September 28, 1956, a date which stands
out in my memory, is the date of the grand Newark premiere at the
Adams Theatre, of Cecille B. De Mille's long-awaited biblical epic
"The Ten Commandments." There I stand, in my mind's eye,
a twelve year old child, patiently waiting in line with my late
mother, eagerly waiting to see what was billed at the time, as one
of the greatest of spectacles in the motion picture industry. At
the curbside entrance to the theatre, stood many yellow school buses
from all parts of Newark and vicinity, emanating from public and
parochial schools. Many of them were there, the Yeshiva from the
Old Clinton Hill area, (The Hebrew Academy of Essex County, located
then at the corner of Seymour and Clinton Avenues, next to the Federal
post office); Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, St. Lucy's, St.
Rose, everyone was there to witness this grand event. In the lobby
and outside the theatre, under the marquee, ushers were hawking
and promoting the sale of the program, which today, has become an
actual collectible item (!), should any person be lucky enough not
to have tossed it out over the years. I recall how mighty and noble
Charlton Heston was in his role as Moses, and how evil and resolute
in his ways was the late Yul Brenner, as the Pharaoh, Ramses II.
The late Sir Cedric Hardwick, magnificent, as the Pharaoh, Seti
I, father of Ramses II. For years thereafter this movie, I always
imagined in my child's mind, that this is how Pharaoh must have
appeared, as well as Moses, and the beautiful Nefretiri, as portrayed
by the equally beautiful and late Anne Baxter, who passed away at
too young an age.
The Adams Theatre played host to most all of the biblical spectacles
and extravaganzas of the day in the late 1950's, when such films
were very much in vogue: "The King of Kings", starring
the late Jeffrey Hunter, in the role of Jesus of Nazareth, John
Huston's "The Bible,", starring Ava Gardner and host of
other equally famous celebrities in this, the story of the first
five books of the Bible, (the Old Testament), John Huston appearing
as Noah in the flood.
In 1959, once again, mother took me to see the second spectacle
at the Adams Theatre: "BEN HUR," once again starring Charlton
Heston, the late John Derek (of Bo Derek "10" fame), Debra
Paget (one of Elvis's loves), and the late "Little Caesar",
himself, the fine actor Edward G. Robinson, as the dreaded Dathan,
Pharaoh's wicked and conniving overseer of the Hebrew slaves, rapist
and seducer of women, and the late Stephen Boyd, as the evil Roman
soldier, Messala. For years thereafter also, I can recall, disliking
Robinson, (and Boyd, too), without any particular reason, so fine
did he portray Dathan, which may or may not have been an outgrowth
of his "public enemy" image of the 1930's gangster films,
so popular in their day and time.
In July of 1956, mother took me to see Elvis Presley in his first
debut role at the magnificent Broad Street Loew's Theatre. Elvis
starred as the returning soldier from the Civil War, Clint, who
returns home to find his sweetheart, (Debra Paget), married to his
older brother, and the hostility begins, in what was a real teenage
tear-jerker, entitled, "Love Me Tender>" Elvis dies
at the end of the movie, leaving all the teenagers distressed and
very weepy, (me, too, of course)! Poor mother, she had to sit through
all those screaming teenaged girls, myself included! Mother was
at least more rational about Elvis than dad was, because dad thought
Elvis was the most vulgar and lousy singer this side of creation!
Daddy hit the ceiling one day, because I slept with Elvis's picture
under my pillow! Elvis had made a "fallen woman" of me!
