By Barbara Riddle
Apparently, Edward Hopper and I have something in common: We both loved going to the movies at the ornate Loew’s Sheridan, constructed on a triangle of land opposite St. Vincent’s Hospital. This movie palace, built in 1921 and ignominiously torn down in 1969, was often Hopper’s afternoon refuge and the subject of one of his most famous paintings from 1937. For myself, and my rat pack of scruffy ten-year-olds, it was where we spent many a Saturday afternoon after collecting enough Coke bottles to raise the 25¢ needed to enter ‘Paradise.’ A box of Milk Duds or Jujubes in hand, we’d sink into the velvet seats and lose ourselves in the antics of Jerry Lewis or Bob Hope. Only a few years later, we would drool at such hunks as Tony Curtis (named Bernard Schwartz at birth) in The Prince Who Was a Thief.
Soon enough, we were young teens entering Loew’s Sheridan two by two, shy and formal in our chino skirts and madras button downs. Sitting next to our Brylcreemed dates, we fumbled demurely with flimsy cardboard 3-D viewers in order to conscientiously watch The Creature from the Black Lagoon and scream at appropriate moments. I never did get to so much as hold the hand of Paul, my then-crush, but I knew for sure that my best friend was making out furiously with her boyfriend not too far away. In any case, I think I was happy enough concentrating on the giant images of Tony Curtis or Tab Hunter. Unreachable fantasies, who never disappointed.
Far more memorable was viewing On the Waterfront with my friend Linda Viero and her parents. Her dad, as good-looking as Marlon Brando in his brown leather bomber jacket, was an actual longshoreman and confirmed the accuracy of the film in portraying the corruption of unions. I think we may have sat through it twice, stunned by its emotional power.
The triangle of land where the Sheridan once presided (after a dreadful period as the site of an incinerator for refuse from the hospital) is now the home of an AIDS Memorial. It’s a lovely contemplative spot, and worth a visit.
So: Jerry Lewis at age 10; Tony Curtis at age 13. What would satisfy a 16-year-old’s tastes, ones nurtured in the streets of the Village, the museums of Manhattan? Of course, it would have to be foreign films at the 8th Street Playhouse, where my mother (dressed in black with a white apron) served the complimentary espresso with a twist of lemon for the privilege of seeing the films unlimited times for free. My peak viewing experience at that charming little cinematheque was Louis Malle’s The Lovers, featuring at least one daring scene (for 1958) with adulteress Jeanne Moreau naked in a bathtub.
Two of my other haunts were The Waverly (now thriving as the IFC Center) and the Art Greenwich Twin at West 12th Street and Greenwich Avenue (now an Equinox gym). My favorite film shown there was a lush 1954 British production of Romeo and Juliet , filmed on location in Italy. No nudity to speak of, but the young Lawrence Harvey was to die for.
Despite these many lovely memories aroused by musing on the cinematic past of the old Village, I feel that the world of film in the West Village is fully alive and vibrant, of global scope, and more connected to people’s real lives. No more living in the sexual closet for actors, writers or directors; no more dictatorial control by the big studios over every aspect of stars’ lives. There is a thriving independent film industry and more channels for distribution. There are also ongoing efforts towards diversity, equal pay, and punishment for sexual harassment—all foreign concepts back in the day.
And, as long as there is a Greenwich Village, there will be stylish places to view quality films: The Quad, IFC Center, Angelika Film Center, Film Forum…to name a few current venues.
Here’s to the cinematic seduction and education of future adolescents. May dozens of them grow up to make their own movies!
Greenwich Village native Barbara Riddle is a frequent contributor to WestView News. Her memoir-in-progress can be read at talesfromagreenwichvillagegirlhood.blogspot.com/. (Segments from that work have been excerpted in these pages.) Barbara’s novel set in the 1960s, The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke, is available online as an ebook or paperback. Visit www.girlpretending.com.