Legends of Myself 43

Posted on April 18, 2012


Continued from Legends of Myself 42

43. Prince Rupert, 1958:  Movie Shows and Sarcastic Cowboys

It was five or six blocks over, down and around the corner, from Eighth Avenue where I lived to Third Avenue, Prince Rupert’s main drag, where the Capitol Theatre was located.  I made that journey many times, climbing a number of informal but well-trodden dirt paths from 8th Avenue to Fulton Street, following Fulton as it topped the cliffs and edged down along them, finally turning right on 3rd Avenue.  The theatre was a short distance from the corner of Fulton and 3rd.

Built in 1928, with a patterned front—eight shapes reminiscent of ribbons and medals underneath a brow of decorative eaves, and with a lip of marquee over the entrance—the Capitol Theatre was easily one of the most distinctive buildings in Prince Rupert’s downtown.  Inside, the floors were carpeted, unusual for Prince Rupert buildings in those days, and there were rounded corners suggestive of archways defining the concession stand and marking the entrances to the auditorium.  It was classic theatre architecture of an earlier era.  The building exists still—since the 1980s housing a mini-mall with a commemorative plaque in the lobby.

I recall my irritation and scorn, just after moving from Vancouver, at finding out that movies in Prince Rupert cost a quarter—and that for only a single movie.  I was still accustomed to prices at the second-run theatres on Hastings Street:  a double feature for 15¢ at any one of three theatres.  My Vancouver experience told me that movies marched in naturally two by two, Noah fashion.

A double feature was the smallest you could expect for your nickel and dime.

Saturday matinees at the Capitol were not altogether thin offerings, to be fair, despite the characteristically bloated Prince Rupert prices and the inexplicable (to me) absence of a second movie.  There was usually a cartoon and an episode of a movie serial in addition to the main feature.

The serial was to keep the kids coming back every Saturday, I imagine, but it meant in practice that I never saw more than two episodes of a given story in a row.  Subsequent experience assures me I probably didn’t miss much.  Plots were not a large concern of the folk who made movie serials.  Just put the hero in trouble at the end of every episode and out of trouble at the end of the last, and you’re a movie serial whiz-bang.

As for the feature movies I saw during this period, I can’t remember even one with certainty.  Ironically, given its massive effect on me and on the play-culture of my neighbourhood for weeks afterward, my recollections of “The Pony Express” end in the theatre lobby.

Well, I’m pretty sure it had gun fighting in it.

The manager or owner of the Capitol Theatre was conspicuous in the lobby that broken hot dog day, adding ceremony to the occasion, pitching in at giving out candy, and smiling at the long rows of children filing by.  If he was the owner, he was also, I suspect, inwardly giving praise for rainy Saturdays.

As I passed by in that line up, I was handed a soft drink and half a chocolate bar.  Somebody had taken full size chocolate bars and simply butcher-knifed them in half for the occasion.  Good enough me, when you threw in a free movie along with it, that is.

“The Pony Express” was already five years old when I saw it in 1958.  It was one of a genre of interchangeable movies, and treated as such.  There was no television station in Prince Rupert in those days to rerun old movies, so a movie from 1953 suited as well for Saturday afternoons—when kids always ruled the Capitol Theatre.

I suppose I saw a lot of Westerns.  Certainly “The Pony Express” was far from the first one.  My neighbourhood’s response to it resulted largely from the fact that everybody on my block had seen it, not its novelty.  And once a few of us had armed up with cap guns, and caps, our play took on a momentum of its own.  I suppose we pretended to do some furious riding to deliver the mail, but mostly I remember the gunfighting, which also, as these things do, evolved over time.

I think I must have been sarcastic even at eight years old.  What I chose to lampoon was the way some kids played at gunfighting.  Those same kids who are one of the reasons paintball was invented.  You know them.  The ones who insisted that they somehow avoided every shot.  You met them in a gunfight.  Shot them dead centre with your cap gun, yet somehow, with sideways motion and a lightning dodge, they would always avoid the bullet and come back firing.

“Got you,” I’d say.

“No, you didn’t,” they’d say.

In honour of these lightning-reflexed dodgers I came back with the “slow duck.”  With the slow duck, it didn’t matter how obviously you’ve been shot down.  You just ducked to the waist, not particularly quickly, and said, “Missed.”

Absolutely guaranteed to annoy your opponent.

I don’t recall actually owning a cap gun in 1958 (or any other time) but I remember being able to borrow someone else’s occasionally—all you had to do was supply your own caps.  I remember having my own supply.

The caps worked (a little uncertainly) in cap guns, of course, and you could have a quite satisfactory quick-draw if two kids with cap guns could get them both to go off at once, but that almost never happened.

If you didn’t have a cap gun available, you could fire the caps by hitting them with a rock, or—and I immediately saw the potential of this—of twisting them beneath your heel on the pavement.  I realized that with a little co-ordination and practice, I could make it appear that I was firing caps from the end of my finger.

It was a sweet effect when I could pull it off, and almost as much fun as dodging a slow bullet.

 Continued @ Legends of Myself 44

Posted in: autobiography