My mother, Jewel, and I shared a love of movies. My childhood memories that were not played out on the softball field or in a gym somewhere were most certainly recalled in theaters. We enjoyed the actual act of going into a theater, with a big bag of popcorn, planting our butts down and watching everything from the classics of the golden years to what Hollywood was serving up in the mid to late-seventies.
Jewel’s favorite actress was Katherine Hepburn. She liked to tell the story of being at a big movie premiere in downtown Fort Worth in 1940. She was at the old Worth Theater and the local newspaper had put the word out Hepburn would be there to promote her film, The Philadelphia Story. Jewel recounted the story that after waiting for two hours in the lobby, she ducked into the restroom. She was 19 at the time and recalled exiting one of the stalls to wash her hands. A woman walked up to the sink beside her and Jewel heard the legendary voice directed at her. ”Please be a dear and hand me a towel.” said Kate. My mother obliged, smiled and watched the only person to ever win four Academy Awards walk out of the restroom and her life, just as quickly as she had entered it. Jewel’s favorite actor was John Garfield, so much so, that’s what she named my brother.
My mother introduced me to James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor at the old Jerry Lewis Theater in Euless, Texas in 1974. A re-release of Giant was my first movie ever to have an intermission. Giant’s running time was about four hours, but I can remember being mesmerized by the actors and the incredible cinematography of that film….never once tiring of the rigid seat covered in red vinyl.
Jewel took me to see my first “R” rated movie in 1975, JAWS. We walked up the street from my house to the Bellaire Theater in my hometown, Hurst. I was petrified and wouldn’t even get into a swimming pool for a month after I saw Robert Shaw devoured by that huge mechanical shark.
In 1976 we saw, “A Star is Born,” with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson at the Plantation Theater off of University Drive in Fort Worth. That theater had a reputation in the 70s at being “artsy” and “fancy.” The seats rocked, actual rocking chairs like you were sitting on your old plantation porch. They also had killer lemonade. I had fallen in love with Streisand several years before when I first saw Funny Girl, but this film sent my pubescent heart into arrest. I was madly in love with Babs after 1976 and remain so to this day.
In 1976 we also saw “The Omen” at the Ridglea Theater on Camp Bowie, also in Fort Worth. That movie starred Lee Remick and Gregory Peck, a classic horror movie about a kid that is the son of the devil. Remember, 666 on his head? Jewel didn’t care for that one, but sat in the balcony with me, eating her smuggled McDonald’s cheese burger and fries.
The Ridglea Theater was bigger and better than any other theater I had seen. It had beautiful murals and rugs in the lobby. Fantastic snack bar and restrooms…and a sweeping staircase to my beloved balcony. There was something about sitting on the first row of the balcony, overlooking the crowd and coming eye to eye with your favorite movie stars.
These movie house weekends were not just about the theaters mind you, they were about me and Jewel. After my father died in 1976, we hung close on the weekends. I still participated in sports, but I also made sure not to run too far off from the house….lest mother shouted, “Hit the Cadillac, it’s time for a movie!” If we went to the twilight showing, the adult ticket was $2.25, and the child ticket was $1.75. A “child” was 14 and under and I was 14 in 1976….and in 1977…..and in 1978.
I wasn’t kidding about the smuggled burgers. If something could fit into Jewel’s purse, it was going into the Ridglea. She drank Tab soft drink like it was going out of style and had two cans in the side pocket. Jewel’s purse was bigger than the suitcase I took on vacation. She liked popcorn, but really enjoyed dinner and a movie. Jewel was a pioneer it seems, eating full meals long before the movie taverns of today.
Jewel is gone, as are most of the classic theaters in town; long since vanishing into rubble. The Ridglea Theater though has been beautifully remodeled by its new owner. It doesn’t look quite like it used to look, but it is darn close. The first floor of the theater has tables spread throughout, films and live music acts frequent the historical venue. The balcony is very similar to the snapshots of my youth. I went to the Ridglea after the grand re-opening to participate in a “sing-along” showing of The Sound of Music. As I stood singing along with the Von Traps….I wished my mother was with me to see the place return in all its grandeur. I wished my mother was eating a chicken leg in the seat beside me, looking for the salt in her coin purse.
I am a nostalgic person, if you read this blog, …well, yeah. Nostalgia doesn’t envelop me, but it is a part of my every day life. My partner is sick of channel 7 on my satellite radio/sounds of the 1970s. I still dress like I did when I was an awkward 14 year old…15…..okay 16, t-shirts, shorts and sneakers. I still enjoy films, and when I say the word “film” I mean movies prior to 1990 or so. The crap that is released today is out on DVD the next week and on your TV the week after that. Channing Tatum or Robert DeNiro? Jessica Chastain or Katherine Hepburn? Case closed.
I live in a lovely, historical townhouse, right in the center of everything here in Fort Worth. I love that it was built in 1942 and has the hardwood floors and architectural touches and design that quite simply cannot be beat anywhere in north Texas. I sit out on my balcony and wonder about residents and the good times that have come before my occupancy. I think of Jewel and all the wonderful theaters that were all shining brightly when the townhouse smelled of new paint for the very first time.
I think of Jewel. You know how it is when you heart aches so you don’t feel that you can catch your next breath? Even after eight years I have that reaction still quite often. But for some reason, sitting on my balcony makes me happy and fills me with peace. I watch the trees sway side to side in the Spring air and imagine the long branches to be Jewel’s arms reaching out to hug me….or is that a cheeseburger she is handing me? A wry smile crosses my face as I look further beyond the trees and I see it. ”Do you want the first floor or shall we go up to the balcony Julie?” The view is perfect here Jewel.