Celebrating Christmas safely

Ed Rood

Christmas is drawing near but how to celebrate safely is a problem. For sure we need to mask up, keep our distance and not attend large gatherings. Or, better yet, we  can just stay home.

That’s what I recommend. Stay home and turn on the old boob tube. That’s what is in my blood. My family knows how I’ve made a tradition of watching the old vintage holiday movies every year. This year I’ll bet I will have many fellow watchers. 

In my opinion, those old movies make a lot more sense than the ones we get stuck with today. I don’t know about you, but when I watch those old flicks I can halfway believe what’s happening. The ones produced today are so far from the truth that I find them hard to sit through.

Sure, Edmund Gwenn might have seemed a little goofy strolling around proclaiming to be Santa Claus in “Miracle on 34th Street,” but he gets his point across. I still get a lump in my throat when Natalie Wood drags John Payne and Maureen O’Hara into her dream home and they discover Santa’s walking stick in the corner. And who can help but feel the pain when Jimmy Stewart wrestles with the thought of suicide on Christmas Eve in “It’s a Wonderful Life?” They just don’t write them like that anymore.

Ed Rood

Although both of those movies were released in the 1940s, ("It’s a Wonderful Life" –1946 and "Miracle on 34th Street”–1947), I can’t remember if I ever did see them back when they were “first run.”

Back in those days movie theaters were something special. They meant a trip to another world. Maybe I would become a soldier, a cowboy or a fire fighter, it was a great adventure.

My friends and I were always ready to see a movie, but the nearest theaters were in Ames, Cambridge or Madrid. So, instead of having just the problem of coming up with the dime to gain admittance, there was also the challenge of finding a ride to and from the theater. Hey, trips of just seven miles were a big deal back then. Because of that, any movies we saw usually appeared on the weekends.

Don’t think the theater owners didn’t take that into consideration. Most of the musicals or romantic flicks would be shown during the week while the shoot-‘em-up westerns and the war-hero epics were scheduled for the weekends and holidays.

To illustrate what I mean, I looked up the movie schedule for the Iowa Theatre in Madrid back in December 1947.

On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 21, 22 and 23, Esther Williams appeared in the Technicolor musical “Fiesta.” Being 8 years old at the time, you can bet I missed that one!

However, on Dec. 24 and 25, a double feature sizzled the screen. Starting off with “Tarzan and the Huntress” followed by “The Vigilantes Return.” Both spectaculars were in full color. How’s that strike you for a fun-filled evening?

And that’s not all! Along with those two big hits was the round-by-round, blow-by-blow official heavyweight championship fight of the Brown Bomber Joe Lewis vs. Jersey Joe Walcott. I’m sure I occupied one of the front row seats for that holiday extravaganza!

I don’t remember how my friends and I persuaded my parents to venture out on that cold December night but you can rest assured that we did.

What strikes me as being a bit weird is the fact that, although this was 1947, not one theater in the area featured either “Miracle on 34th Street” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” during the holiday season. “It’s a Wonderful Life” did appear at the Collegian and New Ames theaters but on April 13, 14 and 15. It was described in the theater advertisement as a “glowing love story of a rich man without a dime.”

What did the other area theaters feature on Christmas? Cambridge was closed for the holiday but that weekend they showed Robert Mitchum in “West of the Pecos” along with a serial and a Popeye cartoon.

The Collegian spotlighted Red Skelton in a howling hit about Hollywood, “Merton of the Movies.”  At the New Ames, the two-fisted, hard-hitting adventure “Thunder in the Valley” appeared.

So there you have it, folks. Back in the 1940s the movies people watched during the Christmas time were far from the ones we watch today that were made in the 1940s.

 And as we say goodbye to Christmas 2020, I hope that we do it with a warm glow in our hearts put there by the great classic holiday movies.

And don’t forget to wash your hands!

Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.