Memories: Theaters were a regular part of life in the past

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2024

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Memories by Bev Jackson Cotter

And we went to the movies — to the major film extravaganzas like “Gone With the Wind” or “Hawaii” at the Broadway Theater and the glorious westerns starring Roy Rogers or Hopalong Cassidy at the Rivoli. They were special occasions with friends or family or teenage dates, yet an ordinary part of our life, long before television entered our homes, and even after. Going to the movies was a time for enjoying a world apart from our ordinary lives.

Bev Jackson Cotter

In the 1950s we didn’t know, or care, that both of the theaters in town were originally built with an opera connection — the Broadway designed for live performances with capabilities for eventual transition to movies and the Rivoli built with the support of Dr. Bessessen, whose wife, Beatrice, was an opera star who occasionally performed on the stage there. In the 1930s, both theaters transitioned to strictly movies.

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During the Depression, movie-going became an inexpensive opportunity for people to forget for a time their problems and enter a make-believe world of drama or comedy, and during World War II, movies offered the same relief, but prior to the start of the film there would be a news feature showing war-related scenes, reminding viewers of the real world.

In the ’40s those Saturday afternoon westerns at the Rivoli were so much fun. Mom would give me a quarter to spend. I’d walk with friends to the theater and at the box office pay my 12 cents for admission, then purchase a 10-cent box of popcorn, and watch, along with a theater full of kids, a suspense-filled serial thriller, with the good-looking hero getting caught in an impossible situation, maybe a burning building. Then this special feature film would end, and we knew we had to return the following Saturday to see him escape through a broken window, only later to find himself in another dangerous situation. Back again the next week.

The western movie itself featured good guys with white hats and beautiful horses pitted against an outlaw gang, menacing and sneaky. No matter what the plot, the good guys always won. I loved watching Gene Autry singing as he rode across the prairie and into the sunset, and Jeff Chandler as Cochise in “Broken Arrow?” Unforgettable!

My favorite movies were the musical extravaganzas at the Broadway, “An American in Paris” or “The Music Man” or “Oklahoma” “where the wind comes sweeping cross the plains.” Who can forget Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music” singing, “Do — a deer, a female deer; Re — a drop of golden sun; Mi — a name I call myself; Fa — a long, long way to run…”

I remember, too, the Starlight Drive-in theater, a wonderful entertainment for a family — piling the kids in the back seat of the car, stopping at the ticket office lane and then driving into the open area and lining up with the other cars in rows in front of the big screen. Then attaching the speaker (I can’t remember what it was called) to the driver’s side window, and here, too, enjoying a good movie, munching on popcorn and wondering if any of those teenagers parked next to us had slipped into the lot in the trunk of their car.

We can’t forget the free shows in neighboring small towns. How fun to stop at the grocery store that stayed open a little later on movie nights and buy a nickel candy bar or Coke, then put a blanket on the lawn in front the large screen. We didn’t worry about mosquitos. It was just fun to be outside with friends and family enjoying a good movie.

Aah, memories!

Bev Jackson Cotter is a lifelong resident of Albert Lea.