Saturday Matinees Were the Highlight of the Week for Many Pre-Boomers
By Don Potter, Editor-In-Chief
I fondly remember the Liberty Theatre in Philadelphia as the place where I received an extra-large dose of entertainment. The Saturday afternoon movie extravaganza lasted for hours and took the youngsters attending on a journey of fun, excitement, and shoot-‘em-up adventures. Being there was a social event for kids of all ages. Through the ‘40s into the early ‘50s the Saturday matinee reigned. Nothing paralleled this once-weekly tradition.
Typically, Saturdays consisted of chores in the morning. These had to be completed to mom’s satisfaction in order to assure a trip to the movies after lunch. It was my first exposure to an incentive program. I walked to the theatre with friends; we tried to get there early in order to get a good seat. Rain or shine, sweltering heat or bitter cold, standing in line was part of the ritual and put us in the mood for what was about to come.
The lights were dimmed at 1 p.m. The first of several cartoons began as the curtains opened. Tweety Bird, Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny, and others got us laughing with their antics. After that was a one-reel comedy followed by the newsreel. The excitement was next with the showing of the serial. You know, the continuing adventure with the hero who was tied to a runaway car about to go over a cliff in the closing scene from last week, only to miraculously escape unharmed to fight the bad guys once more in this week’s chapter. Now it was time for the first movie, usually a western. The feature film was most often a WWII movie or a swashbuckler with plenty of action.
About once a month the house lights went up between the main movies and contests were held on stage. The favorites were paddle balls, the red ones with the rubber band attached, and yo-yos. I liked the yo-yo competition because I got pretty good at it until the string broke when I was doing “around the world” in the living room and broke the front window. That ended practicing in the house and blunted my aspirations of being the local yo-yo champion.
There was a refreshment stand, much smaller than those found in modern theatres, but the selection was good. For a nickel, you could get a box of Juicy Fruits. I like these because they lasted a long time and there were lots of different flavors. The only problem was what to do with the green ones? These were peppermint and burned your mouth. So I, along with the other boys who didn’t like them either, would toss them high in the air in order to break into the light beam coming from the projector to the screen. It looked like a bright coin, but there was often an “ouch,” a “hey,” or a “who did that?” when the coin became a piece of candy again and struck someone on the head, not too hard but hard enough to get a reaction. Boys will be boys.
After the four-hour show ended, we reenacted what we saw on the screen all the way home, which usually took the better part of an hour. So we arrived just in time for dinner. Where else could anyone have so much fun for a dime? I don’t know what the girls thought about the matinees, because not too many were in the audience; but it would be nice to hear from the ladies and those from other towns as to your Saturday afternoons.