If you ask people who grew up in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s about some their most vivid and treasured memories as children, the Saturday (or Sunday) afternoon matinee at the local movie theatre has to rank high.
It was the place kids could congregate without their parents worrying about them. The theatre was the safe haven from the hot summer sun or cold winter’s day for two precious hours in the middle of the afternoon.
As we sifted through the endless volumes of theatre records and memorabilia mainly from the Forty Fort and Luzerne Theatres, it appears the Kiddie Matinees – as they were called – really seemed to take off in the mid 1950’s – though they probably started earlier than that.
In 1955, a child could go to the theatre with fifty cents, and the afternoon was his or hers; A thirty cent admission fee, a dime for a box of popcorn, a five cent soda, and another nickel left over for either a small package of pretzels or a box of Dots or Good ‘n Plenty.
Show times at the Forty Fort and Luzerne were generally 1:45 or 2:00 PM. The program would usually kick off with a cartoon or two, a Three Stooges comedy, then a feature length film – usually a western in the early days or a sci-fi or horror classic, when they became popular a few years later.
Recalling the late 60’s at Luzerne and Forty Fort and especially the early to mid 70’s at Forty Fort – there were a series of films that seemed to play on a round robin rotation. Booking agents and exhibitors alike seemed to have sweetheart deals with certain film companies like Universal-International who released such epics as King Kong vs. Godzilla and The Brides of Dracula.
Of course it was hard to rival the all-time schlock film company, American International Pictures who delivered classics like Destroy All Monsters, The Return of Count Yorga, Planet of the Vampires, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes; movies that made the rounds with all the lovely frequency of a hotdog repeating on you.
In the 70’s the ticket prices for matinees jumped from 50 cents to 75 cents. A dollar still was enough to enjoy the movie and a treat or two.
By 1977, the matinee began to fade away at the Forty Fort Theatre with the possible exception of an occasional special release from either MGM or Buena Vista (Disney).
It seemed early Atari video games and cable TV were vying for kid’s attention, and Saturday afternoons at the theatre were suddenly reserved for the ghosts of matinees past.