Childhood Ingenuity Earns a Dime for the Movies

A dime meant a lot during the Depression. A dime is how much some of our local movie houses charged - and more than my sister and I had to spend.

So we did what some other children did in those days - collected chewing gum wrappers from the street, removed the silver foil, and sold it to the junk man who came around periodically with his horse and wagon.

We would also look for old rags to sell him. He would always unroll the big rag ball to make sure we hadn't put a rock in the middle to increase the weight. Eventually, we would have enough for a movie ticket and a penny left over for a ''grab bag'' of broken candy bits from the corner store to eat while we watched.

Those were the years when Shirley Temple was the No. 1 movie star. We never missed any of her movies. We learned to whistle by practicing ''On the Good Ship Lollipop'' after coming home from her movie of that name. And, like many other girls, I had to have Shirley Temple ringlets, which meant that my mother had to patiently twist my hair around her finger every morning before school.

When we moved to Jersey City a couple of years later, we neighborhood kids would spend nearly every Saturday at the movies. We funded these outings by collecting old magazines and selling them to a second-hand dealer. This earned us a real bargain.

We would go to the Kiddie Show in the morning, which featured cartoons and cliff-hanger serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. And of course there was almost always a western. We brought our lunches and ate them in our seats.

Following the Kiddie Show there would be the regular double feature films, lasting till late afternoon, and after those, the previews of the new films for the following week. By the end of all this, it would be night time, and we would walk home, bleary-eyed but happy.

Then there was the Monticello Theatre in what was called the Black Section. The Monticello got films after every other theater in the white part of town. Of course this was racial discrimination, but it meant we never worried about missing a movie because we could always catch it at the Monticello.

By then it was the only movie house in town that still cost a dime. Because the audience was nearly all black, we white children were privileged to see something that few others ever had - black produced, directed, and acted films.

With the end of the Depression and the beginning of World War II, movies were never again as cheap. And with full employment in defense plants, everyone had enough money to go to them. Now my children and grandchildren can see many of the same old movies with a flick of the VCR.

But I've always wondered: What did they do with that silver foil we sold to the junk man?

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