Take a trip back in time to when the picture show was still the best deal in town.
What can 25 cents buy you today? Not much…
But back in my youth it would allow you to travel the world, see famous people up close, make you laugh, cry, scream in horror, or just sit quietly in awe. What am I talking about, you might ask? Well, it was a trip to the Thompson Square Theater, fondly known as the “Hippie.”
Tucked under the elevated trains on Main Street, where the Charlestown Branch Library sits today, the Hippie was the place to be on any Saturday afternoon. Before the fire laws forbid such a thing, kids would be forced to double-up on their seats to accommodate the beyond-capacity crowd. The line to get in would go all the way up Woods Street; the house was always packed!
Before the feature films (yes, there would be more than one) they’d show a slew of the latest cartoons such as “Tom & Jerry,” “Casper the Friendly Ghost” and maybe something like the latest episode of “Flash Gordon.” Then, with great fanfare, the main feature would begin. The audience would get quiet, the screen would brighten with vivid colors, the loud music would fill you with excitement, and then (drum roll please)… someone would tap you on the shoulder, usually Bobby Wilson or Mr. Turner, the ushers, to get up and let late arrivals climb over you to the seat in the middle of the row.
If we had any extra money, a trip to the old 5 & 10 would precede our entry to the show to get a sleeve of popcorn as long as my arm for a mere 10 cents. Then, during intermission, we’d spend another dime at the refreshment stand where Florence Higgins would be waiting to help us, smiling and so patient, to get an ice cream cone or some Good & Plenty‘s, Milk Duds or Juju Beads. Boy, were we sitting pretty.
The shows at the Hippie were mostly G-rated. In fact, the Church posted the “Legion of Decency List,” which rated each movie being shown in the area. It was our duty, we were told by the good nuns, to check this list weekly to make sure we were not entering into an occasion of sin by viewing the wrong full length feature.
I remember one time I went to the show on a weekday afternoon with a friend whose name I won’t mention (to protect her dignity), and we saw a less than G-rated movie. It was a war comedy called, “Don’t Go Near the Water,” which depicted servicewomen stationed on a submarine with all the usual hilarious antics you might imagine. We thought it was great! Well, that was until we got to school the next day and our 6th grade nun asked the class what constructive thing we had done with our free time the day before. If I remember correctly, the two of us had to stay after school for several days working on a 500 word essay on the importance of the Legion of Decency.
There were certain things you had to expect as a regular at the Hippie. The boys would sit in the back rows so they could throw popcorn or hard candies at the girls who would usually cry during a particularly sentimental point of the movie. The balcony was reserved for “grown-ups” who I later found out were usually teenagers on dates taking advantage of the darkness to smooch… And, perhaps my most impressionable memory, after sitting for any length of time, your feet would be stuck to the floor due to the enormous amount of discarded gum left by previous viewers; its gooeyness was always enhanced by the unavoidable damp stream of moisture originating in the seats behind you.
Wednesday night was Talent Night. There were usually at least five ambitious and semi-talented individuals with enough nerve to get up on stage and strut their stuff. The winner would be chosen by the volume of audience applause. Wednesday was also dish night. Each week you would be given one piece of a plate setting making you return every week until you would collect the entire set. Free dishes, free talent show and a 25 cent movie—not bad for a night out.
Being the only theatre in town, the Hippie would be transformed into a Broadway stage a few times each year. Minstrel shows, and later, variety shows featuring local talent, would perform to the delight of a full house as a method of fundraising for local churches or organizations. Copied from Hollywood types like Al Jolson, black face “end men” would don tuxedos, play tambourines, spoons or caroches and harmonize the old favorite songs of the 30’s and 40’s. Added to the gaiety, young (and other, not-so-young) “talents” would sing or dance the evening away. It was a great event for the neighborhood, the organization and the talent. Variety shows brought the same atmosphere, minus the blackface.
To the best of my recollection, the Hippie closed in the early 1960’s, bringing the end of another era in the rich historical background of our town. May it live on in our memories forever.