Saturday, November 24, 2007

Losing Myself

(Sunday Scribblings prompt: My Misspent Youth)
Losing Myself
In the years that I was growing up in Berkeley, most Saturday afternoons were spent at the Saturday children’s matinee at the Oaks theater on Solano avenue My friends and I, possibly with my little brother in tow, would first stand in the long line to pay for our nickel tickets, then rush inside to claim the best seats on the center aisle or in the first row of the balcony. There we would thrill to the adventures of Tom Mix or other western heroes, preceded, of course, by the cartoon, the newsreel, the serial with its cliff-hang, and the sing-a-long when we would scream ourselves hoarse on our favorite Anchors Away. “SINK the army! SINK the army gray!” I would then forget the movies until the next Saturday.

Then in 1932, when I was eleven years old, my father was transferred to San Jose and I was uprooted from best friends and the school year that had just begun. I was thrust into a strange junior high school among classmates who already knew one another and the school routines. Since I had earlier skipped a grade, I was the youngest one in my seventh grade class, and, what’s more, I was the tallest. My mother and I were both embarrassed when the gym teacher phoned to suggest that I really needed to wear a brassiere.

Uncomfortable in my new surroundings, the movies became my refuge. In San Jose the programs planned for children were on Saturday morning. I went on Saturday afternoon when the regular first-run movies were shown. I fell in love with Gary Cooper. I began to spend my allowance on movie magazines as well as theater tickets. I immersed myself in Hollywood lore.

I saw favorite movies several times over, as they moved from the first run theaters, which changed the program every week, to lesser second and third-run venues. I saw “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer” thirteen times before my mother put a stop to it, and I could recap it scene by scene with exact dialogue. A new friend of my own age, Lillian Townsend, had moved to the house across the street from our home. She was equally fascinated with the movies. We would act out those we had seen (almost every one produced!), taking turns on the most dramatic parts (usually death scenes).

By the time I reached ninth grade I could recite not only the plot and cast of almost every Hollywood movie but also what studio made it, who the producer, director, and camera-man were, and the salaries of some of the stars. I remember that Greta Garbo made the then unthinkable salary of $1000 a week!

As other interests, new friends, new enthusiasms developed, I finally became a little ashamed of the frivolity of my expert knowledge. I expressed this to my father, who said, “Never be ashamed of knowing everything about any subject.” I moved on to interest in many other subjects, but they have never become the escape from circumstances that movies were to my young self.

11 comments:

tumblewords said...

Loved your post! I saw several movies a dozen times only because that's all the local theater showed!

paisley said...

this was so touching.. i am an avid classic movie watcher,, and i can appreciate everything you talk about here,, as those are the movies i choose to surround myself with .. i want turner classic movies and only turner classic movies.. no other tv channels...

Laini Taylor said...

Great post! I went to UC Berkeley in the early 90s and I believe went to that same theater on Solano a number of times! I love to imagine it in the 30s! Also, being obsessed with the British Raj lately, I want to see The Lives of the Bengal Lancers. Thanks for taking us back to the golden days of movies with you!

gautami tripathy said...

One great post. I too love watching those old movies.

Crafty Green Poet said...

my parents rearely allowed me to go to the cinema when I was growing up and I've been overcompensating ever since. I should watch more of those old classics though...

daria said...

I didn't know that you grew up being such a movie fanatic. Something more we have in common. I loved learning that!
Did you see on my blog that I have a new favorite?
xoxo

Marianne said...

I have always loved the old movies, I remember Saturday afternoons at my Grandma's house, cold and snowy outside but with the fireplace softly crackling, my brother and I watching old black and white movies, the classics, those were wonderful afternoons!
We still prefer Turner Classic channel for our movies :^)

Wonderful post, loved it!

The Alchemist said...

Thanks for the insight. I was also an avid movie buff as a chlid only it was Roy Rodgers and the lone Ranger. Every saturday matinee two features, 10 cartoons and a newsreel. I have never thought of it as being a refuge until your post. I escaped.... and only for a nickel as you say, actually it was twenty five cents by then. Great post Tumblewords and thanks again.

The Alchemist said...

I apologize for calling you Tumblewords, I was looking at her comment when I wrote that. It brought back wonderful memories Granny Smith.

Skyelarke said...

Your father's statement is very wise. Thank you for sharing that phrase and those memories, even bittersweet they may be.

Mary A. Kaufman said...

Everytime, I go to a local movie house, which is really seldom, I recall the "good old days": double-feature, news, cartoon and, on special days, a preview of a coming movie ... and all for thirty five cents. I like your site Granny. I'm up there with you. 88 two days after Christmas.