There were actually two box office windows inside our lobby, but only one, with a non-functioning sign — TICKETS — was open for business. A noticeable groove in the marble floor in front of this window, testified to decades of patrons who had paused, paid, and pivoted on their way to see a movie.
Perched on an iron stool in front of a machine — with black and cherry-red buttons embedded in a steel plate — Brenda (hoop earrings, chewing gum) or Diane (afro, big round eyes), or some or another member of management, made the judgement call about who was really entitled to a child’s ticket.
“Quick — what year were you born?”
If the interviewee stammered, looked down, or appeared to be doing mental calculation, the jig was up. More than once, a box office staffer spotted someone carefully waiting — until patrons from the last showing were walking out — for a crowded moment to walk in backwards. Near as I know, they always got caught.
We were privileged, given the toughness of the local streets in 1976, to have interior box office windows at the St. George. Many theaters were built with external brass or chrome booths fronting on sidewalk.
Such was the case at the Mt. Lookout Theatre in Cincinnati where I grew up. My sister Cris had a job there when she was sixteen, selling tickets in the glass booth. I was seven, privileged to a free ticket on Saturdays and all the popcorn I could consume.
When I wasn’t watching Earth Versus the Flying Saucers or whatever else was showing, my favorite pastime those Saturdays was hanging out with my sexy almost-grown-up sister, with hair short and in bangs, just like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. Cris could be found at the outside chrome booth, which she occupied with the sophistication of a sybil.
Mother didn’t approve of Cris’s theater job, mostly because her study habits were abysmal. Our mother also thought the theater a little seedy; but had she known!
Years after she died, Cris confessed to me that on New Year’s Eve, 1956, she’d been sitting in the glass booth when a car careened suddenly around the corner on two wheels spitting out a single bullet, which penetrated the glass just above her head. Mother never knew, of course. My nephews and niece, and generations to follow, might never had existed, had that bullet taken a lower trajectory...
I thought of this episode later at the St. George in those crazy mid-seventies, and took heart that our ticket sellers were reasonably safe inside a recessed lobby.
1. Cris lived to 81, as it turns out, producing all those children and great grandchildren, working for IBM and NASA, becoming in fairly late age a mainframe computer expert who traveled the world. She died this January, and this blasted pandemic — not, fortunately, the cause of her death, is nonetheless the reason I can’t yet fly home to Cincinnati. I miss her.
2. Lots of other stuff happened that a box office staffer had to keep on top of at the St.George. Sometimes there was more theater going on in the lobby than in the auditorium itself. Check it out.