As a “bonus” entry for the Horseathon, hosted this weekend by Page of My Love of Old Hollywood, we present a movie memory revolving around one of the most famous “horse pictures” of all, written by our friend Del Oehms Hamilton.
When I was growing up, we NEVER called it “going to the movies.” My daddy always said “going to the picture show” (which, of course, was pronounced “picher show”). My daddy actually was a movie nut because at the time, the theater was usually the only air-conditioned building in town. He would come in off the boat and go to the “picher shows” and sit for hours, because you could pay for one ticket and just stay all day. Funny, huh, since that would never happen today!
I am pretty sure the first “picher show” I remember ever seeing in a movie theater was National Velvet (1944). I’m not sure how old I was at the time. My older sister had a new job and she decided to surprise me with the movie, because like most young girls, I was crazy about horses.
I remember we went to see the movie at the Avenue Theater in Biloxi, Mississippi, which is no longer there. It was one of those really old jewels of a theater that had a balcony. The balcony was where the big kids sat, and they would throw things down at the people below during the movie. I also vaguely remember that there was an usher who carried a light and escorted you to your seat in the dark. Before we went in to see the movie, we stopped at the concession stand and my sister treated me to what is my favorite movie candy of all time, Sno-Caps! I still love them.
I was mesmerized by the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney. I remember laughing and crying, which to me is still the hallmark of a great movie. I was on the edge of my seat while Velvet ran that race. I asked my sister recently if she remembered taking me to see it, and she said she did: “Walking into that theatre and seeing the movie already running captured your eyes, and from that moment on, I don’t think you took your eyes off the screen once, even to reach for your candy.”
I believe that watching this film was the first time I ever saw anything in color–probably because we had a black-and-white television, so that was the only reference I had for movies up to that point. I seem to remember Velvet having the most vivid blue dress–bluer than anything I had ever seen on a screen before. In fact, I remember all of the colors being so vivid. But probably the biggest memory I have about Velvet is what I did not see. We were late getting there (for some reason I cannot recall now) and we missed the first five minutes of the movie. It was years and years before I actually knew how the movie started. To this day, National Velvet is a favorite movie. It makes me have happy thoughts. My sister and I even watched it together again several years ago.
Years later, I took my niece to see The Fox and the Hound (1981) when she was likely about the same age I was when I saw National Velvet. I think it was her first movie. It was like coming full circle. I got to take her in and get the treats–in her case, a huge Coke and a bucket of popcorn. I remember thinking that she would never sit through the whole thing. She insisted on carrying that huge soda in herself, and you can guess what happened. It landed all over when she dropped it going down the aisle. I had to take a crying child back out to the lobby and buy another one. She then proceeded to climb up into my lap, since she was too small to see the screen very well while sitting in her seat. She propped her feet up, sat back, and ate and drank and watched that entire movie. She laughed, she cried, and she was enthralled by it all. Mind you, this is the same child who, a couple years later, went to see Star Wars (1977) with my brother, and she insisted on sitting in the front row. In the middle of the movie, she stood up, put her hands on her hips, turned around to face him AND the entire theater, and loudly proclaimed, “Uncle Buddy, I’m bored!”