Theatres were big attractions in 1960s

Published 10:03 am Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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.

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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 cliffhanger, in other words. The serials ran in chapters from one to fifteen 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. (By the way I watch those same old serials on Retrovision, an “old movie” web site.)

Those Saturday matinee serials included “Dick Tracy,” which starred squared-jaw Ralph Byrd. I learned later there were a series of the Tracy serials including “Dick Tracy Meets Pruneface,” Dick Tracy Meets Flattop” and” Dick Tracey Meets Gruesome.”

There was “The Valley of Vanishing Men” featuring Wild Bill Elliot, The “Batman”, The “Masked Marvel, “Don Winslow” and many, many more. Republic Pictures made most of the serials and they had 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.

Here is a news story carried in the Advance January 1955. And, this story should be of particular interest to those of you who live on rural routes.

“There will be several changes made in the mail service in the Atmore area January 1, 1955. The post offices at Walnut Hill and Bay Springs, Florida will be discontinued immediately. Mail for these two offices should be addressed to Star Route B Atmore, Alabama. (Notice zip codes were not used back then). Nokomis residents were directed to this same address as their post office was discontinued a few months earlier.”

“Rural Route No. 4 has also been established. This route will take parts of the present Rts. 1 and 3. The new parts that would be added to this route are portions of Swift Mill Quarters and Rays Village Road. Included also the road running by Dr. E. F. Goldsmith residence Burton Stallworth residence and the road that runs by Mr. R.C. Chapman. The total length of this route will be 42 miles” according to H.C. Williams, postmaster.

I found this story in our archives. It was particular interesting to me because as a young teen I would sometimes drive one of these routes for my Uncle Arthur McGill when he suffered from gout in his legs. I remember one day there was bag of eggs hanging on the mailbox. He often told me that several families living on his route would give him fresh vegetables and other goodies. Perhaps some of you lived on his route.

“..yes, it always whispers to me…those days of long ago…”

More, next week.

Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at