Strand was a place of lots of my memories

Published 11:54am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I am finding several stories these last few days about the Strand, but my column today will give you a deeper look at our beloved theater in its late 1930s, 1940s and 1950 “glory days.”

You see, for those of us who grew up here back in those days, there is a special nostalgic attachment to this cherished entertainment building that we called “the picture show.”

Those Saturday matinees had us flocking to our favorite seats to watch a cowboy movie, a second movie, a weekly cliffhanger serial and a colorful cartoon. We looked forward with much anticipation to those Saturday afternoons, because this was really the only entertainment going for us. Of course weekdays and weeknights had plenty of late release movies, offering us the ideal spot to take our dates.

Young, pretty high school girls were hired as ushers to show patrons to their seats. These young ladies used a flashlight to guide you to a seat. The ushers were needed, because on some nights all the seats were taken. These girls walked you down the aisles with the flashlight beamed at the floor so as not to disturb those who were watching the movie. Patrons back then were courteous and did not talk loud or act conspicuously.

In addition to advertising the daily movie schedule in The Atmore Advance, the Strand also mailed out and hand-delivered a colorful “show paper.” This 4-by-6-inch circular, rich in graphics and illustrations, was a much looked forward to item for avid moviegoers back then. I remember Tommy Stallworth told me he worked a local route delivering the show paper throughout residential sections of town. Residents of outlying towns and rural routes received the paper in the mail.

In the 1940s and 1950s, “Hot Seat” night was very popular on weekends. If you were seated in a numbered seat and they called your seat number you won a prize. I remember one night a man seated next to me won a month’s free passes to the movies. Other prizes included free popcorn, drinks and free meals at local restaurants.

Some of the most famous movie lines were seen and heard at the Strand. Gone With The Wind gave us “Frankly, my dear I don’t give a (blank)”. We heard, “Round up the usual suspects,” from the Humphrey Bogart movie Casablanca. “Toto, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore,” came from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. Mae West uttered in the 1933 movie, She Done Him Wrong, “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?” The 1942, The Pride of the Yankees, movie offered Gary Cooper’s famous line of “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Of course, he played the role of the famous Yankee Lou Gehrig, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease affecting the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

The Strand was a member of the Martin Movie Chain, a group of movie houses located throughout Alabama, Georgia and northwest Florida. K.C. Powell worked for Martin transporting movie reels from theatre to theatre in these states. I remember his telling our coffee drinkers at Busters about the time his delivery truck broke down and he was late getting the final chapter of a Saturday serial to the Strand. He said the management turned the lights on, explaining the problem to impatient patrons, and gave out free popcorn while they waited for the reel to arrive.

In those days, we were given a quarter to be used for a 10-cent movie ticket, five cent bag of popcorn and a 10-cent milk shake after the show at nearby Escambia Drug Store. By the way, Escambia Drug Store participated in the Hot Seat prizes with a free milk shake.

Now that the Strand is closed, let’s hope somehow the building will remain there and perhaps it can be put to use in a manner we can retain our fond memories of life growing up as youngsters.

In some other news, Bill Staff passed on to me a letter about Coach Arvel “A.R” Holmes being mentioned in a popular book written by Martha Ezzard. She wrote about Arvel’s love for his horse, Crown. She went on to write that in his final year of his life he went to live with his brother in the beautiful mountain area of northeast Georgia. This was after he retired following several years as high school football coach in Rabun County, Georgia. Because Arvel was so keenly fond of Crown, his brother brought the horse for him to enjoy during his last days. Crown died in October, according to Arvel’s brother.

Coach Holmes was a popular head coach here where he accomplished an outstanding winning record. Several of his former players went to see him prior to his death.

Well, in some more news, and as I posted on Facebook, Channel 5 finally cried “Uncle” and renewed its affiliation with Dish Network. Now we can watch the college football games and our favorite shows without having to connect to an outdoor antenna.

“Bringing in the Sheaves,” “In the Garden” and “The Old Rugged Cross,” rendered with soft piano and organ accompaniments, are so typical and inspiring non-contemporary hymns of faith that we do not hear too much these days. Yet, you look around most any church here and you will find the majority of congregations are filled with older folks who I am sure enjoy songs like these. I suppose I still belong to the old group who appreciated that Jimmy Wakely/Margaret Whiting 1950 song, “Let’s go to church next Sunday morning … let’s kneel and pray, side by side”. Perry Como recorded it, too. I think he wrote that song.

Next week, we will take a look at more news and events from days gone by.

 

You can email Lowell McGill at exam@frontiernet.net.

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