The curtain rises and scene two begins in 1944, maybe plus or minus one year. I had developed a heart murmur from pneumonia, so I was constantly being monitored by machines to evaluate the seriousness of it, due to the fact that my Mother was a registered nurse, my father was a registered pharmacist. (His six brothers and sisters, with the exception of one brother, my favorite uncle, whose death certificate stated he was a pharmacist’s assistant — many years later my father confessed to taking the test for him — were either doctors, pharmacists, or had married pharmacists.) With all of doctors’ tests and medical speak floating around my house, my imagination ran wild. Here I was thinking I was going to die at an early age, maybe at any minute! You might wonder why all of this is important. Well, the simple fact is this 5-year-old boy had lots of drama in his life.
Enough. No More Medical Stuff. Time for Some Theatrical Drama.
The Goldman Theater was located one block west of Broad Street and one block north of Chestnut Street in center city Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love), close to City Hall with the famous statute of William Penn on top of it. I remember the Goldman Theater vividly. The letters spelling the name of the theater were huge. Here, I had a scare that seemed worse than my fear of an early demise. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” produced in 1938 was playing, and my parents took me to see it. It was a large movie house and I recall sitting in the center section on the right-hand side. There were many fun moments between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, painting the fence and things like that. But then, holy shit! That cave! Pirates carrying lighted torches, and one particularly mean-looking guy with a brass earring. His evil stare penetrated my brain as if I had been shot, and shadows danced on the walls of the cave like devils celebrating the victory of Evil Forces over Good . Tom and Huck were about to die, and me right along with them. It was so-ooo real! I started crying, screaming, a piercing animal sound that echoed off the walls of the movie theater. I was also kicking my feet and flailing my arms. My mother and father hustled me out of the theatre, and I remember carrying on even when we were outside on the street. What I had just experienced was real and that was that. I don’t know how many weeks after that, one of my uncles, a pharmacist of course, told my parents that he knew the owner of a movie theater, and I could go into the projection booth, where I would see the projectors and film reels spinning on them. So I went there with my parents. It wasn’t scary because I wasn’t going into the theater’s auditorium, just a little room upstairs — the projection booth — whatever the hell that was. There was a big metal door leading to the projection booth because highly combustible Nitrate film had not been outlawed yet. Inside, I stared. What iron monsters those two projectors were! Those amazing mechanical devices clicked and clacked and a flaming carbon arc caused bright light to be emitted through the lens in front and then through a tiny square window. Holding my mother’s and father’s hand, I ventured closer to the projector and was held up in the air so I could peek through that tiny square window the beam of light was passing through. My God! Spewing out of that iron contraption was a movie! I could see with my own eyes the images on the screen were coming from the projector, and came to the conclusion the images on the screen weren’t real! It was an unforgettable, seminal moment in my life, and the beginning of a passion for the magic of the motion picture that consumes me to this day. Now the curtain closes, but rest assured in the very near future there will be new reels spinning on the projectors and the curtain will open again.
MY PERSONAL STORY will continue…