Friday, May 31, 2013

The Mid-forties

Life Just Before and Just After WWII Ended

In the middle 40’s, movies were the main source of entertainment in the world at the time if you eliminate home entertainment sources.  Home entertainment consisted of listening to the radio, reading books and magazines, playing games like Monopoly or Canasta and various hobbies like stamp or coin collecting and my favorite, constructing model airplanes.  Sports were a lot more male dominated then and women had their social clubs like quilting or sewing clubs. 
Phones were wired to the wall in a central location in the house and our phone number consisted of four digits, 4553 to be exact.  To call Omaha, across the river, one dialed “0” and gave the operator the number to call.  The number included a prefix such as AT2 where AT was the abbreviation for Atlantic.  No one had even heard of television then.  Cars all had manual transmissions and gas was 20 cents a gallon.
There were no shopping malls. Women dressed up a bit to shop “downtown” with hose if they could afford it, which were anchored by garter straps dangling from a girdle. They were covered by a full length slip and skirt or dress.  All clothes were made out of cotton or wool and shoes out of leather.  Groceries usually were purchased in the neighborhood at a mom and pop store.  My mother would phone the store early Saturday morning and the store clerk wrote out the order totaled up the price and added it to our running credit bill.  A delivery boy would bring the groceries by in the afternoon and empty them out of cardboard food boxes onto the kitchen table and then leave, no tip expected. 
Once in a while, my mother would give me a dime to replenish the bread supply.  I had the choice whether to walk one short block or 2 blocks to a grocery store.  The further store was the one we preferred to trade with.  This moral dilemma was met by me, by trading off one store then the other.  Wonder Bread was always the bread of choice, because, not only was it freshly baked, but it also had a one cent coupon printed on the wrapper, called a “penny saver.  One day dime in hand, bread on the counter to be paid for, the grocer said the price was now 11 cents.  Rather than walk back home to secure another penny, I tore the penny saver off the wrapper and walked out making sure the hole was upright.
Just before and just after WWII, the main source of visual images were magazines such as Life, Look, Colliers, Post, igniting the fame of Norman Rockwell who drew tug-of-the heart depictions of life we wanted it to be.  Reader’s Digest was popular then as it still is. The magazine's format for many decades consisted of 30 articles per issue (one per day), along with a vocabulary page, a page of "Amazing Anecdotes" and "Personal Glimpses", two features of funny stories entitled "Humor in Uniform" and "Life in these United States", and a lengthier article at the end, usually condensed from a published book.

The Movies                                                                                                                                      
Council Bluffs, Iowa is not exactly the entertainment capital of the world, or the nation, or even the state of Iowa.  But it was located across the river from Omaha, Nebraska and therefore the greater urban area made it the largest of any other city in Iowa.  Still, the main form of entertainment was the movies.  In pre–TV days, movies were quite a bit more popular than today, even though the seats didn’t have drink holders or rocker seat backs or always a clear view of the silver screen due to a big haired woman sitting in front of you.

 Most of the time there was a double feature with a Loony Tunes cartoon and a newsreel shown in between films.  The newsreels shown at the movies were a week old but were one of the main ways Americans kept abreast of world events.  During the war, newsreels provided glorified episodes of America winning the war.  They would show a Nazi or Rising Sun flag to start and of course everyone booed loudly.  Newsreels covered all the English Royal family doings, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, and the annual Soap Box Derby held in Akron, Ohio.  It was in a newsreel that I saw General Douglas McArthur walk ashore on a beach in the Philippines, saying “I have returned”.  (Shortly after college, I worked with a man who told me he knew someone that was there when McArthur waded ashore and Mac walked ashore several times to until the photographer was satisfied that it would impact the folks at home to elicit the maximum effect.  This was the first time I realized that sometimes the news was staged.)

In Council Bluffs there were three movie theaters named The Strand, Liberty, and Broadway. The Strand could be classified as a movie palace because the interior had the aura of the Arabian Nights with minarets silhouetted with dark blue back lighting. The Liberty theater showed mostly "B” movies, had cheaper prices, and didn’t always smell good, and the clientele reflected these aspects.  Seldom did our family attend there. 
All theaters had balconies and later, when I was in 7th and 8th grade, boys and girls in my class would meet in the balcony, pair up and kiss each other when there was a lull in the action. Boys would put their arm around the shoulders of girls with arm bent at the elbow hoping to accidently brush against a pubescent breast. It was there I learned that my arm would eventually become completely numb from lack of blood flow.  I was always reluctant to move my again functioning arm because I lacked the polish to casually put it back.   
I remember four large movie theaters in Omaha, and the Paramount was the more the palace having a Roman theme with classic marble statues placed here and there.  The ceiling also looked like the night sky with twinkling stars.
The box office was always outside under the marquee offering protection from the elements.  There were two prices, one for children 12 or under and adults.  The price was 10 cents for children and 45 cents for adults.  The tickets were in two parts similar to tickets handled out for an auction.  The ticket taker was positioned just before the lobby and tore half the ticket off depositing the theater’s half into a glass walled cylinder that stood about 5 feet tall.  The stub retained allowed re-entry should it be necessary and also was kept for Friday nights which was called Bank Night.  In between films the employees would wheel out a giant circular bin and tickets were drawn for cash prizes.
When ready to enter the theater, an usher greeted patrons, asked if they had a seating preference, then, led them down the aisle with a flash light, then, shined the light to empty seats which also signaled seated patrons that people would be entering the row.  Back then people would enter a film at almost any time except the final stages.  I remember several times walking in when the film was already underway, then stayed for the reshowing until the place I walked in.  I suppose this was reason for ushers. I was then able to put the entire story together then. 
Saturday morning was matinee for children mostly, and cartoons and serials were shown.  Serials lasted about 30 minutes and ended with the heroes or heroines in dire straits making it a necessity to return next Saturday to learn how they escaped.   At times, the older children got noisy and rowdy and the ushers would seek out the culprits and shine the flashlight at their faces.  Sometimes, the ushers seemed like firemen putting out small fires here and there as they moved to each hot spot.
One of the things a remember most was the entertainment at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha.
After watching the featured film, the curtains would close and the sounds of band music were heard as the curtain slowly reopened and the band stage moved forward near the front of the stage.  The popular bands at the time came to the Orpheum and performed a concert although I was not called that.  I remember watching both the Dorseys bands, (Jimmy and Tommy, the sentimental gentleman of swing), Les Brown and his band of renown, Woody Herman and the Third Herd, Ralph Marterie’s Caravan, Artie Shaw, Kay Kyser with Ish Kabibble, Glenn Miller, and my favorite, Spike Jones and His City Slickers.  Spike’s instruments included a banjo, a washboard played with a thimble, kazoos and a tuba which had to be emptied of water during the show. I sat in the first row and Spike was introducing the next tune and I thought he was doing to play my favorite and I was so anxious I loudly spoke it out.  “Right in Der Fuehrer’s Face” I shouted.  Spike turned and looked right at me, saw I was a youngster, and laughed.
Those were the golden days all right.


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