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Local History: A Place for Memories at the Millburn Theater

Local kids used to flock to the movie theater in the 1950s.

In his much-acclaimed memoir of growing up in Millburn in the 1950s, renowned author William Forstchen wrote in the Summer 2005 Thistle:

"Another great place of memories was the movie theater. What is a movie theater today? A box in a mall, with eight or ten mini-boxes inside. The old Millburn theater was grand, complete with balcony, and, given its narrow space, a rather good screen.

"In the late fifties there was a manager there whom all kids at Washington School just loved. On Friday afternoons he'd wander into the playground and we'd swarm around him as he passed out free tickets for the Saturday matinee. Since some of the kids in our neighborhood were recent immigrants and very poor, his gesture was a special blessing. I still remember him fondly, for those kids always came away with a coveted ticket in their hands.

"Around 12:30 on Saturday I'd hook up with a couple of friends and walk the two blocks to the theater. (How many kids do that today?) We stopped first at Kohls' to load up on Sugar Daddy's, pistachio nuts, and bubble gum, then into the line.

"It was still the days of the Saturday matinee—double feature. Five cartoons, and a serial, all for fifty cents. We'd pile in and the chaos would ignite. On a rainy winter day we'd all be steaming wet, wool jackets tossed over seats, and rubber boots off. The smell must have been like a cattle yard.

"If a "yucky" love scene was on, as was typical in the Italian Hercules movies, the theater would erupt, wads of spitballs were aimed at the girls—especially certain parts of her over-developed anatomy. There'd be groans, yells, jeers, and catcalls. It was bedlam and we loved it! Half the show was not on the screen, but in the theater itself with popcorn flying, spitballs aimed at the screen or a kid up front. A regular Dante's Inferno for any adult who might be trapped there.

"A good fight scene would send us into an ecstasy of delight. An exploding volcano or a rocketship crashing, or, better yet, our Marines and GIs whipping on some enemy would elicit wild cheers. We loved the serials, which were usually old reruns of Flash Gordon. How hokey they were to our sophisticated 1950s eye, but still fun with the rocket ships suspended by wires and buzzing around.

"We'd leave, satiated on violence and explosions and blinking at the evening light, to return home for dinner. I remember at times feeling something of a touch of guilt. My parents had blown all of seventy-five cents to allow me to go to the movies and buy candy. Money was tight in our house. Such a huge sum and I would thank them for their largesse. Why would they blow seventy-five cents like that? It wasn't until I was a parent that I really figured it out."

In light of William Forstchen's fabulous description of those wild Saturday matinees, the Millburn-Short Hills Historical Society was delighted to be able to add to the collection this unused May 21, 1955 ticket for a free kiddie show on Saturday morning at the Millburn Theatre. The ticket states the event was sponsored by the Holly House at 14 Essex St. in Millburn. A 1950 Holly House ad in the Item newspaper, also online at the library site, noted it was a "restaurant and millk bar." An online definition of a milk bar is a "snack bar that sells milk drinks and light refreshments (such as ice cream)" and it certainly sounds like another Millburn place that those 1950s Millburnites would have enjoyed on a Saturday.

Suzanne Tighe Shepard March 01, 2011 at 02:44 PM
Hi, I have a booklet that I would like to donate to the Millburn - Short Hills museum for permanent display. I'm one part of the very big Tighe Clan. My father, Vince Tighe was a fireman and my mother Felice had her own realestate office for many years in Short Hills. I have 2 older brothers Mike and Bruce. This booklet was published by the The Millburn Centennial Committee, 1857-1957. The booklet is in fairly good condition. If you are interested I can send you pictures. Suzanne Tighe Shepard- shepmail@cox.net
brian April 16, 2011 at 07:44 PM
Suzanne, cousin Briab Tighe send me copys I have some old photos of grandpops farm were your house is do want copys brian

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