in the theater for hours and hours. By the time you got out, the sun had already gone down.

For those unfamiliar with cliff-hangers, these were serials that continued week after week and always left you hanging until you came the next week to find out what happened. The hero could be crashing over a cliff in a car with the doors welded shut and with certain death awaiting him one week and then saving the heroine from getting run over by a fast-moving train while tied to the tracks the next week. You didn't find out how he got out of his predicament until the next installment.

Some of my earliest movie memories were of our family walking to the Calumet to see a film at night. I remember when I was about five years old my parents took us to see Frankenstein. My love of old horror movies began with that movie. After that, I never missed a Bela Lugosi (Dracula), Boris Karloff (Frankenstein's Monster), or Lon Chaney Jr. (Wolf Man) picture. They just don't make them like that any more. When we were teenagers, they used to have all-night horror marathons at the Parthenon. My girl friends and I would talk one of the mothers into taking us to the show and staying with us the whole night. It was so exciting not only being allowed to stay out all night to watch horror movies, but it was a challenge trying to stay awake all night. By the time we got out early the next morning, we could barely drag outselves out to the car and home to bed.

There were no VHS tapes or DVDs back then, so if you liked a particular movie, you paid your money and went several times to see it before a new movie was featured. I remember one Sunday afternoon in particular when the cousins and I went to the Calumet to see Alice In Wonderland. We were well into the second showing when our Uncle Morry came storming into the theater and dragged all of us out because we didn't come home when we promised. I guess we got carried away and didn't want to leave.

After all these years, I still get a huge thrill from going to a theater to watch a film. It's quite an experience to be cocooned in the darkness, eating popcorn, and drinking a coke while being entertained. Too bad the price of admission still isn't a dime. At least husband and I get the Senior discount.


At December 17, 2005 5:22 PM, Blogger jellyhead said...

You've made me want to go to the movies RIGHT NOW! Feel like babysitting my two kids for me?!

At December 17, 2005 5:40 PM, Blogger Motherkitty said...

Jellyhead, I would love to babysit your two kids for you. I have a house full of toys that they would love and lots of books and movies. Or, we could make some cookies while mom and dad have a night out all by themselves. Just say when.

Hope you are less stressed now.

At December 17, 2005 8:09 PM, Blogger judypatooote said...

Wow does that bring back the memories.....we would walk to the Sat. mat. as young kids....and when dating we would go to the drivein......once my date and i had a trunk with 2 of our friends in they didn't have to pay....Silly huh?.... I can remember going to my friends house when I was around 10 and they had a tv....we didn't .....they would line up the chairs so all us kids could watch boxing....and the mom made us all popcorn.....the tv had a big bubble magnifying glass on it.....thanks for sharing


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