If Daddy were only alive today, to see what passes for "talent"
today, and the vulgarity in what passes as "music" in
I recall the grandeur of the Loew's Theatre, located directly
under the Lippel School of Dance, (which I also attended). The theatre
was located at the corner of Broad and New Streets, directly across
from Hahne's wonderful Department Store, at which we frequently
shopped, unless we were looking for "bargains" at S. Klein
on the Square, or Ohrbach's Department Store, on Broad and Market
Streets! As a child, I was greatly impressed by the beauty of the
Loew's Theatre: the twinkling lights (stars) in the lofty ceiling,
featuring and centered by the huge and sparkling crystal chandelier,
the centerpiece of the ceiling. The seats in the theatre, were a
comfortable and plush crimson-maroon velvet color. The "loge"
seating , which rimmed the stage, as a child, I always thought that
it would be reserved only "for royalty", such as the King
or Queen of a country, or maybe even for the President of the United
States!!! Since it was more "expensive" to sit there,
we never did, and I think at that time, it cost all of $2.00 or
$2.50, to be seated there for the movie. At any rate, the loges
were not for us "poor, plain folk", so this is where I
probably got the child's notion of royalty being seated up and above
the rest of us!
A trip to the "Lady's Room", at the Loew's made another
fantastic impression on this child's mind. Up the curving golden-hued
staircase we went, our feet sinking into the heavy, plush crimson-maroon
carpeting, with the golden crescent-like design pattern in it, (to
match the golden and grand painted staircase , I guess)! On the
second floor, amid golden hued ersatz Louis XV French type furniture
and lounging sofas (Chaise longues), we spent our "intermission"
freshening up. It was always coming attractions, cartoons, and maybe
even a "Movie Tone newsreel, before the feature presentation,
and you could stay as long as you wished for the next showing, if
you were a late entry to see the start of the first showing, that
you originally came in for.
On the days of my Lippel School dancing lessons, daddy would wait
it out at the "News Reel Theatre" on Broad Street, directly
next door to the palm trees, which stood in front of the American
Mens' Clothing Store. Afterward, we would regroup for a meal at
the Belmore Cafeteria, which was almost next door to the News Reel
For my birthday, in July of 1957, mother once again suffered in
silence, while I reveled in watching Elvis once again, this time
at the Paramount Theatre on Market Street, close to where the "Newark
Evening News" building was located. This time, it was "Loving
You," with a much larger- than- life cut out of a very young,
sexy, and hip-swinging Elvis, mounted on the face of the theatre
building. Many of the teenaged girls, including me, brought their
Brownie box cameras, in order to memorialize this grand event. One
could become deaf from all the screaming that went on, mother was
wise to bring cotton for her ears!! You never heard the dialogue
of the film, but who cared????!!!
At times, we also went to the RKO Proctor's Theatre, further down
on Market Street. It was located near a major appliance store, I
think it was either called Vim's or Davega, but somehow, I think
Davega's was nearer to Robert Treat Place, down the street from
where the infamous mobster Dutch Schultz met his end in 1935, at
the Palace Chop House. To the rear of the cashier's cage (ticket
window) at the entrance to the Proctor Theatre, stood a white, marble
type staircase, with what sort of looked like "portholes,"
which led you to an elevator, to go up into the Proctor building
itself. I once worked briefly in this building as a telemarketer,
(during my high school days), for the "Newark Star Ledger,"
garnering (hopefully) subscriptions to the newspaper.
And then there was also the Branford theatre, with the long cobble
stoned alley entrance directly on Market Street, also next to a
mens' clothing store, Larkey's I think it was called. You could
also exit the Branford Theatre, on Branford Place, down the street
from the Adams Theatre. As of the late 1950's, one already did not
venture to risk a late night feature show at the Branford, if one
had to exit via the alley entrance, for you risked being held up,
at the very least, unfortunately.
Further up on Broad Street, near City Hall, stood the Rialto Theatre,
although I never went into it. Later on in the early 1960's, I believe
the Rialto became a "John's Bargain Store", a forerunner
of today's dollar emporiums, with lots of "schlock" items
to be purchased there.
At the lower end of Broad Street, near the Public Library and
the Robert Treat/Indian statue, stood the Little Theatre, near the
Bell Telephone Building, 550 (?) Broad Street, I think it was. There,
art and foreign movies could be seen. I believe I saw "Hiroshima,
Mon Amour", there first, at the start of the "nuclear
age " scares of the late 1950's. Sadly, the Little Theatre
later became a XXX rated movie house, before expiring.
