The  Next-To-Last Picture Show

by | May 31, 2014


By Bruce Mastracchio

Everyone can remember going to the movies as a kid. For us growing up, here in East Greenwich, in the ’40s and ’50s, it was a particularly unique experience. Such a small town, we had two movie theaters, and later a drive-in, all inside 16 square miles.
The theaters were the Kent and the Greenwich (now the Odeum ). They were all a kid needed on a Saturday afternoon, or, a rainy Sunday.
This story, which comes from my old Mems and Rems ( Memories & Reminiscences ) columns, is dedicated to those people who made it possible to “follow your dreams on the movie screen.” So, to the Erinakes family; to George and Blanche and Steve … this one’s for you. Thanks for the memories.
When you think about it, who would really want to be a kid growing up today ? On one hand, they have everything. Yet, if you stop to analyze it, they really have nothing. They miss out on a lot and they have to pay top price for what they do get.  Along with all the fun things we used to have here in “Old EG,” we had The Kent and The Greenwich. You didn’t have to say “theater.” People knew what you meant.
When word got out that they were closing The Kent, and that, possibly, The Greenwich would be next, it brought out a flood of memories in me.
The Greenwich was the first theater I can remember going to. I think it cost a dime (might have even been a nickel, at first) to go there, and for that price you got a whole afternoon of fun. After handing the attendant your allowance and buying a candy bar (they were only a nickel), you hustled down the aisle to get that  “certain seat.”  Usually, it was upfront with the Big Screen looming over you. There was the usual horseplay. The usher would come down with his flashlight to calm you down.
Then the lights dimmed and it was “magic time.”
First you would get the previews of coming attractions. They would cover two or three of the upcoming, potential Oscar possibilities, or maybe, a “B” Western starring Randolph Scott. After that there would be the MovieTone Newsreel and a couple of color cartoons, usually Looney Tunes with Porky Pig or Bugs Bunny.
That was followed by a serial, either The Lone Ranger or Frank Buck, who was kind of like the Indiana Jones of his day. It always involved a nail-biter with zombies, head hunters or wild Indians coming after him, and he, hanging by his fingertips, when … “To Be Continued” – came on the screen.
Next was a “B” movie and then the Main Feature.
In those days, once you had paid, you could sit through as many showings as you wanted to. You were not thrown out like they do today.
Remember . . . Bushy had his barber shop on the second floor? It was possible to get a haircut and watch a movie at the same time. On the other side of the projection booth a dentist set up shop for awhile and drilled teeth while Atlanta burned, or Bambi went in search of his mother.
It was at The Greenwich where we first fell in love with Walt Disney and his productions. We saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, Fantasia, Cinderella and The Vanishing Prairie, and many, many more. 
Even when they raised the price to a quarter, it was still a bargain. If your mom was thrifty, she would send you to the show with a paper bag stuffed with homemade cookies, or popcorn, or other goodies. Sometimes fruit. If you were lucky and had more than the price of admission, you could get candy at the snack bar, and after the show, if you had money left over, you could go next door to Hathaway’s Variety Store for a soda and ice cream. All that for less than 50 cents!
It was at the Kent and Greenwich where we saw some of our most memorable flicks. Who can forget “The Creature From the Black Lagoon,” “King Kong,” “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” and “The Thing”?
My sensitive side was drawn to more thoughtful films, like “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “A Patch of Blue,” “Lilies of the Field,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Blackboard Jungle,” and “A Thousand Clowns.” Movies that had good acting, a good plot, a good story and, usually, a message.
Then, with me, of course, the Westerns, where I was introduced to a people I feel have been more wronged than any in history: the American Indians (now called Native Americans).
There were a host of others, too, mostly forgettable, that can be caught at 2 a.m. on one of the cable channels. In fact, I saw one the other night – “The Thing” – with James Arness, in his first starring role, as an alien spaceship, threatening an expedition of servicemen at the North Pole.
It was at The Kent, I believe, where we were introduced to 3-D movies. I think the first one I saw was “Fort Ticonderoga,” a forgettable flick, if there ever was one, but one that brought out the white cardboard glasses with the red and green lenses. Remember the guy sticking the fiery torch in your face?
So many memories. A little town of 3,000 people or so with two movie shows. And then, when drive-ins became the thing, the Erinakes family brought us the HillTop Drive-In. God, were those good times.
Of course, progress has caught up with us. What could be better than progress ? Senior living condos took over where the HillTop stood and they put a bank where The Kent was.
If they do away with the Greenwich, I’m really going to have a good cry. Where else in the state can you go to a movie for $2.50?  Never mind, that on Mens’ Nights and Ladies’ Nights it’s only a buck!
You can’t beat that! Especially when they charge you $8 to $ 10 for a show nowadays. I could have gone 80 or more times on what you have to pay today. So they have 60 screens in these new-fangled cinemas! Eight bucks! Eight Bucks! And candy for $5!  Divide that by 5 cents and see how many candy bars you get out of that! You could go for a whole half-year back in old EG for the prices they charge today !
. . . Well, old friend, they’ve done it to us again. First it was the buffalo, and now . . . 
Last night I saw “The Last Picture Show.”  It was us all over again. High school heroes and happy in 1955 or so. Anarene could have been “Our Town” ‘cept not so dusty. And our shows were The Kent and The Greenwich.
We even had our  Sam, The Lion. Doesn’t everybody ?
It’s funny how they put our thoughts, and deeds, and lives on film, and drive us back in time.
. . . Remember, how our minds bathed in good thoughts. The days we owned.
. . . Remember, how people thought us crazy because we saw Calamity Jane (with Doris Day – we were in love with her) five times. Loved Kim Novak ( she reminded us of Gyp – Pick’s sister); believed in Santa Claus, and love and freedom.
They stared at us when we sang Christmas carols on Christmas Eve, and watched the drunks on New Year’s Eve? All on Main Street of “Our Town.”
Movies were our passion then. And VWs, along with Patsy, Ruth, Sue, Marion, Virginia and Nancy. You left all that once to go away. And now, you’ve gone away again – forever !
It’s a good thing in a way. You wouldn’t have liked the Showcase. . . .
Writer’s Notes:
The author still loves the movies. He refuses to go to the new, modern theaters, but waits patiently for his favorites to make their way to The Greenwich, where for one buck, or, $2.50, or, thanks to Steve, nothing. There he goes and sits in quiet darkness, and watches his dreams come to life on the movie screen.
In Las Vegas this writer got a chance to be an extra in a couple of movies. It was quite an experience and he will never view movies the same way ever again.
Nowadays, he watches the old movies on TV. He has never rented a film, Blockbusted, Netflixed, Tivoed, DVD’d or anything else AND he is proud of it.

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Mark Thompson (@MarkThompson_DC)
May 31, 2014 12:44 pm

Thanks Bruce….for taking us back.

May 31, 2014 2:27 pm

Loved this. I didn’t grow up in E.G. but in Arlington, Ma where my experiences where much the same and the Capital theatre is still there although expanded to three screens now. I remember after I saw “The Thing” I was so frightened that my mother had to sleep with me all night. Thanks for the memories. It was a wonderful time to grow up and I am looking forward to my 50th high school reunion in the Fall.

Carmen L.


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