In the 1940s, in Brownwood, Texas, three movie palaces illuminated downtown: the Bowie, Lyric and Queen. I sat in all of them and learned much about Hollywood life, even Mexico because the Queen ran some of the best desperado celluloids I have ever seen. The Bowie theater showed upscale film, hardly any Saturday morning trailers for boys and girls. The Lyric posted both upscale (MGM, Colombia, 20th Century Fox) as well as the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Tarzan and the Three Stooges. I can still see the darkened theater and kids at the Lyric waving and shouting and screaming and laughing, hands and arms waving between me and the screen. When I saw Purple Rose of Cairo, I saw myself in the audience at the Lyric theater watching the film come right off the screen and into my heart.
Mother took me to the Lyric one day and I took my teddy bear, young boy that I was. I fell asleep. After the showing, we came back to the trailer house on Austin Avenue, where the clocks spun in the dirt. The trailer was cramped for the three of us: mom, grandmother and me. Sweltering in the summer, pumping and pushing those sprayers of mosquito repellent at night. I looked for my bear at bedtime. The bear was gone. I had dropped teddy when I fell asleep and now it was gone and in the hands of who-knows-who at the Lyric theater.
A day went by and I missed that bear.
Then, magic, like Hollywood and the desperado escapes in Mexico, mother said, “Look under your pillow, Little Jack.”
I uplifted the pillow and there was my teddy bear, black buttons for eyes and leather for its paws, all back in my clutches, never to leave my side again. What vacuum had been was now evaporated in the retrieval my mother obtained from the Lyric theater management. She had gone next door to use the landlady’s telephone to have them hold the bear until she could walk (we had no car) back downtown the next day, rescue the bear and come back to our trailer house on Austin Avenue.
The good citizens of Brownwood have turned the old theater — it has been shut for decades — into a thespian venue, replete with new furnishings and grand opening. A new palace for acting and art. I can extrapolate, but won’t right now. It’s good, not bad.
I parse the loss of the bear and its return. What I see and feel is a mother caring, a business attentive to lost toys and a town that nurtured its community with innocent amusement for a post-war generation. The Lyric theater in 1914, from what I read about it, was to be a theater for live performance, probably a late-vaudeville medium as well. If that is true, then the Lyric theater has gone from a venue for live performance to Hollywood and serials on Saturday back again to live performance. A cycle.
When I lived in that small town, I never lost anything, not even a bear at the Lyric.
For a link to the changing venue of the Lyric, click on: Lyric Lights Up Downtown Brownwood – Photos & Video.