Derek Gentile: Not-so-merry memories of old time holiday shows

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GREAT BARRINGTON >> I don't know if local theaters still do those Christmas holiday shows that local theaters used to do when I was a kid. I doubt it.

In the old days, the movie houses used to give away free candy and snacks and play cartoons the Saturday before Christmas. There was also a stage show, usually a magician.

I miss none of that now.

I recall that when I was a little shaver, I had some pretty uncomfortable experiences at holiday shows, both in Adams and North Adams.

I recall going to a show at the old Adams Theater on Park Street. I was maybe 11, my sister Mary Beth was 10. The show itself was kind of boring, so Mary and I just walked around the theater. I don't remember if we had anything specific in mind to do. We were just walking up and down the aisles.

This wasn't too kosher with the ushers, if I recall. One of them grabbed us both and took us to see Marshall. Marshall was Marshall Joseph, a tall angular guy with a loud voice. He ran the Adams theater when I was a kid. Years later, when I met him formally (as opposed to being tossed out of the theater by him), I realized he was a pretty good guy who seemed to like kids.

That wasn't apparent that afternoon. Marshall was about 6 foot, 1 inch tall, and to a pair of young kids, he looked more like 7 feet. All he did was tell us to go to our seats, but it was like the Voice of God. We returned to our seats and when the show was over, slunk out of the theater.

Somehow, I got roped into going to another holiday show the next year. I think some of my sisters and I went with our North Adams cousins, the Polumbos.

I wasn't totally thrilled to go that day, either. I had begun to read comic books and that seemed far more interesting than seeing a magician and cartoons. Plus, I was well aware this time of the potential for trouble if I decided to take a stroll.

That was all completely erased from my mind before I even walked into the theater. A few feet or so from the box office window, a little girl stepped out of the theater, bent over and threw up — several times — on the ground in front of me. Un-freaking-believable.

I jumped back in horror. That was it. I walked back to our car. (Mom had driven us) and got in. No amount of cajoling by sisters or cousins could get me back there. Watch the show, I said. I'll wait here.

Now there was one funny aspect to this. At these events, kids could stuff their faces with all sorts of candy and gum and sugary treats. Which I'm sure this girl availed herself of. Anyway, a second after she upchucked, this older kid behind me (probably a North Adams kid, because I didn't recognize him) said "Hey there. Have enough to eat?"

I have to admit, even five decades later, that was a really good line. And I never went to a Christmas holiday show again.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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