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Movie theaters bring memories of childhood

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EDEN — There are few people in Eden who didn’t grow up doing the same things I did when Eden was Leaksville. Summers seemed long. The best place to be was and is, as far as I’m concerned, in a movie theater.

“The Moviegoer,” Walker Percy’s 20th-century novel, tells the story of a young man who spent most of his life in a movie seat.

Percy’s advice was to get out of the theater and into real life. This might be a good message to live by, but it’s hard to follow when there are so many pleasurable moments in life involving going to the movies.

I began my life as a moviegoer at the Colonial Theater on Washington Street in what was then Leaksville.

The movie business took off in Leaksville in late 1929 and early 1930.

Ballard Bertram Martin was the granddaddy of the movie theaters in town. He rented the Colonial Theater in downtown Leaksville and owned the Boulevard Theater and the Balmar Theater in Draper. Doug Craddock opened the Grand Theater on the Boulevard.

Dr. Edwin G. Wilson, distinguished professor of English, dean and former provost of Wake Forest University, grew up within walking distance of the Colonial Theater in the 1930s.

Wilson remembers going to the movies at age 6.

“The Colonial was the best entertainment in Leaksville or anywhere,” Wilson said.

Wilson recalls that silent films were shown at the Colonial before the talkies took over in the 1930s.

No movies were shown on Sundays, Wilson said.

The pleasures of those days remain in Wilson’s sharp memory; he has kept the schedule for a week of shows at the Colonial.

A movie would be the same on Mondays and Wednesdays, and another one would be shown on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday nights were Westerns with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and others.

Saturday night was usually something appropriate for children. Friday and Saturday afternoons were for serials — you had to come back the next week to find out “what happened.”

Mickey Mouse arrived in the mid-1930s and “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939. “Rebecca,” directed by Alfred Hitchcock, won an Academy Award for best picture in 1940.

Wilson believes, as do I, that MGM with its stable of stars, elaborate sets and great directors, was the “best of all studios.” MGM also still has its Leo the Lion, roaring out of a golden circle signaling that an MGM production is about to begin.

Wilson said a visit from Leo the Lion, in a cage in front of the Colonial Theater, is one of his pleasant childhood memories.

Small-town memory: My grandfather George Clark ran the Leaksville Depot. The train brought Leo the Lion’s cage to be placed on a truck to go downtown.

Ballard Martin and his family brought the magic of movies to our town. His movie enterprise thrived until the 1950s and 1960s when television led to the closing of many theaters, including the Colonial. The Boulevard Theater burned. The new drive-in became a seasonal treat in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Jarrette “Babby” Dineen, the last surviving member of his grandfather’s family, “grew up” in the family business.

Dineen’s mother, Leone, met and married John Dineen from Chicago and brought him to Leaksville to be part of the clan.

The Dineen boys — John, Babby and Mike — climbed the ranks of the movie theater business.

John became a projection man, while Mike and Babby stood on pallets to make popcorn. Today, Babby Dineen claims, “I was the greatest popcorn maker.” He also bested his brother Mike for the amount of time it took to put together a popcorn box.

The movie business experienced a resurgence during the 1970s, Dineen said. The closed Balmar reopened with a big success, “Ben Hur.” Movies came back with a roar.

I still get excited when I hear about a good movie. Wilson said “Mud” looked promising, so I went with friends to see it in Greensboro.

The movie is great: lots of heart, beautiful Mississippi scenery, terrific acting and Matthew McConaughey (with and without a shirt).

Eden native Rachel Wright is retired as a teacher at Morehead High School and an instructor at RCC.

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