There was a certain pride of station when I wore the maroon uniform of a Lyric Theater usher. That was a time when theater ushers actually helped people find a seat during the film. In those days you could buy a ticket and enter any time during the showing of the movie.
Show-goers tried to arrive before the start of the main feature, so my usher work was mostly during the showing of the newsreels, coming attractions or a cartoon. It was all pieced together up in the projection booth and shown continuously from noon until the last show beginning about 9:30.
If you arrived halfway though the main feature, you could stay on and watch the show to the point where you came in. You could stay all day if your time allowed. Ushers had to stay on their toes, as theater-goers were coming and going all day long. Our theater was a community.
The movies changed each week. Sunday and Monday were usually what we would call a “blockbuster” today. Tuesday and Wednesday a lesser feature was shown. Then Thursday, Friday and Saturday another first-run movie.
In second-run houses, like the Gem, Queen and Ritz (all on Center Avenue) ran double-features. Two full-length films, one a cowboy western and the other usually a modern mystery or comedy, with an added 15-minute serial.
My mother evidently favored the Queen Theater as she took me and my sister regularly on Saturday nights. It was as regular an event as Sunday school the next morning.
Camp Bowie was just being built and after the show we met dad as he closed his barber shop and we drove home together. During Camp Bowie days barber shops were open until nearly 10 every Saturday night. The soldiers preferred town barbers to those on base. Community was important.
Of all the films during my youthful days as an usher, few have stayed with me as much as the 1943 MGM film “The Human Comedy.”
William Saroyan’s sentimental Oscar-winning story of life in a small American town during World War II hit home to a nation at war with the Empire of Japan and Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
The film was Mickey Rooney’s finest acting as a teenager, and few can forget the droopy eyes and buck teeth of 6-year old Jackie “Butch” Jenkins as Rooney’s little brother Ulysses.
A youngster who knew nothing of those days said, “The film is a fable from another time.”
In the film Rooney delivers telegrams for a firm like Western Union. He comes of age one night as he has to deliver a telegram from the War Department to a mother that her son has been killed.
During that war the Western Union office in Brownwood, Texas, was next to the Lyric. As in the film, many homes in our county received word of the death of a loved one in the Pacific, North African or the European front.
It was a time when people cared about people. Call me naÃ¯ve, but I liked a time when we lived as a community.
Our “human comedy” is meaningful and great only in community. Knowing and caring for our neighbors; reclaiming what America once was. Not perfect, but a concerned inter-related community.
“Each of us holds the life and well-being of our neighbors in our hands. We can choose to lift each other up, or we can shrug and decide it isn’t our problem. If we are indeed a community, if we are indeed good, we can make the choice to do that lifting.” (Quoted from an article by William Rivers Pitt, author of “The Greatest Sedition is Silence.”)
It is our choice. We choose if our human comedy evolves as a nightmare or a dream–like a fable.
Britt Towery is former Southern Baptist liaison to the China Christian Council. He now directs the Tao Foundation, an organization promoting integrity in missions, and lives in San Angelo, Texas. His column appears weekly in the Brownwood Bulletin