Going to the Movies

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.

For more than a century, Americans have enjoyed going to the movies. Before TV took over the country, movies were the window into the world for many people.

Wilford Naman describes the first moving picture he ever saw around the turn of the century in Waco:

"It was a custom at the opera house, they called it, where they had Shakespearean plays, between acts they would show motion pictures, keep people sort of satisfied while they're resting, you know. And the motion picture would be of a fire engine because they would in—in the pictures have motion of the horses, you know, and the smoke. They didn't have, in the early days, just picture shows. They showed them in the theatre as sort of an icing on the cake."

Mary Sendón recalls Waco in the early 1900s:

"We had one movie theatre when I was just a kid, and it was called the Crystal, and that's where I saw my first movie, and it was an Indian story. It was done in brown, sepia color. All I can remember seeing Indians running up and down the mountains and the soldiers chasing the Indians."

Joe Ward Jr. of Waco describes going to the movies in the 1920s:

"There was no sound, and every theatre had an organ. And the organ would play music with a mood to whatever was going on in the movie. And my first introduction to classical music was the "William Tell Overture," which was always played when the cavalry was on the way to rescue the wagon train from the Indians."

Argie Medearis recalls the routine she shared with her cousin in the 20s and 30s in Waco:

"My grandmother, she'd give us this here dime or nickel, whatever it was on Saturday, and we'd go to the cowboy was on at the Fox, Tom Mix."

For nearly two decades, The March of Time was shown before movies and kept Americans abreast of international news. Robert Feather of Dallas tells about watching the newsreel during WWII at a theatre in Springfield, Missouri:

"They showed a clip, and my dad, as chaplain, was speaking to a group of soldiers. And I got up and left and went to the telephone or payphone and called my mom and told her, took her the next night to see that."

Ina Billups remembers going to the movies as an African American in Goliad, Texas, in the 1940s and 50s:

"We had to sit upstairs. And they had—would bring in live entertainments. I saw Gene Autry on stage with his horse, Rex Allen, (laughs) a number of them. And then there was a time where they had—on Wednesday nights, I believe, they would show Spanish movies. It was all in Spanish. And we'd go anyway just because there was nowhere else to go. (laughs)"

Movie theatres today are struggling, as they must compete with less expensive and ever-increasing Internet options. Some analysts predict that movie-going will look quite different in the coming years, as the movie industry attempts to appeal to a new generation of patrons.

Living Stories is heard every Tuesday on 103 point 3 FM Waco, NPR. For full transcripts of the interviews featured in this segment, or for more information about the Institute for Oral History, visit baylor.edu/livingstories.

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