Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 18, 2011

Lifelines: Real life has film quality


---- — The Traverse City Film Festival is coming back to town next week. Let's celebrate with three folk poems about early movie venues, theaters and promotional gimmicks in the 1930's.

Another summer homecoming of a different sort occurred 68 years ago. In early January, my column ended with a young bride, Betty Bowden, heartbroken as her lonesome husband sailed off to war. (Read Terry's January colum here.) Phil ended up serving under Patton in North Africa.

Two years later, on a warm, starry July night, Phil returned. The last poem continues their story, and lights up an Oscar quality film sequence in the theater of my imagination.

Floyd Webster

I always liked the outdoor free shows

in Kingsley

on Saturday nights.


On the side of the building

that's now the auto parts store,

you can see a white square.

That was the movie screen.


So everybody could sit down,

they put posts in the ground

every few feet,

and cut them off.

Then they spiked wide boards

to those posts.


They built a bandstand below

the white square.

Kids in the high school band

would play before the movies.


Next morning I'd go there

and look underneath the boards.

Ooh, there was a quarter.

There was a dime.

There was a nickel.

Ooh, a dollar all crumpled up.


Once I made more money

on Sunday morning

than dad made all week

at the tater house.


Don Bellinger

The early part of my life

in Charlevoix

was during the Great Depression.

A nickel was a nickel,

and a dime was a dime.

For a penny we could buy

a lot of candy.


Saturday matinee movies cost ten cents,

and were westerns

or adventure serials.

Each week was a different chapter.


There was a brand of bread

called Wonder Bread.

If you saved ten wrappers

from Wonder Bread loaves,

you could take them to the theater

and get a free ticket.

So kids ate lots of Wonder Bread.

Adam Schuler

The first movie I ever saw was Snow White.

It was at the Community Theatre

in Elk Rapids

where the Town Club is now.


The Community Theatre

had lots of cowboy movies

for Saturday matinees.

I watched them all;Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers,

but Walt Disney's Snow White

made the most impression on me.


The State Theatre was built in 1940.

(Now The Elk Rapids Cinema.)

It had a black light ceiling

and was three-dimensional.

Cooley Loomis, the owner,

always advertised air-conditioning.


The air-conditioning was

Schuler's Elk Lake Ice.

We'd deliver about a ton

of ice there.


In the back of the theatre

to the right was a room

made out of cement blocks

and covered over.


You'd put ice in there

and turn on the fans.

The air went out

through a duct system.

It was remarkable

how it would cool the theatre down.

Phil Bowden

I was wounded at the first battle

of Kasserine Pass,

and in a hospital for seven weeks.


I had shrapnel in my chin

and was bruised up in the shoulder,

but the scars are all gone.

I got a Purple Heart.


I came home on a Liberty Ship,

rode a train

from New York to Detroit,

and a bus to Kingsley.

Getting home on leave

was the best

feeling in the world.


It was July 1943, about midnight,

clear with a lot of stars

and real warm.

Everything was happening so fast.

I needed time to think.


I didn't have time to call.

I walked home to Summit City

to get my thoughts straight,

and knocked on the door.


I surprised my parents.

After two years dad didn't recognize me.

It shocked him.

Everybody was pretty excited,

and mom fixed lots of good stuff to eat.


I thought Betty was up here,

but she was in Detroit

living with her sister,

and working at Ford.

I called her that night.

She came home on a bus next morning.


We stayed at my parents'

over a month.

That was a very romantic time.


I failed my physical to go back

into combat,

so the army sent me to Ogden, Utah

to guard prisoners of war.

Betty followed me out there

on a train

just before Christmas.

— Terry Wooten

Poet Bard Terry Wooten has been performing and conducting writing workshops in schools for 27 years. He is the creator of Stone Circle. Learn more about him at