Thursday, November 10, 2011

In the Summer of '79: Hot Nights in a Cool Theater with Friends

Terry B.--film buff, celebrity autograph collector, and one of the BEMAD guys--shares a memory from his college days. 

Movie patrons want to escape. They fortify themselves with popcorn, sodas, and candy. They settle in their seats waiting to be entertained and to watch a story unfold. Or, they might also just be trying to exchange a hot summer night for a cool, dark place to hang out without breaking the bank.

The Princess Theatre in downtown Bloomington, Indiana, was the place for all this in the summer of 1979.

It was when I spent my first summer at school, sharing an apartment with three other guys, and trying to find a job. If you’ve ever spent a summer in central Indiana, you know how hot and humid the weather can be. Being poor, we couldn’t afford to run the air conditioner in the apartment so nights spent in the University library were more to stay comfortable than to read and study.

But at least one evening a week, I made a trip to the Princess with my best friend. For $1, you got admission for movies that change every week. For $1 more, you could get popcorn and a soda. Favorite seat: main section, second row, second seat in. Be enveloped by that screen for two hours, kicked back in your chair, legs up over the row in front of you. Totally engrossed.


The movie fare that summer was intense. The moments I remember best included first marveling, then being bored, by the long shots of the redesigned USS Enterprise in beginning of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Samantha Eggar licking clean one of her “children” in David Cronenberg’s The Brood. David Warner fighting killer bats in Nightwing. And Season Hubley helping a confused George C. Scott search for his runaway daughter in Paul Schrader’s dark Hardcore.

Of course, it wasn’t necessarily the movie that mattered. It was great to stay cool, forget a job search for a while, and enjoy some time in the company of cinematic friends. And, of course, visit my favorite movie palace, one of thousands across the country, each with patrons who love them.

The Princess Theatre was built in 1892 and was often renovated to compete with newer theatres. It competed with several local opera and vaudeville houses before becoming a fulltime movie theatre in 1936. The exotic glazed relief terra cotta tile façade of the Princess Theatre was redesigned in 1923 and the auditorium doubled in size, in the hope of making it competitive with the recently built Indiana Theatre, a few blocks away. My favorite movie theater is now gone, killed in 1985 by the falling roof of its extended auditorium. The façade remains. So do my memories.

That was the summer of 1979 in Bloomington, Indiana.


  1. Terry, I remember that summer well! I've experienced hotter summers in the last three decades, but none with such a potent mixture of heat and humidity (or maybe it was just not being able to use the AC). The short window between theatrical release and home video has closed many of the "dollar movie houses." That's a shame...there's nothing like seeing a movie on a big screen for one buck. The Princess was a grand theatre! Of the movies you mentioned, the one I remember best is THE BROOD. Today, with all the entertainment media coverage, it's hard to see a movie and not know anything about it. But that wasn't true in 1979 and we saw THE BROOD knowing zip about it (I don't think I was even familiar with Cronenberg). So when the "dwarf" jumped out of the kitchen cabinet, I jumped from my seat! And that those three movies have ever done that to me (the others being HALLOWEEN and the closing teaser in CARRIE). Thanks for sharing a memorable summer for me, too.

  2. Nice piece, Terry, and just a GREAT close: "The façade remains. So do my memories."

    Perfectly stated.

  3. Terry,

    Love your memories and affection for the Princess. All palpable. I think most of us movie fans can relate. Seldom does the love of film start after childhood, though we put no distinct name on it until we actually recognize there is something to the entirety of a film life, rather than one fun film. Anyway, my childhood favorite theater is now a police precinct. To think that fighting crime and giving those who keep us safe a home is more important than preserving my movie memories is an insult, to say the least. Please keep sharing.


  4. Wonderful nostalgic write-up, Terry! I especially like your part about having a favorite seat. I lived by a theatre in college. It had three screens, but one screen showed the more obscure movies, and that's usually where I was. My favorite seat was near the back, right behind a set of three or four seats that were taped off (I'm not sure why, but they were like that for at least two years). I also enjoyed cooling off in the theatre because they always had the AC cranked. I wish I had seen THE BROOD on the big screen. I also wish I could see a movie for $1 and get popcorn and soda along with it. Nowadays, it costs a dollar just to walk through the door. Thank you for sharing your memories, Terry. Looking forward to hearing more from you!

  5. It was the summer of '79. Oh yeah! With apologies to Bryan Adams. This was a sweet post, Terry. Back when cinemas had royal names and affordable prices. Loved your post!