Saugus: 1900 - 2000
A Century in the Life of Our Town

Old State Theater Made for Poignant Memories

I don't ever remember having any "toys" as a young child. To entertain ourselves, Theresa Rooney and I used to play house under my grandmother's back stoop with nothing more than a few old pots and pans, used tin cans, and a few spoons. We could whip up the best mud pies you ever had.

The radio was popular then and I remember on rainy days putting my ear up to the speaker and listening to My Gal Sunday, which I think was sponsored by Oxydol detergent. Tuesday nights my grandmother and I listened to the thrilling adventures of The Lone Ranger: "Let's return to those thrilling days of yesteryear with the thunder of hoof beats and the hiddy hiddy ho hi-ho Silver, and who with his loyal companion Tonto, brought law and order to the Western civilization..." or words to that effect.

Barbara and Shirley Ulbin were other friends in the neighborhood and when there was enough of us, we would play hide-'n'-seek, jump rope, and if chalk was available, hopscotch. But come Saturday afternoon, all of us would walk to the State Theater in Saugus Center for the thrill of our lifetimes.

For 12 cents each we could watch a double feature film, sometimes in color, a newsreel of current events (like we cared), and a cartoon festival. The times were wonderful and local movie-goers at that time all had their special memories.

Lawrence Nagle remembers the State in the early '40s, and remembers Bank Night when a winning raffle number would be drawn. Mr. Nagle purchased a raffle ticket on the previous Saturday's matinee and was just about to take the bus to the Center to catch a show and find out if he was a winner. A friend intercepted him and convinced him to head to Lynn for a beer. Guess what? They called his number that very night for an $80 prize, a whole month's pay, lamented Larry (you had to be present to win prize money).

A big challenge in those days was to try and cop a candy bar from the candy lady. To this day, Mr. Nagle doesn't know of anyone who was successful. Frank Jillette used to hid in the boys' room just so he could see another movie.

Lois (Hobbs) Thomas and her friends walked to the theater from East Saugus. Her friend, Priscilla Duncan, from upper Main Street, would meet them on Saturday nights at the show. Priscilla had an act herself. During intermission she would hold up her bare foot for all to see. She was born with six toes on her left foot and she would steal the show with her antics. During the middle '40s musicals were popular and Lois and her friends would dance home through Riverside Cemetery imitating Ginger Rogers and Betty Grable. Lois met Charlie at the State.

Lillian (Billingsly) MacGlashin remembers dish night on Wednesdays. Each week a different piece was offered as an incentive to attend the theater. This was at the same time when the young girls her age were getting married. So when each newlywed couple would entertain, they all served dinner on the same china. Can you imagine any bride putting up with that today?

To this day, Dot Geehan still uses a favorite serving dish with the pink roses. Dot fondly remembers the State as the place to meet boys. Joan Spence would tell her parents she was going to the library, but she never told them how long she would be there. The group checked out of the library as soon as they checked in and headed toward the State. This gave her the chance to walk by the Rat Hole to check out the boys, and to let them know her gang was going to the theater.

Chet Tilly always made dates to meet the girls inside rather than have to spend money on two tickets. Buddy Murphy remembers the three-cent sherbet that was served in paper cups. Business became so good for the London sisters that they moved their business across the street to what is now known as J & M's. Buddy also remembers the 3D movies with the red and green glasses, and the girls of course.

Janice Nelson Stevenson started working at the State when she was 14. To her, Harry Golden, the manager of the State, was a wonderful man to work for. Mr. Golden strongly believed in higher education and kept teasing Janice that she would never continue in her education. He told her that if she did go on to college, he would pay for her marriage license; she did and he did.

Chickie Stead Hollett worked as the popcorn girl during her high school years and could hear all the gossip from the girls' room, which was right next to the candy stand. She knew firsthand who was dating and who was two-timing.

Jack Rouleau, a popular usher, kept law and order with his flashlight. He told me that when a kid started acting up he would walk down and shine the flashlight on the perpetrator's face so the policeman in the back row could get a copy of him.

"Almost 99 percent of the kids behaved; we never had any trouble," said Jack. Kids did sneak in the side door on occasion, but just for fun. Mr. Rouleau, whose entire family worked at the theater for many years, fondly remembered my husband, Ron, who would make an appearance Saturday nights dressed to the nines. He was one of the fashion plates of Saugus Center, according to Jack. (Can you imagine him wearing a suit to the show today?)

Jackie Powers Howard didn't know of anyone who didn't go to the State Theater. Everyone went there -- there was no place else to go, anyway!

Yvonne Rouleau Naselroad also worked at the popcorn and candy counter as a young teenager. Mr. Rubin, the owner, would count the new boxes of popcorn upon opening the counter so at the end of each show he would know how many boxes were sold. Knowing this, Yvonne's friends would save their boxes and sneak back for a refill. Mr. Rubin never caught on. He never "lost" a candy bar, but he sure went through a lot of popcorn.

Christine (Howlett) Donahue remembers the "who could kiss the longest" kissing contests Saturday afternoons during the late '50s. Chris swears she was never a winner, but never denied having ever been a contestant! She refused to release the names of the winners, but there were many, according to her!

Barbara Ulbin Cloonan forgot her money one Saturday. The management would not allow her to go in for nothing. She cried all the way home that day.

I remember seeing The Barefoot Contessa, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

Those were great days of such simple, safe, and happy times, when all you worried about was getting a good seat and some penny candy. I really don't think I ever missed out on not having toys -- I had a wonderful childhood.

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Story copyright © 1999, 2000 A Gathering of Memories