By Steve Liddick
Saturdays were special in the 1940s. There was no school and it was the day I got my allowance. My 50-cents and I would get on a bus to the city to see a movie. The bus ride cost a dime. The movie ticket was a budget-busting 15-cents and a box of candy was a nickel. That left ten-cents for the bus ride home and one lonely dime for two comic books.
I would usually stop off at my grandmother’s apartment in the city on the way to the show to say hello, maybe get a snack, and ogle the pretty nurses from Grandma’s kitchen window as they went by on their way to the hospital next door.
Grandma was a pretty hip old lady who understood kids. She knew the young would always have oddball fashions and terminology all their own. She understood the need of the young to be the same as their peers in fashion and different from grownups in their language.
“Where are you going, boy?” she would say.
“To the movies, Grandma,” I’d say.
“Wait, I’ll get my purse and go with you,” she’d say.
“Uh . . . ”
Now, when I said I was going to the movies, I meant I was going to the theater Grandma would not have been caught dead in. The grungy Rio Theater showed a western and mystery double feature, 24 color cartoons, a Three Stooges short subject, a Superman or Rocketman serial and a live talent show on stage. We all got to holler and cheer and boo at what was on the screen, sit with our feet up on the orchestra pit railing, and be obnoxious where our parents couldn’t see us.
But, what my grandma meant by “wait I’ll get my purse and go with you” was, “we’ll go to Loews Regent Theater.” Instead of watching Lash Larue whip the bad guys into line or Red Ryder and Little Beaver thunder across the silver screen, we would be watching Howard Keel sing to Jane Powell. Or maybe it would be Fred Astaire dancing alternately with Ginger Rogers, Vera Ellen, Cyd Charisse, Ann Miller or Mitzi Gaynor. And you couldn’t holler and cheer or boo at what was on a classy screen like the one at Loews Regent Theater with its plush carpets and gilded decor. Certainly not with your grandma sitting right next to you. They didn’t even have an orchestra pit railing and even if they had it would probably be covered with velvet and you wouldn’t have been allowed to put your feet up on it.
But grandma paid for the tickets and the candy and I got to spend the time with her.
Many years later, long after Grandma had passed away, MGM came out with a video compilation of clips from their movies of the 40s and 50s.
Those Saturday mornings all came back to me in a warm wave as Howard and Mitzi and Cyd and Fred and all the rest sang and danced in glorious Technicolor.
But the best part of watching those videos was that for a couple of hours I got a chance to sit beside my grandmother one more time.