Posts Tagged ‘Flying Tigers’

Remembering the North Main!

January 31, 2010

The North Main Theatre in Houston Opened for Business on Christmas Day 1936.

Like most people from my generation, neighborhood theatres, movies, and the heroes and stories we found there golden. They all etched their indelible ways onto the forever-hoping character of our American souls. For me, the first place to do that was the Rialto Theatre in Beeville, Texas, the little South Texas town where I was born. It didn’t have a lot of time to work its magic. We moved to Houston on my fifth birthday, December 31, 1942.

In my case, the job passed on to the North Main (1943), the Studewood (1944), and the Avalon (1945-56), with some considerable help to the latter from the Broadway, OST, Wayside, and Eastwood. And this roll call doesn’t even take into account all the other neighborhood suburban theatres and downtown big and fancy ¬†houses that we also frequented. Prior to the coming of television to Houston in 1949, especially, movies were our windows on everything that ever happened, will happen, could happen, or should happen. Indeed, they were our visual gospel.

The Rialto Theatre in Beeville, Texas Opened for Business on August 19, 1922

My earliest memories of the North Main are like some kind of carnival dream. Unless my memory is tricking me again, I seem to recall a dwarf couple that operated a popcorn stand just outside the theatre on the sidewalk. I wasn’t used to making level eye contact with older people, but that was the deal with these folks and me. I thought they were Munchkins.

Dad worked a light of night shifts at Brown Shipyard in those days so Mom would walk me and my younger brother John from our little duplex on Fugate to the North Main and sometimes the Studewood, which was actually much closer. I recall walking south on North Main to the movie house of the same name one night when gun shots rang out across the street. A cop was chasing a man down the street and either missing every time, or else firing over the running man’s head on purpose. We never saw or learned the outcome of that little Houston chase scene, but we would see it again in a few hundred movies to come.

At age five, I fell in love with John Wayne and “The Flying Tigers” (1942) at the North Main Theatre. We didn’t see the movie until 1943, but I guess we saw it three or four times while we could find it there and elsewhere – and then, over the years, I continued to watch it every chance I found when it started making the late show television movie circuit.

Words fail to adequately convey the power I felt from those snarling teeth of the tiger fighting planes as they zeroed in on the warrior ships of the Imperial Japanese Air Force, especially when an angry John Wayne pushed the button on a shot of cold steel vengeance over the loss of his own men. Pilots bled from the mouth when they were hit. It was the first memory I have of what appeared to be credible death scenes.

Prior to “Tigers,” I had seen numerous movies in which actors were shot in their ¬†tuxedos and still managed to drop dead on carpeted floors without making a mess for the investigation that was yet to come by William Powell as “The Thin Man.” “Tiger” casualties weren’t that neat. They dropped real blood when they died.

Or so it seemed.

Long before Clint Eastwood, "The Flying Tigers" knew how to settle old scores without losing their cool.

I’m curious. Did movies affect your early impressions of life too? And did you also have a John Wayne or “Flying Tigers” model, or any kind of model, that shaped your early ideas about how things are – or should be?

If so, I’m hoping you may be willing to leave your thoughts with us here as a comment on this topic. Memories of the North Main or other theatres are also most welcome – and, if anyone can help me clear up the reality of my North Main dwarf memories, I would especially appreciate your help.

Meanwhile, have a nice Sunday – and try to stay warm.