“What are Red Vines?” I asked my husband and former theater partner.
“Oh they’re the same as red Twizzlers...” he answered.
We sold Twizzlers, not vines, back in 1976 at the 2,672-seat St. George Theatre in Staten Island, (whose candy stand sales, BTW, surpassed most houses on Broadway). When we first opened the St. George, there’d been scads of confections I was unfamiliar with: Charleston Chews, for one thing (I now know they were invented by an actor in 1925, and named for the dance craze), and Jordan almonds for another. I was from the Midwest, where these particular sweets were not to be found. Now, after all these years, here was yet another mystery. It troubled me that one more candy name had slipped below my radar. Red Vines, it turns out, have been around a long time, since 1914, to be exact. What did I know?
This rumination led me to the topic of concession supplies in general, all those candies, their stories and their sweet — if often peculiar — names. Almost as old as Red Vines is Baby Ruth (1920), a re-invention of something called the “Kandy Kake.” Betcha thought Baby Ruth was named for the baseball player, right? Well, Curtiss, the company that invented it, claims otherwise. The candy was named for Grover Cleveland’s eldest child, Ruth, they insist. Ruth was long dead by 1920, and Curtiss was within an outfield-relay throw of Wrigley Field, where Babe Ruth slammed in the most famous of his more-than-700 home runs, (1932 world series) but never mind, just a coincidence.
Baby Ruths are old enough to pre-date their own sale inside theaters. Silents-era patrons had to go next door or out on the street to buy whatever they munched in darkened movie palaces: Baby Ruths were some of the first contraband they smuggled in. And the popcorn vendor was always out there on the street, making a killing. But this smuggling, permitted by management back then, quickly became verboten as it more or less is today. By the thirties, the Depression in full swing, theater owners accepted as fact two things: 1.} People weren’t going to stop eating in the dark and 2.} candy represented profits they could rake in. By that time Milk Duds (1926), Sno-Caps (1922) and Jujubes (1920) had joined the club of beloved confections. The Duds were named because they were, literally “duds,” their non-spherical shapes a mishap. Sno-Caps were re-named and downsized from something called “Bob White,” a 2.5 inch/diameter nonpareil. Jujubes originally came in lilac, violet, rose, spearmint, and lemon flavors, a true 19th-century confection, requiring some patience, a hard candy, broken down over time in the mouth. The 1996 Gummi Reviews published by NewTimes, Inc., stated, "Jujubes are a nearly inedible delicacy, that have less in common with gummi bears than prehistoric amber droppings have with old insects." Are you a Jujube fan? If so, how long does it take to eat an entire box?
Then, of course, there’s Snickers, arguably the most popular candy bar of all time; at least that’s true on my front porch at Halloween (annual global sales of 2 billion dollars). This nougat/caramel/peanut/chocolate confection (which followed the not unsuccessful Milky Way) is named for a prized horse the owner, Franklin Mars, kept in his family stable. Snickers’ no-nonsense logo and font are perhaps as famous as the bar itself.
Popcorn, my drug of choice in a darkened movie theater, didn’t hit its full stride until World War II. in 1938 a Midwestern theater owner named Glen W. Dickson installed popcorn machines in the lobbies of his theaters, so the movie/popcorn marriage had begun. Then sugar rationing cut the pins out from under concession sales, and by war’s end Americans were eating three times as much popcorn as they had. You can bet the “butter sauce” had no butter at all in it, but who noticed?
M & M’s, invented in 1941, were named for a partnership between Forrest E. Mars Sr., son of Mars’ founder, and Bruce Murrie, the son of Hershey Chocolate’s president. Hershey, it seems, had control of rationed chocolate, so M&M’s went viral, but only in the armed forces. The returning GI’s brought a taste for them home to the local theater and beyond. They were, it so happens, inspired by a British candy Forrest Mars encountered in the Spanish Civil War that preceded WWII. Interesting, their invention first as soldier-food, given that Mars (god of War!) invented them. They are, perhaps, the easiest of all candies to stuff your face with, in or out of a darkened theater.
There are so many candies, I could go on ad nauseum -- a verbal eating of the sugar bowl. And since British candies came up in the last paragraph, just leap across the pond to grab Irn-Bru Bars, Brighton Rock Sweets, Jelly Babies, Flake, Licorice All-Sorts, and anything Cadbury. We don’t know these confections very well, except maybe the babies, and All-Sorts, which I love but hardly ever find. But go into Tea and Sympathy on Greenwich Avenue next time you’re in NYC, to get a load of all the Brits stocking up on Aero or Yorkie Bars. Maybe they’re on their way to a movie!
Afterthought: What’s your favorite movie candy? Hope it isn’t Raisinets...