Where I Spent My Elementary and High School Years
I had a Proust moment this afternoon as I bit into a chocolate nonpareil, which is a round piece of chocolate covered with little white dots of sugar candy (see picture below). It took me back to my visits to the old Shaker movie theater, which was demolished forty-odd years ago. When I lived on East 176th Street, I used to ride my bicycle down to the theater, which was located on Lee Road just south of Chagrin Blvd, which used to be called Kinsman Road back then. The pictures I saw were all Saturday matinees, complete with serials, cartoons, and the usual kiddie foofaraw. There, I would buy some popcorn and, if I had enough money, some nonpareils.
My world at that time did not stretch far from the map shown above. Occasionally, I would go downtown on the old 56A bus, boarding at at East 177th Street, a block from home. I went to elementary school at Saint Henry’s, shown on the above map as Archbishop Lyke school (now closed). My high school was a bus ride away in Bedford, Ohio at Chanel High School (now closed). I played at JoAnn Playground, trying to avoid the usual run of bullies who wanted to establish their dominance.
I had a difficult but happy childhood. The difficulty came with allergies and the start of the brain tumor that would result in surgery in the distant future year of 1966. My little brother and I were six years apart, but I did not really begin to appreciate him until after I graduated from college.
The Only Picture I Could Find of the Shaker Theater
The world in which I lived back then is completely unrecognizable today. For one thing, the tiny trees in the postwar housing that dominated are now enormous. And most of the businesses I recognized, such as the New York Bakery on Lee Road, are now a fading memory. I used to go there weekly on my bike to pick up an unseeded Jewish rye (the caraway seeds got stuck in my Dad’s teeth).
It was an interesting world in which to grow up.
The Palace Theater on Broadway
During the late 1960s, when I was a film student at UCLA, I felt I had to catch up fast in my knowledge of American films. After all, it was foreign films like Carl Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1948) and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1957) that introduced me to what the film medium could do.
So I went with my late friend Norm Witty to see the 99¢ triple features at the remaining movie theaters on Broadway downtown. Most of these theaters are no longer showing films, though at one time it represented the highest concentration of movie theaters in the U.S.; it was called the Broadway Theater District. It included the Cameo, the Tower, the Palace, the Los Angeles, the Arcade, the Roxie, and the Olympic theaters (though the last one was located on West 8th Street). Most of them ran movies all day and all night, usually as triple features.
Even back then, most of the patrons were just intent on getting a good night’s sleep in a theater seat that wasn’t too sticky or dirty. The rest rooms were something of a horror, and the refreshments were pretty disgusting. The worst of all was the Arcade, which we went to only once.
Poster for Universal’s The War Lord (1965)
Probably the best film I saw on these all-night excursions was a Universal picture starring Charlton Heston, Richard Boone, and a radiant Rosemary Forsyth called The War Lord (1965). Heston and Boone are two Norman knights who take control of a Saxon village. Heston falls in love with Rosemary Forsyth, a Saxon maiden who is betrothed to another villager. When he exercises the jus primae noctis (“the right of the first night”) and demands the right to bed her before her betrothed, the Saxons begin to mutter. But then Heston decides to keep her, and war breaks out. Franklin Schaeffner directed the film, which is still worth seeing when it comes around.