I am just itching to see the new Tom Hanks movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” in which Tom plays Mr. Rogers. Perfect casting. Both good hearts. I don’t see a lot of films, mostly because I live on a microscopic budget, and by the time a person buys a ticket and the milk-pail size popcorn with extra butter — well, it adds up.
I must say that I love theaters. Especially old theaters with art deco swirls around the ticket booth and gilded mirrors surrounded by winking, yellow light bulbs. I also love the dark carpeting (chosen I am sure to cover the spilled soda and old kernels of popcorn), and the stage with red velvet curtains where the screen stood waiting for the feature film to begin.
Many years ago, when I lived in Chippewa Falls, they had a small theater known as “The Falls,” which gave the appearance that it once housed an old hardware store. The screen was (I think) made from two-by-fours and some kind of fabric (maybe some sheets tacked together). When the air conditioning or the heat came on, the screen wafted back and forth like a sail.
That wouldn’t have been so annoying if it hadn’t blurred the focus, but for the most part, it was a great experience. Sometimes there might be eight or ten people there, and you could laugh as loud as you liked. If it was a sad film, I always cried and wiped my tears with my well-buttered hands, and then walked out looking like I was coated in Crisco.
I remember hearing that there once were 100 seats in The Falls, but the insurance was cheaper if there were fewer, so they ripped one out and continued to operate with 99 seats. They said that was to make it ADA compliant — and maybe it was.
I have to say that to this very day — no matter how upscale the theater — there was absolutely no better popcorn anywhere. Chippewa of course now has a big movie complex, and no one remembers “The Falls,” but I do, and I loved that old place. But, as usual, I digress.
I am anxious to see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” because I have read great reviews, and I think that honoring Mr. Rogers is most appropriate. He was important to children. I remember my three boys going off to kindergarten (it was half-days then), and they’d come home at noon, pretty beat after getting up so early and riding the bus to and fro. I’d have their peanut butter and jellies ready. Sliced bananas with sugar and cinnamon and a big glass of milk. We’d put down a tablecloth and they’d have a “picnic” on the floor in front of the television, and watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. They all loved him, and it was a time in their day when after all the frantic scurrying around, they could watch Fred Rogers come into his neighborhood and hang up his khaki jacket, and get his red cardigan out of the closet and put it on, and then sit down and put on his sneakers.
He might read a nice book, or tell a story. Always with a good ending and a life lesson to boot.
Sometimes he introduced his puppets, like King Friday, Daniel Striped Tiger, and of course Lady Elaine. Compared to the flashy special effects on Sesame Street, it was obvious that Fred’s budget was about 85 cents. Even the puppets looked worn. But, that never seemed to bother him or the kids. His show was quiet and comforting. Usually, before it ended, my three active boys would have fallen asleep.
It has been the only show on television where kids were told that they were special and that they were cared for. There were lots of kids that never heard that anywhere else. “I want to be your neighbor!” he said, every day.
Many years later, when he gave a speech after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, he asked the glitzy celebrities in the audience to take ten seconds to think about all the people — here, and in heaven — who had helped them become the people they are. Men in stuffy tuxedos and women in sparkling evening gowns and full makeup wept and dabbed at their eyes. In his usual helpful manner, as the theater grew silent and the ten seconds began, he looked down at his watch and said: “I’ll keep time.”