Movies at the Metro Theater
Two important things happened in 1946. I was born and the Metro Theater was built. The Metro, years later, in the mid-50s to very early 60s became “my” movie theater. In the 1700 block of Butternut in Abilene, TX it was approximately 10 blocks from my house. Starting at about 10 years old I would walk it or ride my bike almost every Saturday. I would either go with a buddy, buddies or meet them there.
This was the place I first held a girls hand…first put my arm around a girl…administered the fastest kiss on record. Not sure she even knew she had been kissed. But girls were only occasionally part of the movie experience. Most Saturdays it was just the guys. We saw all the great movies of the day … 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea … The Ten Commandments … The King & I … High Noon … Love Me Tender and dozens of others that are now considered classics…and many more that are not.
The Metro had several owners thru the years but while it was “my theater” it was owned and operated by two older sisters. According to my view of things back then … older might be anywhere between 35 and 80. I heard years later they ran a theater in Hico, TX. In the beginning it cost $ .12 to get into the Saturday matinee and, in the currency of the day, that equals 6 pop bottles. There was a grocery across the street from the theater and I would take a paper sack with as many bottles as I could find and turn them in for the deposit. Likely places to find pop bottles were in one of our cars, in the kitchen beside the counter, on the playground and stands of the baseball field at Bowie Elementary (on the way to the movie) and as difficult as it is to believe…just along side the road. Seems that some people would just throw them out the window of a moving car. My goal was to get a quarter. A quarter was admission to two full length movies, a cartoon with some kind of serial like Sky King, The Bowery Boys and the now socially incorrect Amos N Andy. That left $ .13 which got you a small drink…a small popcorn and a couple of pieces of penny candy. No tax. In later years there were price increases to the point it took a whole quarter just to gain entry.
Now the normal Saturday routine would last from the 12:00 noon start time until 4:30 or 5:00 pm. You would stay until you had seen it all. If you were late coming in at the start…no problem you just stayed seated until you got to the part that you had seen once. Most plot lines didn’t suffer too much and we didn’t always pay close attention. Now 4-1/2 to 5 hours is a long time for a 11-12 year old boy to stay quiet and watch the screen. There would be much talking and horsing around…especially if there were girls involved. I think we were trying to impress them and sometimes we would get embarrassed by being called down by one of the sisters. They would walk the aisles with their trusty flashlight and shine it on you to let you know “thats one”. If you got a “thats two” you got called into the lobby and talked to and a “three” got you tossed for the rest of the day. I can only remember being tossed once, but talked to many times.
The Tingler is Loose in the Theater
My most vivid memory of a day at the Metro was when the movie “The Tingler” was the main show of the day. Now the 50s were famous for low-budget horror and science fiction movies. “The Thing”, “The Blob”, “The Fly” and “House of Wax”. Just some bad lighting and something looking like it was birthed in a jello mold and you had the makings of a good horror flik. People couldn’t run away with out falling and a creeping menace would eat their face off. Especially women in these movies. I grew up thinking there was something inherently wrong with most women’s ankles. Well for the very few who might remember “The Tingler” there is a scene in the film where the monster is loose in a dark movie theater. The two sisters contracted with me and two of my friends to release tennis balls on the floor at the back of the theater. They were supposed to roll down bumping the feet of people and frightening them into thinking the Tingler had them. I don’t remember too much about the sisters, but I do remember what happened that day. Give three adolescent boys a dozen or more tennis balls in a dark theater probably wasn’t their smartest move. By the time the balls had reached the front of the theater, it was total pandemonium. We considered our duty to this enterprise completed when we released the balls. We ran to the front of the theater and started throwing them back up the aisles. Others joined in and cokes spilled and popcorn went everywhere and a couple of fights broke out. It was glorious. And then the lights came on and the film stopped. No-one had to go to the lobby…we were “talked to” right where we sat or stood and everyone was put on notice that we all were at a stage 2 warning level. To this day I have never watched that entire movie.
There was a lot of things wrong with society in the 50s and 60s but there were a lot of things right. A 10 year old boy could walk 10 blocks to a movie…be gone 5 hours…walk back home and no one thought a thing about it. We played at night under the street lights until we were forced to come inside. Hide and seek or tag occasionally running, out of breath, into the house for water or to use the bathroom. My mom would shout instructions trying to maximize the 90 seconds it took for me to do either. At some point you would hear a parent calling…”come on in now….it’s getting late….come home….I mean it….now”. Then another and another until you were either called in or you were the last one left. Once inside…”Yogi you need a bath”……”Aw Mom”.