Friday, April 7, 2023

My first motion picture theater was the State Theater on 21st Street in downtown Galveston. The ticket window was on the street and there was a lobby with a concessions stand. The “colored section” was a small balcony upstairs. Admission was 20 cents and I got a feature, a cartoon, the news and a Western serial for my money. I’m sure I started out on Disney films, Tom and Jerry cartoons and the Cisco Kid but when I was old enough to take the bus downtown by myself I moved on to films like Storm Warning (1951). I was eleven years old. The movie frightened me, of course, but I sat through it twice. There were other theaters down the street that showed steamy adult movies like The Story of Bob and Sally (1948) and I heard people talking about those movies, but I was too young to get in to see them, so Ginger Rogers getting dressed, Ginger Rogers in a slip, Ginger Rogers’ white shoulders, her stockinged legs, muscular arms and a glimpse of her breasts were probably my first exposure to sex in the cinema. Doris Day, Ronald Reagan, murder, rape, a whipping, burning crosses and white hoods were part of the Storm Warning mise-en-scène, too, although that term wouldn’t have meant anything to me then even if it had been invented.
The Martini Theater down the street from The State was a more toney venue. I went to grade school with the manager’s daughter. They had a color television, the first I had seen. The first television of any kind that I saw, a black-and-white RCA, was owned by the Salinas family down the block. The neighbors gathered over there to watch boxing matches on TV. That was in the late Forties and early Fifties. In Galveston, Texas. Peter Pan (1953) was the last Disney film I saw before high school. The stage version with Mary Martin, televised by NBC a couple of years later, was more impressive.
I handled 16mm film at an early age, threading Barney Google and Snuffy Smith cartoons and short Westerns into a little, grey Keystone projector I had gotten as a present. I don’t remember how old I was, the occasion, or who gave it to me. Thinking back, it seems strange to me now that I should have had a projector like that. I projected the films on the wall in my long, narrow bedroom. I staged plays with prop characters I cut out of comic books and pasted on cardboard. I built a platform in the backyard and talked my friends into improvising scenes on stage. I drew comic strips, mostly about flyers and air battles, because the airplanes were easy to draw. Saturdays, I listened to Let’s Pretend on the radio in the living room and football games in the kitchen. I read Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book more than once. My favorite character was the Yellow Dwarf in East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Looking back, and how much clearer things seem looking back, I see all of that as work that was more important than church, school or family.

No comments: