The Mars Theater on Conant Street, Detroit, opened in 1947 and closed in 1958. The Mars was the closest neighborhood theater throughout the 50’s. The seats in the Mars theater were luxurious and covered in equally luxurious cranberry velvet. You could sleep very comfortably in those seats.
Cartoon Saturdays were a noisy affair that attracted all the neighborhood kids. I fondly remember walking to the Mars theater with my buddies to see the movie, “The Blob”, starring Steve McQueen. I used to go there each Saturday, in the fifties and see two features and a bunch of cartoons and a newsreel for about 15 cents.
Yes, for fifteen cents, you got all that plus you could stay in the theater as long as you liked. It was common that if you walked in in the middle of the movie, you stayed to watch what you had missed.
This was the fare on Saturdays. It was a great venue for us who lived in the ghetto on Minnesota street and in the neighboring Conant Gardens. The beauty of it was that we kids could walk the three quarter mile trip by ourselves, stay in the theater watching the same movie twice, and then walk the same three quarter mile trip home in the dark of night. Street lights on Conant Street were sparse and many properties were still undeveloped. There were a lot of empty lots. So, after watching a particularly scary movie, we’d leap frog from one street light to another, going on an all out run through areas of total darkness. I was sure that I could outrun any demon leaping from the shadows. Years later, I’d make my mark doing 100 yard and 200 yard dashes in high school.
Serials like Tarzan, Commander Cody, Superman, The Blackhawks, and Captain Marvel were always the best followed by science fiction horror films like “It Came From Outer Space”, “The Thing from Another World”, and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” were the scariest. Although films like “The Undead” and “The Brain Eaters”, could cause nightmares.
The Mars also showed older comedy movies like “Abbot and Costello”, “Laurel and Hardy”, “The Three Stooges”, the “Little Rascals”, and “Our Gang” comedies.
“It Came from Outer Space” was the first 3D movie I saw at the Mars. They handed us the little paper glasses with a red lens on one side and a green on the other. The 3D effect was enough for us to duck under our seats when there was an explosion causing rocks to seemingly fly from the screen, or when the monster stuck his hand out to grab you.
Our favorite cartoons were “Mr. Magoo”, “Mighty Mouse”, “Heckle and Jeckle”, Tom and Jerry, the Roadrunner and Coyote, “Sylvester and Tweety”, and Foghorn Leghorn and Henery Hawk. It should be noted that several of these have been banned by the politically correct, humorless, imbecilic crowd for one insane reason or another.
In the early days, patriotism was still in the air and the Mars continued to show newsreels about the war in Europe and the Pacific, sometimes alternation with Victory at Sea segments.
Popcorn at the Mars came in a good size box for around ten cents, extra butter was always optional, and candy bars were only a nickel. So I could get a full day of entertainment from the one dollar my mom would give as my weekly allowance. There were ushers at the Mars, usually some pimply face high school kid that would use his flashlight to guide you in the dark if the movie was already showing and highlight you with that same flashlight if you got too noisy. Then, one day, a kid choked on a popcorn husk and died. At least that’s what our parents told us. Probably just a fib to cut down on our popcorn money.
Wednesdays were usually the free gift nights where housewives could pick up a dinner plate or such with each admission. The ploy was to keep them coming back to finally get an entire service for eight or something. It was always high quality stuff, much better than many in our neighborhood could afford.
It was also common for one or two of the guys to pay the admission and grab seats near the theater emergency exits to let the rest of the gang in during the intermissions. As we got older, our interests weren’t so much on watching movies as it was about getting together with other kids you never saw except in school. But too many kids under one roof and bored with the movies often evolved into prankish behaviors. One prankish behavior was when we discovered how loud a common glass marble sounded hitting the back of a movie seat. We’d all sit there like perfect little angels when the usher came down the aisle with his flashlight.
The neighborhood changed however and so did the Mars theater. We were told to not go to the restroom alone and sometimes on those wonderful Saturday afternoons, there’d be more adult men in the theater than kids.