“I do not want to be the big looking glass of civilization but the little pocket mirror of everyday life.” — Peter Altenberg
When Alan Ladd appeared in a movie called “This Gun for Hire,” slouching around in a trench coat with a hat pulled down low over his eyes, theatre ticket sales went ca-ching! all over the country. Veronica Lake was the damsel in distress and movie posters everywhere showed them (gasp) embracing as Alan Ladd looked into her eyes, while holding a gun on her. The nadir of my existence occurred when Dad said, ”No, you can’t see that Alan Ladd movie again!” He figured that once was enough.
When Alan Ladd burst onto the screen as Raven in Graham Greene’s novel “This Gun For Hire,” he became the big name in Hollywood. Movie magazines hailed this new star but the truth was he had been struggling in a series of movies that nobody noticed until he managed to get a new agent named Sue Carol. The movie was a bonanza for Paramount Pictures and made a star out of Alan Ladd. Not to mention that he shortly thereafter married Sue Carol.
Today we have movie critics telling us what movies are good and what movies aren’t worth buying a ticket to see. When I was 10 years old, Mr. Bill Cassidy was the movie critic to end all movie critics in our small town of Midland. Mr. Cassidy owned the Frolic Theatre (UP Main Street) and the Mecca Theatre (DOWN Main Street).
If he showed a movie on Sunday and Monday, you just knew it was a great movie. If he showed it on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, you knew it was really good but a lot of people didn’t buy movie tickets to see a show in the middle of the week. Friday and Saturday nights were definitely “B” movies with Mr. Cassidy counting on the weekend movie goers looking for a couple of hours of entertainment to buy tickets. Saturday night also meant a lot of young people going on dates bought tickets to see whatever was being shown. Holding hands in the movies was often our first experience in romance.
My sister Jean was into saving movie programs and I have two notebooks filled with them. Robert Taylor, Clark Gable, Tyrone Power and Cary Grant were definitely Sunday and Monday night stars. Names like Adele Mara and Duncan Renaldo popped up on movie programs enticing movie goers to come to the Frolic Theatre on Friday and Saturday nights.
Mr. Cassidy’s movie selections are partly to blame as to why I was never able to fully appreciate the stardom Humphrey Bogart achieved. He started out in the Dead End Kids series playing a gangster which appeared on Friday and Saturday nights. My gosh! How good could Humphrey Bogart be if Mr. Cassidy put his movies on Friday and Saturday nights?
Even after Humphrey Bogart made it big in The Maltese Falcon and then made movie history with Lauren Bacall (who would become his wife), I couldn’t appreciate his status as a really big star. I know. I know. His movie Casablanca is always in the top five greatest movies ever made and his quote, “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid,” is included in the top 100 most famous movie quotes of all time. But I always thought Ingrid Bergman and he never really seemed made for each other.
Growing up, one of my ambitions was to sell tickets at the Frolic Theatre. Think of it! Every night when you got through taking tickets you could just walk right into the theatre and see the movie for free.
When other kids hardly knew who Clark Gable and Robert Taylor were, we also knew the names of movie stars like Rudolph Valentino, Vilma Banky, Gloria Swanson, Bebe Daniels, Buddy Rogers, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. because Mom was a movie fan.
Eventually having a large store of movie knowledge led to some problems. Years and years later, my sister Delores was at a sorority get-together and the entertainment for the evening was a movie quiz. One question was “Who played Cleopatra in the 1934 movie by the same name?“ Nobody but Delores knew the answer. It was Claudette Colbert.
One of the women sitting next to her said, “I’m not that old.”
My sister snapped back, “Neither am I!”
It was the price we had to pay for our mother being a movie fan.
Virginia Florey is a freelance writer from Midland.