My earliest recollections of the Northport Movie Theater are from around 1952. “The Greatest Show on Earth” and “High Noon” introduced a whole new entertainment medium right there on that magnificent silver screen. Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, John Wayne and Alan Ladd were just a few of the early stars who took us to far away places, if only for a few hours. As a small child, my brother and I saw those movies with my mother, complete with Junior Mints, Jujy Fruits or popcorn.
“Vaudeville ornate” might describe the interior of that high-ceilinged theater which had fabric curtains flanking the movie screen and artistic garden statue murals on the east and west walls. The metal-back upholstered “stadium seating” was a attached to the oblique floor at the lower level and to a progressively stepped-down floor at the balcony level, or smoking lodge as it was referred to.
The movie “Moby Dick” from 1956 stands out in particular. By then, I was 10 and living within walking distance to the movies and was granted permission to see this classic on a school night with my neighborhood school friends. As we exited the movie house that night around 9 p.m., the was in fire response as they roared up Main Street, east bound past the movie house with a full compliment of equipment. As one might imagine, the typical school boy response was “Wow! Maybe it's Ocean Avenue School on fire!”
Without incident, we walked home to Bayview Avenue and, when we got to school the next day, we couldn't believe that it actually had been the school. There had been a fairly serious basement fire and the smoke smell throughout the building was everywhere. One basement classroom and adjacent common area had to be closed down while regular school classes continued in the rest of the school. They let us outside for recess on the playground several times during classes for a gulp of fresh air, a strategy that went on for months as they continued to clean up the mess in the basement.
The following year, school resumed, “business as usual” and, true to the day, we continued to haunt the movie house as Hollywood came out with those low budget sci-fi thrillers like “Forbidden Planet,” The Fly and other hokey offerings that excited the curiosity of young kids.
A few years passed and the movies became a tool for a new interest...the opposite sex. It seemed like a logical choice to ask a girl out on a date, a place where a guy could get to know a girl and share some enjoyment, maybe even put his arm around her. In the interest of full disclosure, the latter was the ultimate goal.
Anyway, with the Northport Movie House in mind, I spent many a waking hour reviewing just who I would ask out. The mental pro and con list was something like: she's too old, she's too young, she has too much experience, I can't be seen with her, she would never accept, she doesn't know me that well...the list went on. Of the five hundred or so eligible choices, it took about a year or more to narrow it down to a name or two. Having arrived at a finalist in this elimination process, it was now time to move forward! Ulp!
Then came the excuses. I guess I should call her but I don't know where she lives. If I call her on the home phone, people will hear! I decided to take my nervousness and sweaty hands down to the aluminum telephone booth at the foot of Main Street, but my procrastination usually took me to Thursday afternoon to ask for a Friday date. Surely, any young lady would already have plans for the next evening-- whatever they might be-- but I took it personally. Predictably, I got the inevitable “No, sorry”.
Now, I had to go through the elimination process again. I finally hit the bulls eye when I was in the ninth grade and one of my classmates agreed to go to the movies with me. Transportation was a little cumbersome since I was only 13 and couldn't pick her up in East Northport. She volunteered her parent's chauffeur services and I was now going on my first “movie date,” an opportunity to put my arm around her!
I honestly can't remember what movie we saw. As we sat there together, all I could think about was putting my arm around her. I was concerned that she might think I was being too forward and maybe she would be offended. How could I do this and not have her think badly of me? Maybe I could just stretch casually and land my arm on her seat. I spent the entire movie contemplating this and wondered how I would ever get the nerve to do this. The movie ended and I had done nothing. We walked out and her dad picked her up. Although she was nice enough, to my own embarrassment, I never asked her out again.
Self esteem was hard to come by for me in school and by the time high school was behind me, I became more confident and once again the Northport Movie Theater would be the centerpiece for a “movie date”, this time I had more control of my peripheral thoughts and clearly it was the 1963 movie, “Palm Springs Weekend.” I picked her up in my cool shoe-box Chevy and we wheeled on down to the Movies in true early sixties style.
The manager Dicky Ryan was a cool guy who knew me and all the young folks by name. The ushers in the theater were my friends and neighbors from years past and, by now, going to the movies was as much a social event as it was a movie attraction. What I hadn't realized then, was that the movie theater had raised me from “High Noon” to “Palm Springs Weekend”, a span of only eleven years, but when you are growing up in a little village like Northport, that is quite literally a lifetime. Introducing my date to all my friends at the theater had to be impressive. We enjoyed the movie together and it led to a “steady” relationship that lasted for about a year and a half. For me, the Northport Movie Theater now offered a place of warmth and relaxed enjoyment.
What may be little known history is that a friend of mine who was the drummer in the Soupy Sales “Mice” band, promoted a Rock & Roll show at the Northport Movie Theater early in 1965. Doo-Wop Royalty who performed on that very stage, among others were “The Shirelles” of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” fame.
For generations, the theater has provided a landing place for people to gather and revel in the celebration of Northport family. There isn't a Northport native anywhere who couldn't spin a significant yarn about how important that address was to the development of their own life. If those walls could talk, we would all laugh and cry together. The Northport Movie Theater is to Northport, what Ellis Island is to the world. It's an important landmark in history that documents all those who have passed through and left a little piece of their existence with their time signature.
*The Northport Movie Theater was converted into the John W. Engeman Theater in 2005.