9/3/2011 9:43 am [Me]: I was barely walking, so I don’t remember a thing...but I’ve looked it up on IMDB, and the math is right: Tea for Two was a 1950 movie and I was exactly two. I am so grateful for this; you’re the only person in the world who remembers my life before I remember it! What theater was that, BTW, sixty-one years ago?
9/3/2011 12:43 pm [Judy]: It was the Saturday matinee. But where? Couldn’t have been the Hyde Park Theatre — that was always more sophisticated fare, The Lavender Hill Mob, that kind of thing. Might’ve been the Ambassador — it was newer and much less gritty than the 20th Century... I think you weren’t allowed popcorn because the lady at the concession stand thought you’d choke, which infuriated you. So I bribed you with Good n‘ Plenties, one of my passions back then.
Whether the movie in question was at the Ambassador or the Twentieth Century, rival theaters on a small village square in the neighborhood called Oakley, is lost to us now, behind an immovable scrim. I was charmed to learn why I’ve always been partial to Good n’ Plenties.
Meanwhile, enter into the conversation my husband and theater-managing partner, who, as I said, also grew up in Cincinnati:
9/3/2011 4:19 pm [Dean]: Gritty? How dare you besmirch one of my favorite theaters! The very reason we got seduced into running a movie palace in New York was my memories of the glam Twentieth Century! During the Korean War, my mother’s friend, “Aunt Jane,” had free passes to that theater because her husband, “Uncle Rick,” was the manager. I imagined his job to be the most luxurious one in the world. His office was on the same level as the projection booth, about three floors up, with a massive picture window overlooking the auditorium. There was a speaker box on his desk — clunky, but I thought it was swank. Seated in his big leather chair, with one turn of the speaker’s knob, I could watch the movie and gobble down endless free candy and popcorn. The adults sat in the corner, talking, laughing and drinking (not soda). And there are other connections... Imagine the tug on my heart, when I walked into the St. George in 1969, a newly-minted adult, and the same maroon-swirled-with-beige-gold-and-carmel carpet was on the floor, the exact pattern I’d played on at the 20th Century in 1953! Near the end of our theater year, someone from the Theater Historical Society asked if we had spare carpeting for their archive. Alas, we had no spare carpet, only spare memories.
To make sense of Judy’s reply, you’ll need to know that Judy’s got 11 years on Dean...She’s also used to being the oldest, so claims her seniority easily.
9/4/2011 9:49 pm [Judy]: Ah, what a difference 11 years makes! In 1944, Betty M. and I were old enough to walk down Paxton, cross the railroad tracks and turn down Isabella to the 20th Century, where Saturday matinees always began with a newsreel, then a cartoon — Tom & Jerry or Bugs if we were lucky — then some Perils-of-Pauline short subject and, finally, the movie, National Velvet or The White Cliffs of Dover or even Laura. After the war, about the same time Dean was born, they refurbished an older theater nearby which became the Ambassador. Glamor had come at last to Oakley Square! We deserted the Twentieth Century immediately. Betty and I saw Gone With the Wind for the first time at the Ambassador — I was seriously in love with Leslie Howard. We had had to take Betty’s little brother Bobby who sneaked out at intermission. He was 8 and had had enough of girls in dresses, especially the scene where Scarlet eats those carrots and vomits them up and then declares she’ll never go hungry again. We were so transfixed by the movie, we didn’t even notice he’d left — which earned Betty about a million demerits. Later, as teens Madge and I returned to the Twentieth Century, for racier stuff like A Streetcar Named Desire and A Place in the Sun — teen fare. They had a balcony, where the big kids necked, and you could smoke. I’d learned to smoke at Girl Scout Camp, so Madge and I would take to the stairs and light one up, and maybe watch Betty necking with some boyfriend of hers.
By the time Dean was spinning around in Uncle Rick’s chair, I’d probably graduated to the Albee downtown, on dates with Harry or Dick. Now the Albee, that’s a full-fledged palace!!! I saw From Here to Eternity there, the sexiest film ever, or so I thought at the time.
Gone With the Wind was five years old in 1944, and making the rounds at neighborhood houses. Judy eventually saw it over 20 times on various screens; she couldn’t get enough of Leslie Howard (Madge was mad for Clark Gable). When I was six, my sister took me to GWTW for the first time. As for the Albee, we all graduated to dating there. Growing up, you went to the fancy downtown theaters with your family -- for Ben Hur and such -- on Sunday, then you dated there later on.
The movies — and the theaters that contained them — such was our life.