I remember my first movie. I can still call to mind images from that movie some eighty-five years after seeing it.
I was five years old, and my parents took to me to a theater in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, to see a recently released film, Treasure Island, starring Wallace Berry, Lionel Barrymore, and the young Jackie Cooper.
It was a first-class theater, and in those days the better movie houses were truly palatial. There were deep padded carpets, beautiful chandeliers, and ornate furnishings. As you were ushered to your seats, an organist seated to the right of a huge curtained screen was playing a mixture of classical and popular pieces. Everyone seemed to be in a state of delightful anticipation.
Then, the organist stopped his playing, and, preceded by a melodic fanfare, the curtains opened. A newsreel covering current events followed, and then there was a cartoon – I believe it was about Popeye and his friends. Everything was in black and white, but the pictures were crisp and well defined. Color would not arrive until later in the decade. After the cartoon, the curtains closed again, only to be opened again with another fanfare as the feature film began.
Our home was filled with books, and my sisters often read to me. I was therefore familiar with Robert Louis Stenson’s tale of pirate adventure. Now, I was seeing the story acted out on screen. I was enthralled.
One scene remains vivid in my memory. Young Jim Hawkins (Jackie Cooper) had climbed a mast to escape the murderous attentions of one of the pirates. The pirate climbed after him, a knife held between his teeth. At the very last moment, as the pirate reached to grab his legs, Jim fired his pistol, and the evil pirate fell to his death on the deck below. A roar of approval and clapping arose from the theater audience.
This was the first of my eighty-five years of movie memories.