Summer movie matinees -- 08/31/10

When I was a kid (in Kingston, NY) there was a special Summer Vacation Kiddie Matinee movie deal. Every Wednesday during the summer there was a special afternoon show just for kids. (Well, I suppose they would sell an admission to a mom who just had to be sure her little darling was safe an happy -- but it those days we were mostly all free range kids who spent most of the summer not being under parental supervision -- and I doubt that any adult could have endured more than a few minutes surrounded by a thousand candy-gobbling kids.)

You probably could buy a season pass at the box office, but I always remember buying mine at school. Yes, at school. The schools were happy to sell these tickets to their students because (I assume) they viewed it as a safe and wholesome way for the kids to be entertained during the summer, as if this were a public service being performed by the movie theater.

If you paid eight or ten bucks for the last film you saw in a cramped little multiplex cinema, just wait until I tell you what this cost. A buck. Yes, one dollar. For the summer. Twelve shows.

The more mathematical (or calendrical) among you may want to stop me at this point to protest that there would only be ten Wednesdays between the end of school in June and the start of school in September. You are quite right. What they did was have two shows during the last two weeks of summer vacation, those two weeks when it is more likely that kids will be driving their mothers crazy, so there would be two afternoons during each of those two weeks when the kids could go off to the movies and peace and quiet could reign at home. (Of course, as a kid, I always dreaded when we got to the point where there were two movie afternoons -- that meant that summer was almost over and school would be starting again.

Okay, so how could they make money charging eight and one third cents per admission? (Please note that standard children's admission would have been about twenty-five cents in those days.) Well, in the first place, these were not first run movies, they were several years old (or more) and tended to be grade B cowboy movies or family-oriented comedies (i.e., kids' movies) or perhaps a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movie, plus two or three cartoons and maybe an old Three Stooges short. That is, very inexpensive. However, the real money came from following the wisdom of King Gillette (who would sell razors below cost so that he could then sell you the very profitable blades). It is still accepted wisdom in the movie business that the real profits come from snacks and drinks. So here the theater was getting more than a thousand kids buying popcorn -- huge amounts of popcorn -- and soda and candy. The crowds at the snackbar in the lobby were so thick you could barely squeeze past.

The shows were at the Community Theatre on Broadway in Kingston. This was one of those huge showplace cinemas -- most of which have since either been demolished or turned into community performing arts centers (such as The Forum in Binghamton, NY and PPAC in Providence, RI) and the Community Theatre has become the Ulster Performing Arts Center (Kingston being the county seat of Ulster County) and (due to its fine acoustics) home to the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. The theatre had been built as The Kingston Theatre. It was eventually purchased by the Walter Reade company who renamed it The Community Theater and a few years later put a lot of money into upgrading it into the showplace of their chain.

To the best of my knowledge, I began attending these shows in the summer of 1951, the summer when I was 8 years old and between second and third grade. No, of course I didn't go by myself... I went with kids from the neighborhood: Mikey Amato and Louie Naccarato. Yeah, we were all the same age. We would go a block up the street and catch the city bus (the Hasbrouck Avenue line) and all we had to do was to remember to get off at the bus stop across the street from the theatre. We were probably supposed to catch a bus back home after the show but it was only about a two mile walk and it would save us each a dime (which could be used for candy instead).

That summer, Mikey and Louie and I headed off to the movies every Wednesday (plus whatever day the extra matinee was shown in those last two weeks -- I assume either Monday or Friday, but I really can't remember). Then, in the summer of 1952, I was told "You can bring your brother with you this summer." Charlie was three years younger -- well, three years and a few months -- his birthday falls on August 27th (yes, he just celebrated his 64th birthday this past Friday). Again, remember this was back in 1952 and there was nothing unusual in sending a five year old going on six to be sent off via public transit bus to go to the movies in the care of his nine year old brother. (At that point I had gone by bus to our dentist's office by myself several times -- I had a lot of cavities that year! -- and often walked the mile or so back home afterwards.)

So for three or four summers Charlie and I would head off to the movies every Wednesday afternoon all summer long. I can't recall if the summer of 1955 was my last summer of vacation movie matinees or if that was the year I opted out. I can remember feeling conflicted about whether or not I should get the tickets, but I think I decided in favor of one last summer of movies. I had graduated from elementary school and that September I would start junior high school and that marked an end to those kinds of childhood amusements. The next summer I would be thirteen and obviously no teenager would be caught dead at a children's matinee. I assume Charlie continued to go until he also aged out of the kiddie demographic.

Ah, but getting that long strip of a dozen tickets during the last week of school, a promise of weekly fun... because those summer matinees were fun... for eight weeks... and then came the weeks with two movie days bringing the reminder that summer was nearing an end.

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