by Jerry Woodfill

The Town Theater Comprehension Questions, Spelling List and Vocabulary Test

(The Town theater, circa 2006)
Click Here for circa 1946.
Click here for a clip from the first TOWN movie, The Spiral Staricase.

Adult movie tickets cost thirty-five cents, kids twenty-five cents. But then haircuts were only seventy-five cents. I once analyzed the cost of space craft. Everything had to be adjusted for inflation’s creep. A Mercury capsule couldn’t be compared to a 2010 Mars lander without a half century adjustment.

Really, it was a neat thing. Once you got that adjustment number, any 1950s item’s price could accurately foretell its future cost. For instance, a Coke cost five cents in 1950. It costs sixty-five cents in the year 2006. So a haircut at seventy-five cents in 1950 should cost fourteen times as much, or about $10. Ten bucks is about right for a neighborhood barber shop. Likewise, a movie ticket ought to adjust upward fourteen times from that thirty-five cents. This comes to five dollars, reasonable for most neighborhood theaters like the Highland Town.

The Town was on Kennedy Avenue, a block down from the corner of Ridge Road and Kennedy. Really it was more typical of small town theaters than the plush Orpheum Theater immortalized in Shep’s prose. I say more typical because it lacked all the Greek architectural frills of the Orpheum and the Hammond Parthenon on Hohmann Avenue.

Added to the façade was the difference in cliental. There were no amateur night contests, nor was there a great deal of “necking” and other lascivious acts as depicted in Shep’s accounts. A family audience made such inadvisable to Brantwood youth watching the likes of Flash Gordon and Roy Rogers. My one and only grade school date was to the Town. I never so much as held the hand of the girl leave alone participate in the carnal acts described by Shep at the Orpheum.

The Town had a strict noise code as well. Even loud chomping on Milk Duds could draw the ire of the pimply faced teen age usher hired by the Driskills, owners and operators of the Town. This was a respected entertainment emporium and patrons were expected to respect those in attendance. However, the proprietors exhibited a theatric persona every bit as Hollywood-like as Shep’s Mr. Doppler.

Mme. Driskill was always attired in those skin-tight sequined silvery dresses. Though not an unattractive women, her heavy application of face-paint, lipstick, and the like, along with the creamy-silver wig-like long hair frightened me. A tall woman, she would have made an ideal actress in the House of Wax 3-D. That 1953 Vincent Price movie was my standard for the most frightening horror film.

Always suited impeccably, Mr. Driskill wore a mustache and exuded a dignity befitting a theater owner. Not given to theatrics, Mr. D. always spoke in measured voice, both in volume and emotion. He was not a “hype-ster” like Mr. Doppler. As such, he was the ideal for a Brantwoodian family oriented theater.

Only one movie featured at the Town, aroused a latent lust in me or my grade school friends. It was called Miss Sadie Thompson. (The movie was based on the short story by Somerset Maugham Rain) Sadie was played by actress Rita Hayworth. She did a wicked dance which, by today’s movie standards, would be deemed a polite waltz. It would be altogether none threatening to censors. The movie would earn a PG rating, i.e., barely above a Disney film in carnality.

But such in 1953, made its run at the Town brief. I told other friends about it, but before they were able to enjoy the dance scene, Miss Sadie, i.e., Rita, had left Town, i.e., the Town Theater. The above pictured 2006 Town marquee features a movie called The Break-Up, a PG-13, no less, with “brief nudity”. Such would have been anathema in those innocent 1953 days of Miss Sadie Thompson. I would not have been granted admission, nor would the Driskill family have shown such fare. Perhaps, the Orpheum would stoop to such lows but not the Town. There were, of course, evil movie provocateurs on the grounds of Lincoln Grade School. I’m not certain how such contraband came into my possession, but among the family 8mm Kodak two minute clips of Mom, Dad, Susan, and the Puritan Jerry was found a 5 minute, Black and White, “cheese-cake” movie of a tightly-sweatered girl in short-shorts, who later frolicked bikini-clad on the beach. Inadvertently, my sister Susan previewed that movie to young friends. She had been searching for cartoon clips of Heckle and Jeckle and Mighty Mouse. Her discovery severely shocked those young girl friends. It was akin to later uncovering those “Men’s Illustrateds” in my darkroom hide-away.

At least the Town had the obligatory theater balcony, though it seated no more than fifty patrons. Mischief seekers found its presence ideal for droppings of obscene refuse earthward on hapless friends. No World War II B-29 bombardier released his weaponry more accurately than the shower of butter corn, spit-wads, sailing paper missiles, and, yes, even, Shep-like “great silver oysters into the void” below.

