Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hilo Days: The Mickey Mouse Club

Ah, great memories, going to the kiddie movies at the Palace Theater every Saturday morning while growing up in Hilo. This story appeared in my old Hilo Days website, and has been borrowed and run in other websites devoted to Hilo.


The Mickey Mouse Club.  It was the biggest weekly event that we kids looked forward to in Hilo.  Of course, when we moved to Ekaha Street in 1950, we didn't have television, so we couldn't participate vicariously in the television Mickey Mouse show.

But we did have our small town version.

Every Saturday morning, hundreds of kids would converge on the Palace Theater, just up Haili Street from the Standard Drug Store.  And for just ten cents ("one thin dime, one tenth of a dollar"), we would spend the next three hours in a world of fantasy.

The program would start with contests — yoyo, singing, dance, riddles — contests of any and every variety.  Next would come the sing-alongs where we'd follow the bouncing ball on the magical screen.  By this time, excitement was building to a point where we couldn't wait any more for the cartoons to start.

When the cartoons began, we kids brought the house down with our "Yays" and whistles.  Donald Duck's face would fill the screen, heralding a string of three to five Disney cartoons.  These were followed by a chapter of Captain Marvel, or Superman, or Cochise, or Flash Gordon.  Then, we had a Three Stooges short or two, followed by the feature film — usually a cowboy movie starring Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, or the Three Mesquiteers.

Everything was in black and white (except for the cartoons), and we had no wide screen then.  It didn't matter.

It was great.  Most of the kids would bring 15 cents, enough for the movie and a small package of crack seed (li hing mui is still my favorite).

Of course, I usually had a quarter, so I could buy a 10-cent bag of popcorn in addition to my crack seed.  Interestingly, they didn't let you bring your soda into the theater.  You had to drink it outside and throw the cup away before you entered.

Once a year they'd have a big Mickey Mouse birthday party.  For the same dime, you'd get (in addition to all the aforementioned contests, sing-alongs, cartoons, serials, comedy shorts, and cowboy feature) a cup of Dairymen's vanilla ice cream, an eight-ounce bottle of Coke, and a comic book.  And they still managed to squeeze everything into three hours.

We'd go to these things religiously.  Our regular seats were the ones in the back of the front section (I guess it was about the 15th row).

The chairs there weren't the regular fold-up theater seats.  They were wicker chairs — big ones.  We'd get there early, claim the chairs, throw popcorn or crack seed seeds on the people in front of us, and generally harass the usherettes.

One of our favorite forms of harassment was to continually ask the usherettes what time it was, and how much longer we had to wait before the movie started.  Another was to call her over and tell her we'd dropped something under our seat, and could she please shine her flashlight there so we could see.

I went to the Saturday morning shows all the way through elementary school.  We didn't even have to make plans, or have someone to go with.  All I had to do was catch the bus or walk to the theater, and guaranteed, there'd be someone there I knew.  Of course, when I was a small kid, we used to go in neighborhood bunches.

Then, competition sprang up.  The Mamo Theater, which was located on the infamous Mamo Street (home of pool halls and Filipino Cadillacs), started a "Bugs Bunny Club."  It was essentially the same thing, except they showed Warner Brothers cartoons, gave us comics every Saturday, and let us take our drinks into the theater.

At first, the Mamo Theater went head-to-head with the Palace.  They did fairly well because the concept and program was new, but eventually everybody went back to the Palace.  To regain their lost audience, the Mamo moved its kiddie program to the noon hour, then later gave up altogether
The Mickey Mouse Club programs continued for years, even when I graduated from high school and left for college.  But it went downhill with the advent of television.  And I guess all the black and white cowboys died off and weren't replaced.

When I was home for Christmas the first year of college, I passed by the Palace Theater and saw the promo billboard on the sidewalk.  "Mickey Mouse Club 9:00 A.M. Saturday," it read, "The Sins of Babylon."

The Sins of Babylon?


casch said...

What fond memories for you! too bad we had to grow up, huh?!

Craig Miyamoto said...

I agree, Carolyn. But you know what? Growing up was easy. Staying grown up is a bitch.