Life in the Pedestrian Lane: It’s only a movie

I was flipping through channels the other day looking for something to watch and came upon Disney’s “The Living Desert” issued in 1953, on Turner Classic Movie Channel. I watched it, remembering when I saw it the first time. It was nearly as good this time, except the camera techniques everyone marveled at then have become commonplace and been overtaken by even more sophisticated ones, so the awe was gone.

This movie was a first in documentaries for Disney, and he followed it the next year with “The Vanishing Prairie,” in which he showed a baby buffalo being born, definitely a first for movies that children were expected to see. These were a breakaway from the animated things he usually produced and garnered him many awards, as well as lots of money (for the time). This was before the National Geographic channel documentaries and way before everyone carried a phone that takes great videos if the carrier has the patience and maybe the nerve to just hold it and watch.

I’ve probably mentioned I really liked movies when I was a kid. Growing up before TV didn’t offer much multi-media entertainment. I read a lot (still do) and listened to the radio (still do) but the real treat was going to the movies. The theater was small by today’s standards, and come Saturday, and sometimes Sunday, it was packed full of kids and often adults, depending on the movie.

My hometown was a small farm town in eastern Washington. In its heyday it had been a booming place, destined for growth, but like lots of boom towns, some place else was better situated, or better financed, or just easier to find and it fell into a slow decline. That was the circumstance during my growing up years. But no one was ready to give up yet, and it still sported a department store, three grocery stores, three restaurants, which each catered to a different clientele, and assorted other locally owned shops and stores, including two ‘beer parlors’ where no Lady ever set foot. The only female who frequented ‘those places’ looked like the stereotyped older bar-fly (and maybe that is where they got the stereotype). She drank beer most of the day, and lived ‘somewhere above the bar.’ In our town her name was Ellie May (way before “The Beverly Hillbillies”).

Saturday night in town was the social event of the week in the summer before harvest started in earnest. We’d get ready about 6 or so. For an extra treat we might go into town early for supper: a hamburger at the Oasis, the ‘family’ restaurant, as opposed to the Sweet Shoppe which was a kids’ hangout and specialized in milkshakes and fountain cokes, or the Kozy Korner, where one could also get a mixed drink with dinner, or anytime. Kids weren’t encouraged to go there, although they were never denied service.

Afterward, while the folks visited and shopped (the stores stayed open until 9 on Saturday night) we kids went to the movie. Probably a double feature western. It would start with a newsreel of the important happenings of the time. We were just over WWII so many features were of what was going on to rebuild Europe. Maybe we’d have a short subject, usually something about a famous person or place, and then a cartoon or maybe two, depending on the length of the movies to come. Saturday nights were for the kids, so were usually western or comedies. The ‘name’ movies were saved for Sunday, and later in the week when adults were more likely to want to attend. I remember seeing “Key Largo” and “I remember Mama,” also “Johnny Belinda” and “Treasure of Sierra Madre,” all fairly well known movies of the day, but I remember best Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and any number of other western heroes galloping across the plains.

We’d exit the theater sometime after 9 and go up the street looking for the parents. If we’d been longer than usual they may have retired to the Legion Club a ‘secret’ place upstairs above the barber shop where they could visit and have a social drink (not like the Kozy Korner whose patrons were apt to spend the entire evening there) waiting for the movie to be over. In our walk around town, because we never went directly to where we knew we’d find the adults, we might see Ellie May and an equally decrepit male companion stumbling arm-in-arm up an alley.

I haven’t been to a movie since “Frozen” and only went to that one because Granddaughter No. 7 wanted to go. It’s too easy to watch on TV these days, and cheaper. Back in the day, a movie ticket cost a quarter. Now it is $8 or more and neither the content nor the technique has improved that much.

I may try to find a Gene Autry western the next time I’m flipping through the channels trying to find something to watch on TV.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at vewalters@gci.net.

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