It’s exciting to see the Sag Harbor movie theater coming to life again.
As I’ve mentioned in the past in this space, I have a rather personal connection to the old gal — my aunt Adelia Stokes was the first employee when the theater reopened after a long hiatus sometime in the early 1930s.
My mom was too young to work at night but would help out taking tickets at Saturday matinees.
Sometimes my aunt would sell the ticket at the window, go back to the inner door and tear it, and then retreat back to the candy counter and sell the same person a candy, then run back up to the ticket window.
The manager had promotions to drum up business. My grandmother put together a collection of dinnerware plate by plate, getting one piece a week. My aunt, somewhat mysteriously, won the $50 raffle one year.
When I was a teenager, the theater was the epicenter of our nightlife, that is to say, the only thing open besides the bars.
I went on my first date there — the movie “Bye Bye Birdie,” starring Ann-Margret, in 1963. I went with Barbara Held. My sister Phyllis went with Jerry Brockway. Lee Mienertzwagen went with Rama (Gary Simonsen). Bobby Vacca went with his basketball (literally).
The boys spent most of the time in the men’s lounge outside the bathroom smoking and lying to each other. The girls paired up and went to adjust their makeup every two minutes. Afterward, we all went to the Paradise. My dad slipped me money to buy a hot fudge sundae but everyone ordered a toasted hard roll, which came with little packages of butter, cream cheese, and eight different kinds of jams and jellies, and a cherry Coke.
If truth be told, the old place was drafty and damp all the time. Once, on date night, during a full moon, a big old rat sauntered down the center aisle as if he were going for buttered popcorn. The girls squealed and jumped up on their seats.
Noticing their skirts flailing, about once a month some wise guy would scream out “Rat! Rat!” so we could watch the girls climb the folding seats in utter terror.
Bob Dylan used to take his little ones to the matinees when he lived on Lily Pond Lane. I saw him outside one day — like a complete unknown.
Being from the city, of course, made us realize the stark differences in décor between the big, classic movie houses built during Hollywood’s heyday.
The Loew’s State Theater at 1540 Broadway was the most opulent place I’ve ever been. My parents would take us for religious themed movies like “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments.” There were 1200 seats. The rugs looked like velvet, the stair rails, gold. Men wearing white tuxedos gave you warm towels as you left the bathroom. There was a station where a man sold cologne like a bartender dispensed liquor.
I remember becoming distressed because I had no money to tip anyone. On the other hand, I didn’t need the towel, I was only 12. It’s not like I washed my hands after I went to the bathroom — that came later in life (when I was about 43).
My mom let me go to the lobby alone, probably realizing I would linger in the lap of such luxury and realize how the other half lived. I took notice, believe me: no rats allowed here.
Even the candy was from another world — special boxes, with ribbon and tissue paper, that cost two bucks each. Inside, there were only a few more candies than the regular bags in candy stores.
Contrast that to my neighborhood movie house in Brooklyn, where they had nickel machines and dime machines. My favorite nickel candy were potato sticks and Red Hots. The dime machine had chocolate candy, but I very seldom had a dime and even if I did, I preferred two items to one.
The candy counter in Sag Harbor was legendary. By the time I was a teenager, no one ever bought anything. Kids swore the same stuff under the glass — red licorice, Jujyfruits, and the like — remained there year-to-year, untouched.
When the East Hampton Cinema opened, we abandoned Sag Harbor. For one thing, there was a balcony, a proper place for a young man to “make his move” on a young lady. There was a killer candy stand replete with ice cream (Bon Bons!) and even hot dogs. I once earned the eternal admiration of the older kids by stealing a hot dog from the machine they rotated in, and shoving the whole thing in my mouth. Hey, I was a talented kid — what can I say?
Sag Harbor stopped showing mainstream movies and began running “art house” films with no beginning, middle, or ending. Once, the teaser read, “Two middle aged women sit in Central Park and talk about art.” I stared quizzically at that. Were they nude? Give me a reason. Anything!
I kept to my credo: If I don’t see a couple dead bodies and a semi-nude babe in the first five minutes of a movie, I’m going next door to the Cineplex to try my luck there.
Who knows, maybe Bob Dylan might make an appearance at the Grand Opening when the new Sag Harbor Cinema is unveiled. Jeez, I might even go if they play their cards right.