Before the Town theater usher police mounted the lobby stairs, the overhead assailants had fled into obscurity, i.e., the men’s room, lobby, or upfront aisle seats. No management enforcer could sleuth out the balcony felons from these hiding places. They were simply too quick to be apprehended after abused patrons cried out for justice. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

Only once did I fall prey. Some low-life vermin cleverly left his liter of Coke slightly in front of a seat. Its placement was calculated to inflict maximum grief on an unsuspecting patron. The artful delinquent’s venomous intent was reminiscent of a Northern Korean Communist saboteur. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

The Town’s aisle lights were extremely dim compared to other theaters. The ocular iris could not adjust before blinded show goers stumbled to their seats. Having found a sitting place, the unsuspecting victim, faced the screen, then reached rearward to flip down the spring loaded mechanism. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

The Town’s seats were notorious for their recoil force. The physics of Hook’s Law made attendance of children under 40 pounds perilous. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

Only if an accompanying adult stiff-armed the child’s seat could it be prevented from “jack-knifing” the youth’s torso. Without a parent, two light weight kids teamed up in the same sea t to avoid being “hinged” at the waist for the entire movie. But I was not among such “panty-waists” as these of little mass were deemed. My robustness earned me a solo seat at the Town. However, excitement over the featured movie dulled my vigilance, otherwise I might not have fallen prey to a trickster’s prank. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

Like a land mine’s concealed actuator, flipping the seat down would trigger the Coke’s explosive deluge. And so it was: I would liken the event to a tidal wave of soda inundating my pants, filling my socks and shoes, flowing forth under the pull of Newton’s law of gravitation under every third seat on every row between me and the screen. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

Not only did I howl, but all manner of obscene appellations, never heard previously at the Town, came from below my aisle as patrons felt the wash of a quart of Coke rushing out of its banks ever downward. Purses left in the river’s path were most affected, not to mention those whose habit was to relax shoeless. These had drenched socks, wet feet, and extreme acrimony for the perpetrator of the crime. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

Hoping to apprehend the felons, some leaped into the aisle to summon the usher though I knew it to be futile. Like those combatants who laid land mines, the Town’s practical jokers remained at large. Indeed, this was not the first nor would it be the last time a Coke river would flow screen-ward. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

Actually, I considered this the perfect theater crime, above any balcony strafing. Should the Coke be linked back to the evil-doer, a perfect alibi thwarted prosecution. “Sir, I’d left the Coke there when I went to the bathroom. I propped it against my seat so no one would knock it over while I was away.” My first encounter with horror films and their psychological damage came at the Town in 1949. It was a cartoon adaptation of Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The decapitated Ichabod Crane’s torso atop a galloping steed tormented my dreams that night. But the worst experience I had at the Town came later. I don’t understand why one movie, in particular, reached into the submerged recesses of my psyche, tunneling into the bedrock depth of my being. The movie remains nameless except that I know it was a western. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

Though it wasn’t exceptionally fraught with gore compared to the “Freddie” Halloween movies, or Frankenstein, Dracula, or even this era’s horrific and heinous Stephen King films, it affected me in a grisly, gut-wrenching, and gruesome way. The western, in today’s rating system, would be no worse than PG in rating. In fact, it might even receive the Disney cartoon epoch’s customary G rating. However, its impact gave it a definite “R” and perhaps, an “NC-17” as far as I was concerned. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

The scene which did the damage had a dying cowboy in the final throws of life as a result of a gun fight. That scene (perhaps, my first of someone dying so graphically) invaded my sleep with a dream so ghastly, so sadistic, so depraved that I died that night inside the mind of the mortally wounded actor. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

Awakened by my own loud scream, my sweating body shook uncontrollably, trembling for several minutes. It would be months before I returned to the Town theater. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

And I’d never again enjoy suspense films where death was a possibility. Perhaps, this has had an unexpected benefit. I’ve paid little for movie tickets this past half century. No movie seen since equals the horror of that lone cowboy’s death in a crummy gunfight, simply because he wasn’t fast enough on the draw. The closest I’ve come to a real life experience like that scene at the Town was an arithmetic duel at Lincoln School. My adversary, a prissy, pompous Brantwood daughter of a cave bat type female drew her chalk first. This beat me to the blackboard draw. So mortally wounded was my pride that I died a second death akin to that cowboy’s demise. I didn’t scream, but worse, I broke out in tears, at first a whimper, then a wailing lament that so troubled my teacher that she tried to cheer me with her cherry cobbler desert at lunchtime. She hoped that this would resurrect my wounded spirit. Not once did my parents accompany me to the Town. Hollywood was not of interest. Nevertheless, they were rabid devotees of home movies, i.e., the kind taken with an 8 millimeter Kodak camera. So advanced was their zeal for the hobby that they had a splicer kit. A collection of a dozen or more films taken with their camera, spliced together would take about ten minutes to play. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

The problem was that spliced films, taken months apart, were wholly frustrating to watch. The opening scene would have Dad in military accouterment, officer’s hat, bedecked with America’s Great Seal in gold leaf. The following clip would feature Mom and Dad strolling New Orleans’ Bourbon Street pushing me in a stroller. Without sound or titles edited in between those individual spliced shorts, frustration reigned. Especially confusing were edits spliced in non-chronological order. They’d be touring the bowels of a cave somewhere in space and time followed by an abrupt “beam me up Scotty” transition to the Pacific Coast, Dad, again in uniform with me on his lap. “great silver oysters into the void” below.

And in mid frame, the scene would flash back, years earlier, to Niagara Falls. It was as though H.G. Welles’ Time Machine’s timer couldn’t make up its mind. I guess Dad simply wanted to splice all his film on one reel without dealing with chronology. If centuries in the future one of those spliced reels turns up in an archeologist’s shovel, the history of the Woodfill clan will be rewritten, i.e., I’ll be a miracle child, being born after I turned three years of age. More disturbing, depending on where the reel is first viewed, I’ll be illegitimate, born before my parents’ honeymoon to Niagara Falls!

Town lobby posters seen by Jerry (left to right)
It Came From Outer Space(1953)
Creature from the Black Lagoon(1954)
House of Wax (1953)