Once upon a childhood, movies weren’t rated (and if they were, nobody told me), parents weren’t worried that they would taint our tiny little minds, and cinematic magic was only a short bicycle ride from my backyard—where I raked the lawn—to a small movie theater in town.
I have many vivid memories of growing up in Glencoe, Illinois. But as much as I remember, I have forgotten even more. And I have absolutely no recollection of whom I went to the movies with.
Friends? Brothers? Sisters? Parents?
Nor do I remember which films I saw. Instead, it’s a jumble of titles from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s—a melting pot of everything from Forbidden Planet to Tammy and the Bachelor to Anatomy of a Murder to High Noon.
Did I have a favorite movie during those wonderful formative years?
No. Not really, because as a pre-teen and teen, none was as important as the experience of Going to the Movies. Like being able to say “I love to read,” without having to point out a specific book.
Among my memories, my favorites revolve around buying tickets from an elaborate booth outside the doors to the theater, the popcorn-smell of the lobby, and the multitude of candies available that might or might not be as appealing in a similar display case at the Comics Store on the corner, but that were utterly irresistible in the lobby of the Glencoe Theater.
Like hotdogs at a baseball game, candy always tastes better when you’re watching a movie. Add the jiggle of the contents inside a rectangular box, and better becomes best: Whoppers. Raisinets. Goobers. Junior Mints. Gum Drops. Juicy Fruits. Good and Plenty. Twizzlers. Sno-Caps. Jelly Beans. And, of course, Milk Duds (ah! Milk Duds!)
The distance between the brightly lighted lobby and the dark interior of the theater was a heart-stopping leap into the unknown. Temporarily disoriented by darkness, I was instantly rescued by a movie usher. She wore a neat uniform like a stewardess on an airplane. She was high-heeled, young, and pretty—usually a school friend of the daughter
professional, and always wearing white gloves and holding a flash light.
In the annals of romantic adventure, there is nothing more suggestive of infinite possibilities than a white-clad hand holding a flashlight, leading a child down the aisle of a darkened movie theater to a seat where he or she will be transported into a world of…of what?
I remember walking on sticky carpets. I remember that the smoking section (yes! There was a smoking section) was always on the left. I remember the big question of where to sit. Up front near the screen? In the back, under the projection booth? Or in the middle?
Then, as now, my favorite seat was always in the center, on the aisle. Neither too far from nor too close to the screen.
In that long ago era before multiplexes, a theater was dark before the movie began. Sitting and waiting was like being in an ante-room to adventure. When will the movie start? What will it be about? Will it make me laugh? Cry? Laugh and cry? Will I be frightened? Will I be inspired?
Anticipation was heightened when the silver screen finally came to life and we were treated (or tormented)—in no particular order—to a travelogue (boring). News of the World (stiff and stilted). And a cartoon (stupid). I hated cartons. Why was the Road Runner always battering Wile E. Coyote? Why was Bugs Bunny always humiliating Elmer Fudd? How could Sylvester survive after Tweety had dropped a six-hundred-pound boulder on his head?
Clearly, I had no sense of humor.
Eventually, however, the feature film began.
During those delicious years, I can’t recollect a single film that I loved, but I lovingly remember many film experiences. One stands out as being particularly relevant to grown-up me.
Long before I decided to be a writer, I must have believed that movies were inextricably intertwined with reality. So much so that if one ended in a way that I did not like (the princess dies…the philanthropist loses all his money…the orphan isn’t adopted…the bank manager murders his wife), I would mutter as I watched the credits scroll down the screen, “That isn’t the way it really happened at all!” And before I left the theater, I had rewritten the end of the movie in my mind.
Left to my own devices, Cyrano would have married Roxanne. The Count of Monte Cristo would have reconciled with Mercédès, and Camille would be alive to this day.
It was in the evocative darkness of the Glencoe Theater that, unbeknownst to myself, I was developing my imagination. It was there that I came to love stories, and it was there that the seeds for my love of plots was born…to the extent that when television began to broadcast old movies, I would read summaries of each in my TV Guide with such rapt attention that even now, I can describe the plots of hundreds of movie that I’ve never seen.
Plots. Plots. Plots.
Movies. Movies. Movies.
Candy. Popcorn. White gloves. Flashlights. Marquees with big letters shouting out names like Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Gary Cooper, and Audrey Hepburn.
And then, there was me.
Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen years old. Pedaling my bicycle a mile away from the sweet security of my happy home to the beckoning allure of the Glencoe Theater.
Mysterious and exciting.
Life-enhancing and mind-expanding.
Much-loved and well-remembered.
A Corridor to the Unknown.
Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing visit www.shellyreuben.com