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I grew up around the block from the Robin Theatre on Gilmore Street in the heart of St. Louis during the late 1930s and through the War years. My mother was a true movie buff during those years of the Great Depression. Movies served to relieve the awful drudgery of those times and gave people some hope for the future. Then BANG! World War II was upon us. But we had the tiny Robin theatre right around the corner. My mother took us there every week. Adult admission was a dime, kids got in for a nickel unless they were accompanied by an adult. Then admission was free. We sometimes trudged up the alley (in the daytime) that ran between Robin Avenue and Gilmore to loose ourselves in the magic of movies. Most of them were in black and white, but that didn't seem to matter. For that dime my mom paid for the three of us we got to see two feature films, a news reel about the war, a cartoon or two, and on Saturdays a Tom Mix or Lone Ranger short serial (continued next week of course). And if we were lucky a Pete Smith Specialty, where, tongue in cheek, he poked fun at the world. Oh how I loved the droning voice of Pete Smith and the antics on the screen. I'm sorry that little theatre is gone. It was a haven from the reality of the Depression and the horrors of a world at war. But all things have their time and place and the little Robin Theatre had its time and served its purpose. Lucky me.
In 1952 I was a Senior in High School as were my two closest buddies. The three of us took part time jobs as ushers in the Studio Theatre in Pine Lawn, a neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri. Our jobs were mainly to maintain peace and quiet among the throngs of kids who packed the little old run down theatre. We intervened when the popcorn and half eaten candy bars started flying. It was futile on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Parents dropped their little darlings off at the theatre/baby sitting house and had a few hours or peace and quiet. We were kept busy. When things were quiet we flirted with the girls behind the candy counter. Even dated a few. The most memorial event for me was the first showing of Singing In The Rain. I watched it over and over. Learned all the songs and memorized the gags.
That was 65 years ago this year 2017. Today my wife and I drove through a down pouring rain to see it again on the big screen in Redwood City California. Theatres are making special showings through the Turner Network. It hasn't lost a thing with the passage of time. I silently sang along with all the songs, laughed at all the jokes, and marveled at the athletic dancing of Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. It is truly a classic.
The Rio Theatre in the late 1930s – early 1940s was a special place for my mother, younger brother and me. It was larger, newer, and classier than the little Robin Theatre that we usually attended. It was farther from our home in Wallnut Park. We didn’t have a car. Few people did. We only went on special occasions. First run films and Saturday matinees. The activities that made this theatre so special occurred between the feature films. There amateur “talent” contests were held and people, adults and children, would go up onto the stage and perform their talents. I’m sure prizes were awarded, though I don’t really recall what they were. Perhaps free tickets to next weeks matinee. There were tap dancers, harmonica players and other amateur musicians. Girls would jump rope and boys would do tricks with their Yo-yos. As a little kid the Yo-yo boys always made the biggest impression on me. I wanted so much to be able to make a Yo-yo sail through the air like those boys did. It never happened and the Saturday matinees went the way of all simple pleasures and movie houses that were part of childhoods magical places.
in the 1940s It was a rare treat for my mother, younger brother Charles,and I to travel all the way “downtown” by public transportation to Grand Avenue to see the latest movies. All the way from Walnut Park where we lived was quite an excursion then. We were in awe of the grandure of the building. Once as we were walking down the ornate spiraling staircase between levels my brother tripped on the carpet and fell breaking his collar bone. It did not alter our awe of the grand building.