Darn, said my buddy Alner, shaking his head in dismay as he put down his Times Leader. Everything in the movies tonight I've seen or I don't care to see. And I was really looking forward to going out.
Alner, old pal, I said with a smile. There's no need to sit home. I know where there are some really neat theaters with shows I'm sure you haven't seen. Let's go check 'em out.
I shouldn't have opened my big mouth, he sighed, settling back into his easy chair.
Needless to say, within moments we were strolling through a Wyoming Valley neighborhood of about 60 or so years ago.
All right, I asked for it, said Alner. You can't resist using your powers of metaphysical travel, can you?
You got it, buddy, I grinned.
Lots of folks are out and about for a February night, he said, looking around.
They're headed for the local movie house, I replied. I forgot to check to see exactly where we are, but I know it's sometime around the late 1940s or early 1950s.
I see whole families together, he said, pointing.
Families had their weekly movie nights. Mom and dad would take the kids to see something they'd all enjoy. With Hollywood cranking out good old family flicks, the parents didn't have to worry about anything inappropriate for the kids. If the older folks liked it, chances are the young ones would too. I remember lots of great westerns, comedies, mysteries – even war stories – from these days.
Hey, said Alner, nudging me in the ribs. That guy just plunked down two singles and got some change and the whole family walked into the theater.
That's right, old buddy. You could take the wife and kids out for two Georges and still have enough left to load up on candy and popcorn. Hey, want to go in?
I know, your power of theoretical invisibility means the usher in the uniform taking tickets won't see us.
You're learning, Alner. Let's grab some seats.
Do I see women buying dishes over there? he gasped.
This is ‘Dish Night,' I said. With movies changing three or four nights a week, the theaters kept the customers coming by doing promotions like selling cut-rate plates and cups. See enough movies and you could furnish your cupboard.
Wow, it's ‘The Three Stooges.'
Sure is, I said. You didn't just get the main feature. You also got a short comedy, maybe a Bugs Bunny cartoon – my favorite – a travelogue, previews, a newsreel (no TV yet) and maybe even a singalong. Some theaters ran serials on weekend nights.
What a fun place, said Alner, watching Moe pound Larry. Hey, I didn't even notice the name of this theater.
Doesn't matter, I replied. Whether it's the Hart, the Sterling, the Grand, the Roman, the Himmler, the Roosevelt or whatever, the fun's all the same. The people can take the bus to downtown Wilkes-Barre to see their movies first-run or, as many do, they can wait until the films hit their neighborhood houses, like this one. There are no parking worries either. Most people find movies within walking distance of their homes.
Suddenly Alner was back in his easy chair. Hey, how'd I …?
I wagged my finger at him. I brought you back because you wouldn't share your Good and Plenties with me.
They cost me five cents, he sneered. Get your own.
Tom Mooney is a Times Leader columnist. Reach him at email@example.com.