The recent carnage that took place in a Colorado movie theater has left the country stunned and saddened. A movie theater - where folks have traditionally gone for a few hours of entertainment and escapism - has now joined shopping malls, churches, schools and parks as places where danger can lurk and those bent on making some warped statement to society can turn the world into a killing field.
But when you and I were kids, the movie theaters of our childhood were still a haven, a place where we could slip into fantasy for a while and live the exciting or exotic or romantic adventures of some glamorous stars.
For me and my best childhood friend, Martha, the place to be every Saturday afternoon was the old Bowie Theater. The entertainment always included a newsreel - long before Brian Williams' evening news program - a cartoon segment, an installment of the Saturday serial and a feature movie. All of this cost us a quarter, our standard weekly allowance.
If I could sweet-talk mom out of a bit more change, I'd buy a box of popcorn and a Hershey bar. Then Martha and I would split the treats between us as we sat mesmerized by the larger-than-life characters on the big screen.
When it came to the world of films, I considered myself quite knowledgeable. At the ripe age of 13, I read all the movie magazines, kept up on the lives of the stars, as well as the bit players, and knew the back story of every movie in production.
And I kept a detailed scrapbook of my viewing experiences. There was a section for each film I saw, a place for my ticket stub and magazine pictures of the leading actors. In addition, I entered my personal evaluation of the film.
My observations were objective and, I felt, quite astute. For instance, a regular entry might read "Really good acting," followed by one, two or three exclamation points. No New York Times movie critic could have been more conscientious.
With 52 Saturdays in each year, Martha and I spent many hours with such luminaries as Gregory Peck, Linda Darnel, Bette Davis, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Marlon Brando, Glen Ford and dozens of others. Our Saturdays were star-studded, to say the least.
Although the Bowie was our theater of choice, on rare occasions, mom would treat me and my sister, Lynn, to a real razzle-dazzle movie night. That's when we'd make our way to the elegant Palace Theater in downtown Fort Worth to see one of the leading films of the day. These pictures didn't get to the little neighborhood Bowie Theater for months.
At the Palace, the featured film was listed on the huge marquee above the ticket booth. And when show time neared, the flashing lights outlining the front of the building would invite the world.
Inside the plush lobby, large posters showed scenes from the featured movie along with elegant photos of the stars.
And, of course, there was the glittering candy counter and ever-tempting popcorn stand. Poor mom had no choice but to load us with goodies before entering the theater.
Unlike the more casual interior of the Bowie, the Palace appeared to me to be the height of luxury
Instead of simply wandering to our seats, we were escorted by a uniformed usher who used his flashlight to indicate where we should sit. And down front, the thick velvet curtains flanking the movie screen were pulled back with heavy gold tasseled cords. No matter what film we saw at the Palace, the experience made us feel a part of the Hollywood scene.
Sadly, those simple, long ago movie theater days are gone. They have become another piece of innocence lost to the force of evil, wearing many faces and bent on challenging our freedom by sowing fear. It's going to take all of us to keep that force from winning.