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Kiddie Matinee at the Roosevelt


By William Mastropieri

Philadelphians have a great deal to reminiscence about.  We had our Italian dad, John Facenda, broadcasting our news. Jack Parr entertained us with thought provoking humor. He made us think of our place on earth. Philadelphia kids were blessed with Sally Starr, Gene London, Pixanne, Chief Halftown and Bertie the Bunyip.

Yes, we lived on an entirely different cultural landscape. In that era, we used to simply “discard” our unwanted possessions. Today we are “downsizing”. A man was “fired”. We did not use, pleasing to the ear and cosmetic euphemisms such as “the company downsized”. I frequently thought the discarded employee was placed on the pavement on trash pick-up day.

In the past years, we heard of something being “frozen”. That meant mom’s homemade popsicles are in the ice cube tray in the frozen compartment of our refrigerator. She used two wooden toothpicks as a holder.

I recall our mahogany encased “television set”. It was not color or black and white. It was white with different shades of gray. It was certainly too heavy to mount on our wall. In fact, at that time, we would never consider the possibility.

We used to dance in front of our RCA TV when WFIL’s Dick Clark’s American Bandstand aired. I think Philadelphians’ never forgave him for moving to Los Angeles. When we started school, we could safely walk home for mom’ home cooked meals. The days seemed slower and the atmosphere quiet.

One on my most cherished memories was the Saturday Kiddie matinee at the old Roosevelt Theatre. For a quarter you could see a double feature. Sometimes they had one movie with ten brand new Popeye cartoons. We never imagined that a cartoon character would star in a full-length feature film. An added entertainment feature was the “Races”. Along with our ticket stub each kid would be given a number. Before the main feature, there would be a showing of various races. This could be a car, motorcycle, dog, horse, boat or a foot race. The kid who had the number corresponding with the winner would be awarded a prize in the movie lobby.

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At that time, space and science fiction films were popular. There would be interesting space plots. Martians would arrive on some dusty desert. The term “alien” came later. The Martians would arrive, invade or simply show up and proceed to cause mischief. I recall these “Space Guys” were played by short Japanese in motorcycle helmets.

Looking back on it, it may not have been politically correct. But you could think of it as Inclusive. I guess we should keep the films the way they are and allow future generations to decide how appropriate it was. I often wondered whether those Japanese actors were awarded a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

I recall one film which made a deep impression on me. It was a science fiction film set in the future. The plot deals with the results of a whole section of a once proud neighborhood going to pot. Yes, figuratively and literally. The streets are no longer safe. You could hear random gun and rifle blasts. Streetlamps have become a scary shade of yellow. Homes are not refurbished, lawns hold debris of trash and are unkept.

Police hesitate to respond because they themselves have become frightened and realize the hood rats have more ammunition and newer and better weapons. A once proud shopping Avenue which once welcomed the likes of George Washington and Marquis Lafayette now sees rows of abandoned shops or house private care facilities for drug users. They have become addicted and we should feel sorry for them. They are called Drug Victims.

Meaningful, respectful and decent occupations are at a premium. Booths under the entrance of the “Sky Train”, which once sold pretzels and the daily newspaper, are now well-known areas for “Pushers”. Future people, who can read, find reading a chore. The remaining papers find they can only sell when sport stars squeak across the masthead. Europeans who notice this would deduce that this paper is “not for serious readers”.

The school districts are having “issues”. Another future euphemism for the word “trouble”. Future students must pass through a metal detector in order to prevent guns and/or knives from entering the school. Surveillance cameras are positioned throughout the school. Any activity is monitored by a team of “security personnel”. They are housed in a makeshift trailer outside the school. Teams of security personnel monitor the hallway. Alarms have been installed in the lavatory in order to prevent or alert any violation.

The pool of qualified teachers, those who took the self-defense course, have become a vanishing breed. Those who study Elementary or Secondary Education at university have dwindled. It has become widely known that the profession has become a politicized, dangerous and thankless occupation. The school district fills the many openings with poorly trained teachers who do not care about academic quality.

Many teachers keep their home computers open for quality positions in the suburbs. It started with “casual Friday”. This left an opening with the remaining four days. The future teachers dress no better than custodians. Future custodians experience better pay than teachers. The principal was dismissed because he forgot he did not have proper credentials.

Students, who arrive from feeder schools are at a “slight disadvantage”. They are either years behind grade level or simply cannot read period. Here is where we see the future school library. We see a stock shot from the film “Time Machine” The actor Rod Serling inspects library books and becomes emotionally shaken as he finds books crumble in his hand. He shouts “what have you done! What have you done!”

Students become only interested on the playing field or the school cafeteria when they practice martial arts during lunchroom food fights. Future kids have plenty of energy since big business installed unhealthy sugary drinks on the premises. Teachers look the other way in order to stay uninvolved and not get involved in inner city school politics.

Again, they need to keep their status quo until a suburban position opens. Why should they exert themselves breaking up a fight and justify their act with lengthy paperwork. Future school kids don’t care about food waste. They don’t pay for their meals. The money comes from the government. Teachers count the years before retirement. Shape young minds? Forget about it! Teachers could barely keep their own!

The advent of handheld computers have become a great aid to educators. No 1960 IBM cards here. This has become a great way for teachers to slap on a program and skip out on their duties. Computer lesson programmers wrote a program in which students, with the use of a mathematical formula, can figure out how to dunk a basket. This is when they are not surreptitiously watching a movie.

There was an episode where old alumni hands return to the campus and are amused, if not baffled, to find various signs which read, “THIS IS A DRUG, ALCOHOL AND WEAPON FREE ZONE”. One old alumnus says, “Well that’s just dandy”. Another recalls that he saw similar signs posted next to a nearby elementary school. The group of alumni, now very senior citizens, decide to head to a well-remembered drug store for a prescription refill and a coke. They decide to abandon the coke when they find the store closed years ago and is now an abortion clinic.

One of the old timers ask a passing student where he could get his prescription filled. He is directed towards a dirty inner section under the Sky Train. The group has become thirsty, and not just for new ideas. They decide to go to a local tavern. They laughingly recall that they could not come into this place when they were students. They hear the familiar roar and screech of the Sky Train overhead. As if on some kind of emotional cue, the aged alumni sing, without any emotional feeling, the high school fight song. There is total silence at the completion of the song and memories. The lighted overhead fans dance a flickered shadow on their bewildered faces.

I recall leaving the Roosevelt and our walk down Foulkrod Street. I looked up at Dad and asked about the plot. Like all science fiction films I asked him of the possibility of something like that actually happening. He looked at me and serenely said, “No that only happens in the movies”.

I think the name of the film was, “Return to Frankford”.