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Movie Theaters I’ve Known and Loved

Movie Theaters I've Known and Loved

As a little girl I loved going to the Studio Drive In in Culver City where we lived.  

My older sister and I would get into our pajamas, my little baby brother would be in the car seat for babies in the front seat between the driver and the passenger.   We brought out own fried chicken ot eat for dinner.  We’d go get popcorn or bonbons or a Holloway sucker (the best!) at the concessions stand ahead of the movies or at the intermission if we were still awake and we’d watch a double bill – usually a western and or a comedy.

When we got older and at the age of 16, we all got cars of our own.  Mine was a 53 Ford convertible repainted royal blue.  Groups of us would go to the Olympic Drive In and would sneak others in in the trunk. 

When I was really little my father and mother would take my sister and me to the movies.  I was always making my father take me to the bathroom.   That started my habit of sitting on the aisle.  As a film buyer it was known as the acquisitions seat, but to my mind, the quick getaway was to the Ladies Room.  And as a three or four year old, I was always asking my mother and sister, “is this real?” I was so literal minded as a child I could never figure out why the song said “Let Freedom Ring”.  How could Freedom Ring?  A ring was jewelry.  Ring like a bell…but Freedom is not a bell.  Moving on…

We saw this Bob Hope film.  He was a gambler.   And he put a gun into his mouth.  Instead of shooting his brains out, he took a bite and it was chocolate.  That really threw my literal mind into a loop.  What was real?  How did that happen?  The movie was called Sorrowful Jones. The joke was something I had a hard time understanding.  The same with the silents which we saw at the Silent Movie Theater.  Laurel and Hardy were always hitting each other and falling; Charlie Chase was always in trouble as was Charlie Chaplin. I never understood what was funny about all the accidents, falling down, hitting each other and would have terrible anxiety attacks at the silent movies.  I liked movies like Francis the Talking Mule.  That was funny to my childish mind.

For those wonderful Disney cartoons like Cinderella or Alice in Wonderland, Robin Hood or Peter Pan, my father would take us to Beverly Hills and we would stand in line for the Fine Arts Theater.  At the corner was a shoe store which only sold sample sizes (4 ½).  I would admire their high heeled shoes and couldn’t wait for the time that I would be older and could wear them.  Fortunately, when my foot hit the 4 ½ size, I was in high school and so I could buy the shoes for all the formal dances we attended.

Fine Arts Theater

Every Saturday my sister and I, and later my brother would go to the ten-cent Saturday afternoon matinee at the Meralta with a newsreel, previews, cartoon, and a main feature.  The Meralta introduced me to The Dream of Wild Horses.[1]“Meralta” was derived from owners’ Pearl Merrill and Laura Peralta’s surnames. They lived above the new plush theater.  But the movies there were mostly horror and genre.  My brother always went there for the latest horror film.

Meralta Theater, Culver City

If we didn’t go to the Meralta, we’d go to the Culver.  When we were looking to meet other kids from other schools, we’d go to the much fancier Culver Theater.

The Culver had great films, like Little Women, Gone with the Wind, Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, How to Marry a Millionaire, River of No Return, There’s No Business Like Show Business, Easter Parade, A Date with Judy (My sister’s name!), The Three Musketeers, Words and Music, Force of Evil, Neptune’s Daughter, Adam’s Rib, Showboat, An American in Paris, Lili, Giant, Rebel Without a Cause.  Looking at this list, except for the Marilyn Monroe movies which 20th Century Fox owned and the two James Dean films which Warner Bros. owned, all of the films were MGM films.  That makes perfect sense because Culver City was a company town.

The Culver also had “loges”.  These were fancier red velvet seats with ashtrays above the large aisle you would find on entering the theater and choosing your seat – below unless you went up to the loge.  There teenagers would “make out” and bad girls and guys would smoke (Excuse my racism, but as a Jew growing up in a working class wasp neighborhood, I learned these kids were either Pachucos or white trash.) Not that we were such good Jewish kids…there weren’t any Jewish kids that I knew of who went to the movies.  My friends were my school friends, and they were all white working class kids.  If people weren’t working for Hughes Aircraft, they were in the crafts at MGM.  We had one bit actor living down the street named Cameron Mitchell.  And it was a pretty racist neighborhood…anti-Semitism was learned  at home and in Sunday Schools where kids invited me (called a Christ Killer) to learn about bringing Jesus into my heart and there were no blacks that I ever saw.  The Pachucos lived in another neighborhood and we’d see them in the movies, shopping or at the middle and high school next to my elementary school.  Asians?  There might have been a Chinese restaurant, but I don’t recall seeing Asians in school or at the theater or shopping.

