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Attending a movie matinee in Toronto during the “golden age” of cinema in the 1940s

24 Feb

The first Saturday in October of 1945, my friends and I attended the local movie house. I was proud to be of an age to go with my friends to the Grant Theatre at 522 Oakwood Avenue, near Vaughan Road. Sometimes we referred to it as the “Grunt.” It was a ten-minute walk from our house. A ticket for the afternoon matinee was ten cents, and we usually spent a nickel for candy at the variety store, named Grant Sweets, at 524 Oakwood Avenue, two doors north of the theatre. We called the store “Fats,” as the owner was a man of considerable girth. Walking into the theatre, the scent of popcorn permeated every square-inch of the lobby’s space. Another five-cent piece was required to purchase a box of the delicious, crunchy treat.

Departing from the candy counter, we parted the blackout curtains that covered the entrance to the aisles, and rushed down the sloping, stained carpet to locate a place to sit. Half the world’s supply of second-hand chewing gum was stuck to the underside of the seats. I think it was the gum that held them together. Perhaps the theatre as well!

As we waited for the first film to begin, the words of well-known songs flashed across the screen. The shadow of a small bouncing ball highlighted the words to the song, to be certain that we sang in unison. Scratchy static noises and the melody of the song played loudly from the speakers. Obediently, like choirboys in a heavenly throng, we lustily chorused the words to the wartime songs. The resulting racket was sufficient to cause St. Peter in heaven to block his ears and complain to God that he required a leave of absence. St. Peter had already been granted a leave of “abstinence,” as it had been his lot in life during his days on earth, and had continued into the blessed beyond. No hymn or anthem beneath the Vatican’s dome ever rivalled our rendition at the sanctified Grant Theatre on this day.

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,

And smile, smile, smile,

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag

Smile, boys, that’s the style.

What’s the use of worrying?

It never was worth while, so

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag

And smile, smile, smile.

And

Bell-bottom trousers, coat of navy blue.

She loved a sailor man and he loves her too.

When they walked along the street, anyone can see.

They are so much in love, happy as can be.

Hand in hand, they stroll along,

They don’t give a hoot

He won’t let go of her hand,

Even to salute.

I was considerably older before I discovered that the words to both of these songs had been “cleaned-up” to make them suitable for our age group. On this day at the Grant, when our “Moron” Tabernacle Choir performance ended, the theatre curtains closed. There was a pause, and then the curtains majestically swept open once more.

Shrieks and ear-piercing whistles exploded like a bomb, and the saintly St. Peter in the skies above ran for cover. He was unable to tolerate such choral greatness. Then, an enormous globe flashed on the screen, with the word “Universal” encircling it. This was the movie studio that had produced the picture. Next appeared the title of the movie—“In Society”—followed by the names of its stars, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The vocal crescendo from the full house of movie buffs burst in a breath-taking climax. The Grant contained 672 seats, so you can imagine the ungodly racket.

The angelic noise died away when the name of the director appeared, as everyone knew that the film would now begin. Soon, the comic pair created waves of laughter. It was the story of two plumbers (Abbott and Costello) who were called to repair the bathroom fixtures of a wealthy family. While attempting to fix the leak, they created a flood, which cascaded to the ballroom below, where a costume ball was in progress. The situation quickly deteriorated as the two helpless repairmen attempted to stem the flow. As well as this hilarious feature, we viewed a cartoon, several trailers (previews of next week’s films), a serial, and another feature film. It was an extravaganza of entertainment for the 10¢ admission price.

The latter half of the decade of the 1940s was the golden age of cinema. Films had provided escapism the harsh times of the Great Depression. During the war years, they had helped sustain the morale of the nation. Now, the war was over, and families had more money to spend than ever before. Studios responded and created empires, with teams of directors, actors,

cameramen, and support staff.

Each studio possessed its own unique trademark, which it flashed across screen at the opening of its film. MGM employed a roaring lion, surrounded by a loop of film and the words “Ars Gratia Artis.” RKO films began with a huge antenna, resembling the Eiffel Tower, perched atop a curve of the globe, the tower radiating signals. J. Arthur Rank studios showed a well-muscled man striking a huge gong. Paramount Studios depicted the top of a mountain that was similar to the Matterhorn in the Alps. Surrounding it was a ring of stars, with the words “Paramount Studios” inside the circle. These introductory graphics allowed audiences to identify the various studios. Some of these survive today, although now they are in colour, rather than black and white.

The Grant provided several other memorable movies during October―“When Irish Eyes are smiling,” a musical photographed in Technicolor starring Argentinian-born Dick Haymes and June Haver. Haymes played the role of a composer (Ernest R. Ball) who was attracted to a showgirl (June Haver). To complicate the plot, a mobster (played by Anthony Quinn) also wished to romance June Haver. The songs and acting were outrageously “mushy”, but we thought it was okay.

Years later, Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan were to croon the title song from this film, but neither leader possessed the charisma or the voices of the team of “Haymes and Haver.”

On the same matinee at the Grant was the court drama, “Lady in Question,” with Rita Hayward and Glen Ford, about a murder trial in Paris.

9781450205313-Perfect.indd

The passage above is from the novel, “Arse Over Teakettle.” It is a heart-warming and mischievous tale of a boy growing up in Toronto during the 1940s. The story chronicles their adventures in the laneways, ravines, and streets of old Toronto, as they struggle to learn the secrets of the “big boys.” Their attempts to explore their sexuality is often amusing. Many of us can relate to their foibles and misunderstandings.

It was the “golden age” of cinema, a decade when the local movies houses were the centres of entertainment for the various neighbourhoods throughout the city. As a result, the movies theatres play a major role in the story. The movies mentioned appeared in the actual theatres and on the dates that the book mentions. Those who enjoy the classic films on TCM will recognize many of the titles and the names of their stars.

For further information on the three volumes of the Toronto trilogy:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/the-toronto-trilogy-recreates-the-citys-past-while-providing-intriguing-stories/

The author’s Home Page:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/ 

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Toronto

 

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