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Going To The Movies by Mary Bridges

Seven was said to be the age of reason, according to the Catechism lessons learned early in school. It was even before that, that I had my earliest memory of a movie. I’d gone with my two older brothers and I was excitedly telling my father about a lady I’d seen in the movie, sitting at a mirror, a fluffy puff in her hand, powdering her face. He was listening to me attentively, a smile playing around the corners of his mouth as he asked if the cosmetic smelled good. Confidently, I said yes, it did. Caught up in the euphoria of the magic silver screen, of course the perfumed scent of face powder was as real to a little girl as was the image of the beautiful lady, not just on celluloid but alive and real. Is the TV screen today capable of producing such enchanting magic for a young child discovering the world? I think not. The fact is children today are born to TV and with its constant use have become inured to its charm.

That first recollection of a movie was a pleasing one; the one following was not a romantic comedy but must have been a horror film. I can still see the likeness of a Peter Lorre-type mad scientist in a white coat, at work in his laboratory.  He spoke a classic line, undoubtedly out of context, which impressed the hell out of me. While I did not understand it, I was impressed enough to remember it: “Each man kills the thing he loves

My childhood was lived in the South End, not one of the more affluent real estate sections of East St. Louis, Illinois. Most movies we saw at the middle-of-the-scale Avenue Theater downtown was within easy walking distance from home. Yet a trip to the movies was still a rare treat then. Almost too dim to recall is another memory of going to the Liberty Theater. The uniqueness of the excursion has completely wiped out any remembrance of what movie we saw. Again, as a tag-along with my brothers, what I remember most was the admission price: a potato! What the significance of a potato as admission price can only be conjecture now. As a neighborhood theater, could the owners of this small business venture be desperate enough to accept food instead of money? Or could they have been philanthropists who gave the staple food to the needy? The only explanation that can make any sense, might be summed up in two words: Great Depression

majestic2_640.jpg

The ultimate downtown theater in town was to be saved and savored for a later day when money wasn’t quite so tight. This Xanadu of theaters, ornately built in the 20’s as so many were and also as so many have been demolished to make way for shopping malls and high rise housing, was aptly called the Majestic. To enter its portals was truly to enter another world. To na├»ve young eyes the wide, crimson, thickly carpeted stairs leading to the rest rooms looked like a grand staircase from one of the movies shown there.  The Ladies Room boasted a chic lounge, also carpeted and furnished with huge upholstered chairs and sofas and mirrors. Timid young females ventured self-consciously into this sophisticated den, attending strictly to the mundane and basic purpose of the facility, slithering in and out, with nary a direct look at anyone, nary a glace in a mirror. They tried to be invisible but they were acutely aware of the mature cigarette-smoking, lipstick-applying patrons, their proprietorship of the premises was clearly evident. In the course of time, the mantle was duly passed on, the envious became the envied

Though it took quite a few years for a young lady to take such a setting for granted, it did happen. For most girls it was with graduation from high school. For many, that was the time they entered the work world and grownup status. With independent means, I could go to the Majestic, paying my own way or with a date. I took my younger sisters and brothers, especially on Sundays and holidays. These reminiscences are among our happiest. Many times my sister and I, together with our two cousins, all of us teenagers would walk to the show and back, at night, with never a thought of fear at being out at a late hour. Many times I even went alone, for I can remember the only companionable sound I heard on the way home was the sound of my high heels clicking on the sidewalk in the dark quiet of the night

The heyday of the movies palace is a thing of the past. There are few theaters like the Majestic and certainly none in the local neighborhoods. Even the latter days of floors sticky with soda pop and Milk Duds are gone. No more restful lounges or white-gloved ushers with flashlight in hand. They are all gone with Tom Mix and William Cassidy. Instead we go to cutup, uninteresting boxes where a container of popcorn and a drink often cost more than the price of early admission. Yet people continue to go to the movies because many today are true works of art and far superior to TV fare. The movie palace is dead; long live the movies!

Originally Posted (Jul 01, 2002)

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