Richard Goolsky's 1940's Jamaica Plain (Part 6)

Saturday Matinees


Anyone remember before television existed? We had this thing called radio. It was kind of like TV. There was sound but you supplied your own pictures in your mind. After school I’d run home and turn on the big parlor Philco radio. At four o’clock the programs started. Some lasted a half hour but most were fifteen minutes long. My preferred position for listening to the radio was to kneel on the chair, put my head where my rear end should have been, and my rear end where my head was supposed to be. When we got our first TV in 1949, I had to reverse positions. The radio arrangement made the picture seem upside down.

Listening to the faceless voices on the radio made a kid’s mind work overtime. Imagine, what did Captain Midnight look like? Ovaltine, an awful kids’ drink that tasted like flat beer mixed with milk, sponsored the show. Tom Mix was easy to conjure up; he was a cowboy. The Ralston Cereal Company sponsored that program. They made another bad-tasting product called Hot Ralston. It was sort of like Cream of Wheat mixed with beach sand from City Point.

Whoa, I know what you are thinking. Why would kids plead with their mothers to buy this terrible stuff? We promised we would eat these things if we could have the labels and box tops plus a dime to get Captain Midnight Secret Squadron Decoder. Every afternoon the captain would give us a series of numbers. We would write them down and then set the decoder to the super secret key number and decipher the message. Usually the message told us to drag our mothers back up to the A&P on Centre Street and scream and cry until they bought us more crappy Ovaltine so we could send away for the Captain Midnight Atomic Bomb Ring. Jeez!

Tom Mix had a similar scam going. He had a Whistling Sheriff’s Badge. It had a built-in whistle. We would pin it to our shirt and blow on it if we were in dire trouble. Hell, I blew into it until I passed out and still the neighborhood bully, “Cupcake”, beat on me. Where were you when I needed you, Tom Mix?

Other radio pals included Superman. We knew what he looked like from the comics. Straight Arrow was an Indian crime fighter in the Old West. The toughest one to draw a mental picture of was The Shadow. I just couldn’t visualize an invisible crime fighter. When he wasn’t invisible, he was “Lamont Cranston, wealthy man about town.” Cranston Street in Jamaica Plain was named after him (just kidding.)

My mother finally threw out the Ovaltine when I got married and moved out of the house but the Hot Ralston never went to waste. She used to put it on the icy stairs in the wintertime and in the spring the birds would eat it.

Saturday matinees were what we waited all week for. We had two movie houses on Centre Street. 

The Jamaica Theater was OK, but it cost twenty-five cents to get in. The ushers had uniforms and it smelled just like the movies theaters in downtown Boston. The movies were fairly new and the popcorn cost fifteen cents while candy was five cents.

The Jamaica Theater was located in Hyde Square and the Madison between Chestnut Avenue and Estrella Street. Photograph from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives.

The Jamaica Theater was located in Hyde Square and the Madison between Chestnut Avenue and Estrella Street. Photograph from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives.

The other choice was the Madison. We called it “The Maddy”, “The Spit Box” and five or six other names that can’t be put into print. How we loved that place. The usher worked on an ice and oil truck and smelled of kerosene, which wasn’t so bad because it covered up the other odors that rose off the floors that were wet most of the time.

The Madison Theatre. Photograph from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives.

The Madison Theatre. Photograph from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives.

The routine was to get there early because we didn’t have any occupancy laws back then and no kids were turned away. If a good movie was showing, they would make us double up, two to a seat. The first seat in the second row on the right side was reserved for Joe Murdock the usher/oilman. Out of fear, no one would sit in that seat, even if Joe wasn’t there. He was about as big as Frankenstein (a movie that they managed to show a couple of times each month.)

First stop before getting in line was to stop next door at Sarlari’s to load up on one-penny candy. He had these long glass and wood cases loaded with candy. Now I’m not talking about a penny each. I mean two, three, or five for a penny. We bought Kits, BB Bats, Mary Janes, and Mint Juleps. We could fill a half-pound bag with a cornucopia of candy for five or six cents.

The line by now was almost down to Rocco’s Barbershop on the corner of Chestnut Avenue. A cheer that started at the back of the line grew louder with every step of the “ticket lady.” We didn’t know her name but she sold the tickets to get us into “The Maddy” and she was great. After we paid our nine cents at the booth, we filed in and presented our ticket to “Dutchy” who ran the show. He was an old gent with a constant scowl etched on his face. I think he hated kids and Saturday Matinees. On second thought, when my mother went to the show on “Dish Night”, he scowled then too. I guess he just didn’t like working at The Madison.

After “Dutchy” gave us our stub, we proceeded to the popcorn machine and plopped down seven cents for a bag of just about the best popcorn I’ve ever had. What a way to spend a few hours! We would watch two cartoons, a Three Stooges serial, a never-ending episode of Superman, and two full-length movies. We got all of this for the astronomical price of twenty 1940 cents. As an added bonus, if we had just seen a war movie, Joe the oilman/usher, would act like we were all Nazis and chase us out of the show while gunning us down with his finger.

Richard Goolsky can be reached at 912 Canvasback Rd., Rio Rancho, NM 87124 or by e-mail to: 

Reprinted by permission of the JP Bulletin.