Roosevelt Theater

Brooklyn Square,
Jamestown, NY 14701

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trigoli
trigoli on November 1, 2013 at 10:52 am

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF THE ROOSEVELT THEATER
by Tom Rigoli

As a youngster growing up in Jamestown, New York, during the 1940s, the old Roosevelt Theater was a magical place. I can still recall some of the super-sized color movie posters in the lobby—such as one showing Abbott and Costello (whom we called “Fat and Skinny” probably a carry-over from our older siblings who applied the same appellation to Laurel and Hardy) or others heralding the latest cowboy exploits of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Lash LaRue, et al.

Add the alluring smell of hot popcorn as we waited in line to purchase our ticket (for about twenty-five cents, I think), and the stage was set to enter the world of make believe. Excitedly, we would rush to find a good seat…and then delight with seeing a Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker cartoon before the main feature.

The Movietone news reel, although more serious, was also welcome preamble as it gave insights into current events with words and pictures that even a seven year old could comprehend. In addition to the main feature, there was often a short serial—always a cliffhanger. It didn’t make any difference if you missed the last two or three serial episodes because each one began with a recap of what had happened earlier. No doubt, Spielberg was influenced by these early cliffhangers when he produced the Indiana Jones movies.

While Roosevelt Theater goers were mostly well behaved, I do recall one time when the crowd got out of hand. It happened when the projector failed to work… and as the audience waited, which seemed like a long time, crowd conversation got louder, with some yelling toward the projection room to get the movie going. Then someone flattened a popcorn box and sent it sailing toward the screen. Others followed suit, and like mosquitoes on a summer night, flattened popcorn boxes were in flight. This prompted theater management to turn on all the lights, which dampened the pandemonium, and happily, soon thereafter, the lights slowly dimmed and the projector was working once again. All settled back quietly to watch the movies they came to see.

My childhood buddy and still long-time good friend, John R. Cusimano, added this recollection to mine: “We went to that theater every Sunday afternoon, for years. How could you beat the Movietone news, the cartoon, coming attractions, the serial, and the double-features, and all for fourteen cents. Twenty-five cents bought you a ticket, a box of popcorn, and a penny candy. I remember the popcorn box incident and a few others.”

In regard to those “few other” incidents, let me add that there was a small balcony in the theater. If for no other reason, it provided a perch for more mischievous acts, such as dropping peanuts, candy, and other handy objects on those seated below. My buddy John, if I’m not mistaken (and he’ll take me to task for this) often led us astray in dropping items from the balcony—and I also think it was John who was the first to flatten his popcorn box and set it sailing toward the screen. But I can’t say for sure because it was so many years ago!

Another childhood memory about going to the movies was how we acted out the movies we had just seen once we got home. Cowboys and Indians or war movies were favorites to act out. I recall there was one neighbor who lived across the street who

was exceptionally dramatic when it came to playing war. As I remember one occasion, we were pretending that we were soldiers on opposite sides shooting at each other and using green peaches as hand grenades. When I threw one of the peaches his way, it hit him on the shoulder… and that’s all the encouragement he needed to emote. He jumped up, fell down, and rolled around on the ground and fluttered before he pretended he was dead!

When I try to recall the cliffhanger serials we saw back then, my memory starts to blur with what I saw at the Boys Club versus those I saw at the Roosevelt. Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were surely on the list. One thing is sure, there was no shortage of cliffhanger serials, and they routinely popped up on small theater screens around the country during the 1940s. I don’t know when the theater was closed, but I think it was some time in the 1950s. It was demolished in the early 1970s.


I still enjoy watching old movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Among my favorites are the Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney genre. I don’t ever get tired of watching “Casablanca” or “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” And who among us doesn’t have a VHS tape or DVD of “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart? What a great Christmas classic…and put together by director Frank Capra , a fellow Sicilian.

Speaking of directors, I’m especially fond of movies directed by John Ford and John Huston. Ford’s westerns with John Wayne and Victor McLaughlin are still magnificent to watch…panoramic buttes and mesas against glorious skies…with a good story line to boot. My two favorite westerns are “Stagecoach” directed by John Ford and “Red River” directed by Howard Hawks, both starring John Wayne. But Ford’s Ireland based non-western “The Quiet Man” also starring John Wayne is one of my top-ten favorites. Huston’s movies starring Bogart, namely “The Maltese Falcon,” “Key Largo,” “The African Queen,” and “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” have all stood well the test of time.

In the 1950s, my movie interests migrated to Broadway musicals,which I still enjoy watching today. I can recall going to see a double billing at the old Wintergarden Theater on Main Street when I was in my early teens. Featured were Rodgers & Hammerstein hits, “The King and I” and “Carousel.” I went to a matinee by myself in the middle of the week, and there were only two other persons in the audience, an elderly couple who sat toward the back. I took my seat several rows in front of them at the center. I felt like I was watching a command performance. What a great memory!