When a trip "downtown" was not in our plans, there were
always the more "affordable" neighborhood movie theatres,
maybe not always with first run features, but still a very enjoyable
pastime for a Saturday or Sunday matinee.
For about 25 cents or less, mothers would drop off their children
for a cartoon or western matinee at the Avon Theatre, on Clinton
Avenue, just up the street from Lustig's Tavern, and near to the
corner "Food Fair", which was one of the early supermarkets,
(besides the A&P on Elizabeth Avenue, and the Acme Supermarket
near the intersection of Clinton Avenue and Lincoln Park).
I can still recall the aroma and sound of the popcorn being made
at the red and white topped popcorn machine, which was always lit
up, with the huge aluminum bucket overflowing with the freshly popped
popcorn. The machine stood in the corner rear of the candy counter,
directly to the rear of the doors leading to the movie auditorium.
My very first date (and kiss) was at the Roosevelt Theatre on
Clinton Avenue, in the Upper Clinton Hill section. It was 1959,
and I was 14 going out with an "older man" of 17, and
we saw a movie with Harry Belafonte and Inger Stevens, also on the
nuclear theme. It was a very sensational movie at the time, since
it dealt with an inter-racial issue, since Harry Belafonte and Inger
Stevens were the only people left alive after a nuclear blast destroyed
most of New York City. I cannot, however, recall the name of this
film. I can recall seeing most of the Disney films at the Roosevelt,
at a younger age: "Snow White" and "Bambi",
just to name two of them.
In 7th or 8th grade, Friday nights were at the Park Theatre ,
on Bergen Street. Many of the boys at that age, enjoyed tormenting
us girls, by throwing down candy wrappers from the balcony. Afterwards,
we would go to Henry's Sweet Shop for malteds, etc. The Park Theatre
and Henry's was located on Bergen Street, near Lyons Avenue, in
the Weequahic Section.
On Elizabeth Avenue near Milford Avenue and Schleifer Park, stood
the Cameo Theatre. I do not recall going there more than a very
few times, but I do recall that the theatre was almost right next
door to one of the few veterinarians who practiced in Newark in
the late 1940's to early 1950's. It was a Dr. Zimmerman, who operated
the American Cat and Dog Hospital there. Further down was a fire
house, whose Captain was a relative of my late father's. His name
was Abe Wolfson, and I will never forget the ride I was given on
a hook and ladder, sirens blaring and faithful Dalmatian dog next
to me, courtesy of Abe Wolfson. I think I was about three or four
years old at the time, and at age 60, I can still recall this happy
By the late 1950's to early 1960's, the Cameo Theatre became a
Spanish language theatre, owing to an influx of Puerto Rican persons,
who had begun to move into the area, in the mid to late 1950's.
I recall passing by and seeing the marquee advertise Spanish language
films which were present "todos los dias'", or on a daily
My late mother spoke of the National Theatre, which stood on Belmont
Avenue, not far from Fischer's Baking Company. It had been a popular
movie house in the 1920's and 1930's, but by the late 1940's and
thereafter, it became a movie theatre catering to African -American
persons, who had begun to move into Newark, migrating from the rural
South, into the Third Ward area.
On Springfield Avenue, near where the bridal shops and musical
instrument stores were, and not too far away from St. Benedict's
Prep School on High Street, stood two movie theatres which, when
I was a child in the 1940's, had already closed their doors. Once
was called the Essex, and the other was called the Savoy. I cannot
recall which one of them had become an African-American church,
but I do recall a Christian sect which had for its leader one Daddy
Grace, held sway in one of the two theatres. The sect's headquarters
were in Chicago, Illinois, and I believe that the sect still operates.
I believe that Daddy Grace, was styled after Father Divine's sect,
or similar to it.
