June 27, 2022

Entertainment in the ‘olden days’

Local entertainment in our younger days centered around the movies. We were fortunate to have four theaters right here in Newton. The biggest and fanciest was the Capitol, with softer seats and a balcony. The Iowa and short-lived State were located next door to each just up the street from the long-established “Happy Corner’' on skid row. The Rialto on First Avenue East specialized in double features and westerns. You got a lot for your 10-cent ticket.

Popcorn, beverages and candy at the theatre were just a nickel or dime, depending on your appetite. As kids, a big shiny quarter would go a long way.

Western movie stars included The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers with Gabby Hayes and Hopalong Cassidy. Margaret O’Brien starred in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes and Sentimental Journey. Judy Garland was the super-star in Meet Me In St. Louis and Liz Taylor in National Velvet. Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald are remembered in Going My Way. Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind will always be remembered for his shocking strong words to Vivian Leigh ... “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The old-time wind-up victrola still graced many homes with both thick and thin “78″ RPM records. We graduated from 78s to the smaller 45 records, and later the larger long playing platters. These all pre-dated tapes and our current day CDs. We listened to popular numbers of the day such as Ragg Mopp, Harbor Lights, Cry, Mairzy-Doats, Slow Boat to China, Glow Worm, and The Little White Cloud That Cried.

Names such as Nat King Cole, Jo Stafford, Rosemary Clooney, Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Patti Page were on the record labels. So were those Big Band names such as Sammy Kaye, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller, Harry James, and Spike Jones. Those were the days of “really good music.” You could even understand the words!

Upperclassmen in high school sometimes took their dates to the Tromar Ballroom, the Val Air and Riviera in Des Moines. Babe’s was probably one of the most popular restaurants in those days. We shopped not only at Younkers, but at Davidsons and New Utica. The super-size Paramount and Des Moines theatres got all the first-run movies back in those days. A trip to our Capitol City made for a rather special day.

John McNeer

Newton