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Movies, serials kept things fun

By By Lowell McGill
In days gone by The Palms Drive In Theatre and Strand Theatre were our two most entertaining attractions. Weekends were always big at the Palms Hwy. 97 location just a couple blocks south of what is now Piggly Wiggly Shopping Center. On certain occasions extra help would be needed to direct traffic off the highway into the movie area.
One Saturday night in early 1962 an all “Elvis Movie Fest” drew a record number of moviegoers. They drove their cars and waited in line to see the popular star. But a horrendous thunderstorm came over, rained for hours and knocked out the performance. The demand for rain checks was so great that Palms management had to reschedule the event the following weekend.
Back in the 40s and early 50s the Strand Theatre on South Main Street was one of the most aggressive promoters and advertisers of that time.
When you walked inside into the lobby where all the popcorn and other goodies were located you saw numerous posters on the walls. On these posters were pictures of upcoming movies, stars of the movies, action snips and dates the movies would be playing. On the exterior walls of the theatre a colorful lighted sign displayed the current movies being shown.
You went in and were greeted by pretty young ladies who would guide you to a vacant seat. These girls always carried a flashlight with the beam pointed to the floor and the base of rows of seats. You were seated and began watching the movies. The theatre was always packed, as there was no television in those days.
But the key to the theatre’s promotion was a little colorful brochure, inserted in The Advance or put into the mail each week. It was called “The Show Paper.” Now, this little paper contained all the movies and coming events for that week. The paper would be a different color each week. Lets say last week’s paper was blue. Well, the color for this week may have been pink or green. But when the colors changed you knew the latest movies were on tap.
I could hardly wait for each week’s paper. My main interest was found on the very back page. And that, of course, was the announcement of the Saturday chapter of the “Serial.” The cliffhangers, in other words. The serials ran in chapters from one to fourteen episodes. Much anticipation was waiting to read the name of the new serial that would begin after the current serial had come to an end.
Those Saturday matinee serials included “Dick Tracy,” which starred squared-jaw Ralph Byrd. I learned later Tracy serials included “Dick Tracy Meets Pruneface,” Dick Tracy Meets Flattop” and “Dick Tracey Meets Gruesome.”
There was “The Valley of Vanishing Men,” which featured Wild Bill Elliot. Other nail-biting serials were “Batman,” “Masked Marvel,” “Don Winslow” and many, many more.
Republic Pictures, which made most of the serials, used a repertoire of actors who took on different roles in each series. Especially, the bad guys.
There was one serial, “Captain Midnight,” which starred Dave O’Brien. Even though he played in “class B” action movies he was a great writer. He later became the lead writer for the Red Skelton radio and TV series. His writing and the David Rose Orchestra’s “Holiday for Strings” theme song made that show a big hit.
Yes, those memorable serials were the best means of entertainment in those days.
Well, a couple of current events made news this week. Alabama driver’s licenses increased by 50 cents and the minimum wage was raised from $6.55 an hour to $7.25 an hour.
But the real big news was President Obama’s White House invitation to Sgt. James Crowley and Professor Gates.
President Obama told them to come on up “have a beer,” shake hands and lets settle our dispute. Now, how many of you would agree with me that it would have been more respectful to all if Obama had said, “Let’s have a cup of coffee.” We just don’t say, “have a beer,” do we? Well, I don’t.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at exam@frontiernet.net