My late mother related many anecdotes about Newark's movie houses,
especially in the 1920's and 1930's. I can recall she spoke of the
Adams Theatre, as being the theatre, in which "live" vaudeville
shows were presented. She told me of seeing Ozzie and Harriet Nelson
there on occasion, since Ozzie had a band, and his wife, Harriet,
was the singer. Jerry Lewis's parents were also vaudeville entertainers
who appeared there as well, from time to time.
There was also Minsky's Burlesque at the Empire Theatre, I believe
Nat Bodian has a very fine memory on this one. Of course, this theatre
catered largely to the gents, because it certainly was not considered
Earlier in the 20th century, there was even a Yiddish Theatre,
in which live Yiddish plays were presented. It was called Elving's
Theatre, and of course, once again, Nat Bodian did an excellent
write-up on Elvings', as well.
My favorite anecdote is one my late mother related to me many
years ago: It took place at one of the two theatres previously mentioned,
either at the Savoy or at the Essex on Springfield Avenue.
In 1931, the nation was taken by storm and rushed to see a horror
film, which still is one of the most popular of such genre of moviedom.
"Dracula" had come to Newark, and part of nationwide publicity
for the film, the late actor and star of Dracula, Bela Lugosi, had
been sent to make the nationwide rounds to promote this, one of
his first films in the United States. Lugosi was a Hungarian national,
and what was not known, was that he had learned the role of Count
Dracula phonetically, since his command of the English language
was rather very poor. He had been chosen for the role on the basis
of his aristocratic appearance, since at the time of his selection,
he had only acted in a few minor role parts, many of which were
not in this country. In the 1920's and 1930's there were other actors/actresses
who learned parts phonetically, such as the great Garbo, Valentino,
etc. As late as the 1980's, the very popular Spanish actor Antonio
Banderas made his film debut in the exact same manner.
My late mother and grandmother had attended the premiere Newark
showing of "Dracula." At the close of the film, when the
audience was quite sufficiently frightened, who walks out on the
stage, but the "Master" himself, black and red silk lined
cape flowing, chalk white makeup, Count Dracula, Bela Lugosi, live
(or should I say, undead?!)
My mother and grandmother were also Hungarian nationals by birth,
so when Lugosi came out on stage, mother, who , I guess was seated
in one of the first few rows, called out to him in Hungarian. Happy
to hear his native language, Lugosi had invited my mother and grandmother
backstage, and together they shared cups of tea and some delicious
Hungarian Apple Strudel, which Lugosi had brought from New York
City! Lugosi told of how lonesome he was on the tour, since he had
not encountered many people who spoke Hungarian, and that even his
after-film "spiel" was learned phonetically!! Meanwhile,
grandmother looked at him with sort of a jaundiced eye, since she
wasn't sure if he was a real vampire or not, so convincing was his
role. True also, was that grandmama was born a town or two away
from Lugosi, which was quite near Transylvania and the Carpathian
Mountains, home of the REAL vampire of myth, Count Vlad Dracula,
(Vlad the Impaler!) There were many legends said to come from Castle
Dracula, one of them was the myth of the vampire, so grandmother
was not taking any chances, and the meeting came to a close almost
immediately after the cups of tea and strudel were enjoyed!! I guess
she wanted to get out of there before there was a full moon, or
whatever condition delights a true "vampire."!!!
For many years thereafter, my late mother communicated with Bela
Lugosi, until he fell into alcohol/drug addiction, in the late 1940's-1950's.
Unfortunately, Lugosi had become forever typecast in the role of
a vampire, which , to his dismay, led to his downfall and eventual
death from addictions in 1956.
Such are my memories of Newark's movie houses. I am sure you have
your own from your neighborhoods, too!
And so ends my stroll down memory lane of Newark's movie theatres
and houses. I hope that a few of your precious movie theatre memories
have also been jogged. Perhaps you were also a patron of those movies
of so long ago, in our beloved city. Who knows? You might have sat
in that plush velvet chair right next to me and mine enjoying the
show! I certainly hope you did!!!!