Jewish kids made up my group of friends when I got to junior high and we had moved to Beverlywood from Culver City; 90% of the school was Jewish.  Our parents would still drop us at the movies and we would go to Saturday matinees at the Picfair on Pico and Fairfax which eventually burned down around the time of the Watts Riots, or to the Lido on Pico.

The Picfair Theater burned down in 1965.

We’d see Academy Award winning films at the Pickfair.  We’d cry at Carousel, Oklahoma, Midnight Lace, Peyton Place, Imitation of Life.  Great films!  Or we’d sometimes go to the other theater in Pico called Lido.  It was just so boring.   Maybe they showed Marty there or Country Girl and I wasn’t up for slow drama.

For really fancy movies which held premieres, like Around the World in 80 Days, we would go to the Carthay Circle Theater.  Of course I’d go in the days after the premiere itself.  Rarely – though sometimes we’d go to the Hollywood palaces, Grauman’s Chinese, The Egyptian or Pantages Theaters on Hollywood Boulevard.  The best thing about Grauman’s Chinese was the ladies room with a room filled with mirrors and little alcoves to sit and put on lipstick.  They even had lipstick blotters, white heavy weight paper shaped like your lips to blot the lipstick. 

In 1959 The Fine Arts Theatre 8556 Wilshire Boulevardin Beverly Hills showed  Room at the Top, (‘The Most Daring Film in a Decade’), and it played there for over six months. I was in the 10th grade and went to see it.  I liked it but am not sure how much I understood.

In high school we discovered Le Chein Andalou and the Coronet and Baronet theater where Charles Laughton had played in Brecht’s premiere play Galileo produced by John Houseman.  Sometimes they didn’t have enough foreign films (like one about a woman who turned into a panther at night) and they’d show psychological teaching films like “Folie a Deux” when madness is shared by two, in this 20 minute short it was a mother and daughter.  They’d show films on Schizophrenia, etc. and it made me want to study psychology.  We saw all of Bergman, Renoir and saw La Strada and La Dolce Vida.  When I moved back east and went to Brandeis then movie going got great!  Truffaut, Godard,  Chabrol, Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds.  After that I saw every Wajda film and even knew how to pronounce his name.  But after Man of Marble or Man of Steel I started to get disinterested. I have no idea what theaters we went to in Cambridge or New York except for the Bleecker Street Theater where we’d often go for the weekend.

For dates we’d go up the street (Beverwil) to Beverly Hills to the Beverly Theater or the Beverly Canon.  There they had programs printed for the movies (The Young Lions).  Afterward we’d go to Blum’s[2] for their crunchy cake or Wil Wrights Ice Cream Parlor for ice cream sundaes.

And a theater we would always forget except when some exceptional foreign film was showing there, was the Vagabond, way down on Wilshire Blvd. toward downtown.

[1]Wikipedia: The 1953 children’s film Crin-Blanc, English title White Mane, portrayed the horses and the region. A short black-and-white film directed by Albert Lamorisse, director of Le ballon rouge (1956), Crin-blanc won the 1953 Prix Jean Vigo and the short film Grand Prix at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival, as well as awards at Warsaw and Rome.[10] In 1960 Denys Colomb Daunant, writer and actor for Crin-blanc, made the documentary Le Songe des Chevaux Sauvages, “Dream of the Wild Horses”. It featured Camargue horses and slow motion photography, and won the Small Golden Berlin Bear at the 1960 Berlin International Film Festival.[11]

[2]Blum’s was a pink spun sugar fantasy come to life.  It had a gift shop.  It had shocking pink banquettes.  It had surly waitresses.  And it had cake.  Not those plastic looking, multi colored and tasteless layered cakes offered in cafes around Union Square.  No.  They had Blum’s Famous Coffee Crunch cake. (This legendary cake is so memorable that Nancy Silverton has included a recipe for it in her latest cookbook.)

Blum’s was partly a restaurant for the ladies who didn’t work and spent their days going downtown to shop, meet friends and get home before the children came home from school. (http://www.culinarymuse.com/2005/10/blums_where_are.html)

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