By Dr. Curtis Varnell
Cringing in fear, I sat between my two uncles fearfully gazing at the big screen and watching the horrifying story unfold. I don’t know the year but I know I was way too young to be watching a T-rex pursue and devour cattle and men in the movie, The Beast of Hollow Mountain. My first movie and I can still recall some of the scenes.
For a big portion of the last century, the local theater was the place to be, especially on a Saturday afternoon or evening. Every town of any size had at least one, and some several, theaters where the teenagers would congregate and enjoy visiting and watching the latest movies.
Whether it was the Gem Theater (Charleston), the Reata (Danville), Savage (Booneville), Scott (Waldron) or Logan (Paris), the local theater was the place to be for teenagers, especially on Saturday evenings.
The most common genres were the horror stories featuring Godzilla, King Kong, or even more horrifying creatures like the blob, Hitchcock’s The Birds, or the creature from the Black Lagoon. I think my uncles particularly liked these because their frightened dates would sit much closer to them and clutch their hands throughout the movie.
My favorite were always the westerns. I loved movies featuring John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and later Clint Eastwood. I can still recall clutching my quarter to purchase my ticket and then finding my way through the darkened theater to my favorite seat. If I had enough money, I could purchase a soda, candy bar, and popcorn for another quarter.
The theaters were plush with velvet seats, carpeted floors, and surround sound. Up until the 1920’s, theaters were live performances and available only for the wealthy. With the development of movies, theater entertainment became available to all and theater owners made them extremely nice to give the working class a taste of the finer things in life.
Most people over the age of forty can identify with those days of standing in line waiting patiently for your turn to buy a ticket and can still recall the smell of the buttered popcorn and other refreshments that could be purchased at the concession stand. Many married couples can still remember their first date- a trip to the theater- and probably the movie that was playing at the time.
One of my first dates was at the Paris drive-in theater and the movie was the tear jerker, Love Story. Drive-ins, another thing of the past, allowed you to sit in your own car while watching the movie. You would drive up onto a small banked hill about sundown, turn off your lights, and fasten your microphone to your car window, and enjoy the latest movies. Sometimes, families would bring entire pick-up loads of kids, back up to the sound device, and sit in lawn chairs in the truck bed while watching the movie. Many enjoyable spring and summer nights were spent in this manner.
Times have changed, people travel further for entertainment, and large theaters offering ten or twelve movie choices have taken the place of our community theaters. The old movie theaters stand deserted and quite but, as we pass by, we still remember our Saturdays at the Movies.