Saline River Chronicle

Pastime: Wintertime movies about summertime sizzlers

These cold, gray January days (and nights) have renewed my memories about the wintertime shows at the Pastime in downtown Warren.

By Maylon T. Rice

There was more than just availability – perhaps a little Sid Wharton smarts in offering up summertime movies to the viewing public when it was cold, gray and chilly in Warren and Bradley County.

Football, as we knew it back then, usually ended at the end of the 10th or 11th game of the season, about two weeks before Thanksgiving back then.

So, all there was to do on a Friday or Saturday night, if the Lumberjacks basketball was on the road (or many times not), was to head to the Pastime.

And if it was cold, you could count on a summertime feature film with two-piece bathing suits, plenty of ocean scenery and in 1967, when I recall this one particular night, a classic – Beach Blanket Bingo – across the large canvas screen at the Pastime.

Beach Blanket Bingo was a 1965 American International Pictures beach party film directed by William Asher. For it to get to Warren by January 1967 was not a stretch, the Pastime had first-run films, but it was usually after the major runs the winter before.

This film was the fifth film in the Beach Party film series. The film stars Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Linda Evans, Deborah Walley, Paul Lynde, and Don Rickles. Earl Wilson and Buster Keaton appear. Linda Evans’s singing voice was dubbed by Jackie Ward, she was a blonde bombshell for the next 20 years, but couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

The 98-minute film, augmented with a short reel of coming attractions, a short cartoon of little consequence and of course, a warning to break for the snack bar as the main feature was to soon appear on the screen, the movie began.

One of my favorite “pastimes” growing up in Warren was going to the movies. If you wanted to know what was playing at the theater or drive-in, you needed to have a “program” like these in the pictures…or you could call them at CAstle 6-2261 (theatre) or CAstle 6-2284 (drive-in). These 11 programs cover various dates from May 1964 to July 1967.

Linda Evans singing was to be the crux of this film, which proudly was supported by a budget of $175,00, according to Hollywood statistics from the film.

Evans was a singer, named Sugar Kane, who is unwittingly being used for publicity stunts for her latest album by her agent (Paul Lynde), for example, faking a skydiving stunt, actually performed by Bonnie (Deborah Walley).

Meanwhile, Frankie (Frankie Avalon), duped into thinking he rescued Sugar Kane, takes up skydiving at Bonnie’s prompting; she secretly wants to make her boyfriend Steve (John Ashley) jealous.

This prompts Dee Dee (Annette Funicello) to also try free-falling. Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his Rat Pack bikers also show up, with Von Zipper falling madly in love with Sugar Kane. Meanwhile, Bonehead (Jody McCrea) falls in love with a mermaid named Lorelei (Marta Kristen).

Eventually, Von Zipper “puts the snatch” on Sugar Kane, and in a Perils of Pauline-like twist, the evil South Dakota Slim (Timothy Carey) kidnaps Sugar and ties her to a buzz-saw.

Beach Blanket Bingo was Frankie Avalon’s last starring role in the beach party films. Frankie was a staple in the teeny bopper movies that drew in crowds like me (12 at the time) and a lot of older WHS classmates from the upper grades and of course some as young as eight or nine, who’s families dropped them off at the Pastime for a bit of adult relief.

Back then, I was just venturing into the “sitting with girls,” and even the “hand holding” stage. 

I was also known, in the darkest of moments, in the movie to try to sneak a kiss to my seat partner, all the time, being aware of the four-cell-flashlight carried by Ms. Wharton or others as the usher and aisle patroller on these Friday and Saturday night films.

Some of the older kids, especially those wearing letter jackets from the high school, were intent on smooching at the movies.

And those older kids up in the balcony, well that scenario, was often “hotter” than the colorful romance on the screen in front of them – not that many of them watched the movie at all up there.

Every so often, there was some “drama” with this youthful smooching, hand holding or kissing by a former boyfriend with another girl, that led to tears, a fast trip with friends to either the girl’s bathroom, or outside where the popcorn machine was to hear everything about the creep and his new date.

Most kids under car driving age, once the film, was over flocked to Wayne’ Confectionary just a half a block away, where moms and dads sat nursing a cup of coffee, or fountain soda, waiting for the film to be over and car pool a gaggle of giggling girls back home.

Many of the guys either walked in groups or rode their bikes back home from the Pastime.

Me and several others went walking back down by the W&SRV depot back to the western side of Warren. I usually walked to a relative’s house on Clio Lane (a good 6 to 8 blocks) or on occasion hiked all the way out on the Old Camden Road, where we had just moved to from the old farm on Highway 15 north near the old Steel Bridge.

The coolness of the night made me snap up my lined blue jean jacket and tug out from the pocket, an old knit toboggan hat to wear on my short hair-cut head.

It was cold, so cold, yet I ran, walked and stumbled all the way home wishing of a trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida as snowflakes, then a rarity, fell on my head and shoulders walking home.

As I stand out in the driveway of my home here in Fayetteville, having just seen hours of TV channels from all over the world of warmer scenes, exotic places, yet somehow those memories of being at the Pastime to witness old Frankie Avalon’s finale as a teen heart throb in a beachcomber movie on a winter evening are still so very real.

And I can still smell the buttered popcorn – ah, what a Pastime.

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