Editor’s note: This is the 90th of a series about growing up in Marysville during the late 1930s and the 1940s written by Bill Boyd. Each article is a snapshot of the people, businesses and activities during that era as seen through the eyes of a young boy.
Boyd was born in Marysville in 1932, graduated from Marysville High School in 1950, and lived the greater part of his life here.
It’s a Tuesday night in 1939. I don’t know the exact date, but I know it’s Tuesday night, because my grandmother, Hettie Tracy, is getting ready to go to the Avalon Theater. She and her friend, Anna Liggett, go to the movies every Tuesday night. She will tell you she’s going because she wants to see the movie, but I think she is going because Tuesday night is “Bank Night,” and she might win $100.
Bank Night was a promotion that theater manager Claire Jarvis introduced to increase attendance on Tuesday nights, when less popular films were often shown. It worked, and a whole lot of people, including my grandmother, became Tuesday night regulars. On this Tuesday night I am with her, because the movie is one she thought I might enjoy, so she is taking me with her.
We leave the house well before the movie begins, because Hettie always likes to get there early. We pick up Mrs. Liggett at her house near the corner of Fifth and Maple, where Dave’s Pharmacy is today. Then Hettie, Anna and I head down Fifth Street to the movies.
It’s a nice summer evening, so the theater’s popcorn machine has been wheeled out onto the sidewalk, and my grandmother buys me a box of popcorn before we even get our tickets. Grandmothers are really great about things like that. Then we go inside. I head for the center section, down towards the front of the theater, where kids my age like to sit.
Hettie and Anna go down the aisle on the right side, about halfway down, where they go to the same two seats they have been sitting in for years. Hettie is on the aisle, and Anna sits right next to her. They are in a group of people, mostly women about their own age, and the talking and joking begins. This is another big reason they come every Tuesday night … to socialize with their friends. I think that’s why they all get there so early, long before the movie starts.
The ladies fill up just about all the seats in that area of the theater, except for two seats in the row behind Hettie and Anna. They leave those two seats empty. Then two men start walking down the aisle and head toward those two seats. One is “Doc” Griffith, an optometrist whose office is on Fifth Street, in part of the area much later occupied by the Uptown Steakhouse. The other is an older man, about the age of my grandmother. His name is Elzie Mills. He is actually my great uncle, and he has run a dry cleaning and tailor shop for many years, on the second floor directly above Doc Griffith’s office.
Once these two men are seated, the laughing and joking picks up even more. A lot of the joking is poking fun at both Doc and Elzie, but they don’t seem to mind. In fact I think that’s why they sit in those same two seats every Tuesday night. They like it. They have just as much fun as those ladies do.
Meanwhile I am having a great time with my friends in the center section, and as I look over at my grandmother, it’s obvious she is having just as much fun as I am. She really likes to joke around.
Things quiet down as soon as the lights are dimmed and the film starts to roll. The main feature is a Charlie Chan movie that both the kids and the grownups can enjoy. Then as soon as the movie ends, the lights go up and Claire Jarvis appears on the stage with a microphone. At his side is a large drum with a crank on one end. He selects a kid out of the audience, a girl about my age, and calls her up on stage.
As soon as the girl walks on stage, Claire starts turning the crank on the large drum. Then the girl reaches inside and pulls out a card with someone’s name printed on it. Claire reads the name and there is a short pause, until some man yells, “That’s me. I’m here. I’m here.” Then Claire calls the person up to the stage and presents him or her with a crisp, new $100 bill, and the whole theater claps like crazy.
That’s the way it was almost every Tuesday night at the Avalon Theater in 1939. There wasn’t a winner every Tuesday night, of course. In fact, most nights there was no winner. There were lots of people who had gone to the theater in the past and registered for Bank Night, so their name was in the drum. But to win, they had to be in the theater on the Tuesday night their name was drawn.
I don’t know how many Bank Nights my grandmother attended without winning but it was a lot. Then she missed one Tuesday, because she had a bad cold, and on that night … you guessed it … they drew her name. She received a lot of phone calls from her friends after the movie. I’m sure she was disappointed, as $100 in 1939 was worth almost $1,700 in today’s dollars. But Grandmother Tracy was a Bank Night “regular,” so she simply said, “Oh well, there’s always next Tuesday.”
(Those wishing to contact Bill Boyd can email him at email@example.com)
...For the full story, select an option below.