East End Memories

THE EMPRESS, MARE STREET, HACKNEY

PART ONE – THE BECKONING SIRENS

For those readers that are orderly and like to keep count of things, they will note that there has been little mention of the second film released in CinemaScope by 20th Century Fox. The reader should not think that I have been avoiding this film because I did not enjoy it, far from it, as you will read. The film, How to Marry a Millionaire, is of interest since it went into production after The Robe, it was completed first. However, 20th Century Fox obviously felt that The Robe would make a bigger splash and would introduce the new process of CinemaScope in a more spectacular manner and show it off to its best advantage.

How to Marry a Millionaire was the second film to be released in CinemaScope, but was not secondary in any other way. The pre-release hype worked well on me and once I knew of its existence, I was quickly convinced that it was a film not to be missed under any circumstance. The primary attraction of the film was the featuring together of three great beauties of the time. Two of the three grandees vedettes were already great favourites of mine: Betty Grable, the former Queen of the Lot, I had seen many times in Fox musicals of the 1940s and 1950s and Marilyn Monroe, the then current Queen whom I had seen in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I had been very taken with Marilyn Monroe since that time. Mind you, I was not adverse to her co-star in this film, Jane Russell, either. Having these glamorous creatures together in a film along with the promise of having it produced on a giant screen certainly made this a greatly anticipated film. Incidentally, the third star of the film was Lauren Bacall, whom I am sorry to say, I did not know of at the time. In later years, I saw her classic films with Humphrey Bogart and even got to see her on the stage in Applause and Woman of the Year.

Yes, How to Marry a Millionaire was certainly a film not to be missed and I was determined that it wasn’t going to be! This became only too evident once I saw the advertisement for this film in the local newspaper. I remember being attracted, at my young age, to what I took to be the look of allure on the faces of the three stars shown in the advertisement. The sirens appeared to be coming out of the page as they beckoned me to join them. Like sailors of the past, I would have been willing to crash my ship on the rocks to get closer to those Loreleis!

As I have said earlier, my relationship with the Essoldo Bethnal Green underwent a remarkable turnabout once I entered its darkened auditorium and caught my first glimpse of that giant screen. I remember my excitement mounting, as I tried to watch the unexplainable action on that huge screen while I stumbled down the side aisle towards the front. I was unable to take my eyes off the screen, which unfortunately brought much annoyance to others whose feet I fell over after crashing into their row on my way to an empty seat.

Despite the improvement in relations between the Essoldo and me, this did not include loyalty and exclusivity, especially when it came to seeing Marilyn Monroe. And the promise of her and CinemaScope together proved to be an attraction that would cause me to search out a way to see this extravaganza, sans pareil, as soon as possible and if this meant not waiting for it to be screened at the Essoldo, so be it.

Prior to the combining of the Boroughs of Bethnal Green, Stepney and Poplar in 1961 into the one Borough of Tower Hamlets, Bethnal Green adjoined on its northern side the Borough of Hackney. Although Hackney was only a short distance away, along Cambridge Heath Road, in those days one did not travel far for entertainment, unless of course, one was going to somewhere special such as the Hackney Empire. But to see a film? Why would you when there were numerous cinemas in the area that showed the same films? However, once the Essoldo Chain of Cinemas was formed, in my eyes, the Essoldo Bethnal Green was to be the poor relation, since films were shown here later than the other cinemas of the circuit in the East End, which also screened 20th Century Fox CinemaScope films. I saw this as being unfair; in my youth, I would have seen it as discrimination; and now in my approaching dotage, I see it as the way of the world.


Bethnal Green, Hackney and Tower Hamlets Town Halls
Bethnal Green Town Hall has been converted into luxury hotel apartments

The Empress cinema was on Mare Street, Hackney, which is the continuation of Cambridge Heath Road once the junction of Well Street is passed. This cinema was a short bus ride from our home, but in those days, it was in a different world. The cinema, like the Rex on Bethnal Green Road, became part of Sol Seckman’s chain of cinemas and was renamed the Essoldo in 1955. Despite this, everyone continued to call it by its original name, the Empress. Like the Essoldo Bethnal Green, it screened Flight of the White Heron and then The Robe. However, unlike the Essoldo Bethnal Green, it showed both films several weeks earlier! Although this was not seen as a problem at first, but once I had actually seen CinemaScope, it became annoying and then unfair and fanned the flames of a rebellious nature that had hitherto not reared its head.

I remember looking at the local newspaper, the Dalton’s Weekly, on that particular Friday afternoon noted that a treat was in store for me. This newspaper, which is still in existence, is where readers went to look for flats, cars, jobs and so on. It also gives news of the East End and carries advertising for the cinemas in its area of catchment. It was in this periodical that I saw the advertisement announcing that the Essoldo Mare Street was proud to announce the showing of How to Marry a Millionaire and that continuous performances were to begin on the following Monday at 1.30 p.m. Meanwhile I noted what the Essoldo Bethnal Green was less proudly offering For Your Pleasure something that I instantly dismissed as second-rate and which immediately brought forth a sneer and grunt from me.

I felt cheated that a film of such colossal magnitude and importance was not being presented at the Essoldo Bethnal Green at the same time. I was disappointed and sulked for a bit. Deep thought caused me to then believe that perhaps we, the good citizens of Bethnal Green, would only be given the opportunity to see this film once the whole of London had since it first. I sank into gloom as next became convinced that the film would not be shown there at all. Soon, my gloom turned to despair and then to annoyance and finally to anger. I felt like someone not invited to a birthday party while everyone else in the class had! It was as if I had received no present at Christmas. I felt ………. discriminated against!!! Of course, I was unable to express my feelings by voicing them in this way, but suffice it to say, I was pissed-off!

Even at that age, I was not one to take an affront to my person without kicking up a fuss! I remember sitting there licking my wounds and thinking what I could do to right this wrong. And then, the seas parted and my way became clear. Why shouldn’t I go to the Empress on that following Monday at 1.30 p.m. and join the hordes of clambering people who also had to see the film immediately? Even as child I suffered under the illusion that if I wanted to see a particular film, play or exhibition, everyone in the world would also be clamouring to see it too. The more I thought, the more I realized that the solution to my problem was to circumvent the issue of whether or not the film would ever be shown in Bethnal Green and travel to the wilds of Hackney.

Once I decided that I was going to see How to Marry a Millionaire, I found that I was now faced with how I was going to achieve this. Firstly, I had to find a way to finance this expedition and then decide on how I would get to my destination. Although it was not a great distance to the Empress, it was in an area that I had never visited alone before. I had been to Hackney multiple times, but always with my parents and this was mostly when we went to the Hackney Empire. The other times were when I was made to accompany my mother who went there periodically to shop. Shopping in Hackney was never an especially enjoyable excursion since I failed to see the appeal of the shops. I did not care for the cake shops particularly and I found the ice cream sold in the Hackney emporia to be inferior to those of the Roman Road! However, my mother did not go to Hackney to buy cakes or ice cream, but other less interesting commodities. And so, the very going to Hackney was going to be an adventure, but one had the major problem of finance to overcome before I would be ready to see off into territories unknown.

I would like to thank Mr. Brian Hall and Mr. Kevin Wheelan for their kindness in allowing many of their pictures to be reproduced here.


MEMORIES OF GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Posters


Just Two Little Girls


Stiff Backed or Stiff Knees, You Stand Straight at Tiff-ney's


I would like to thank Mr. Brian Hall and Mr. Kevin Wheelan for their kindness in allowing many of their pictures to be reproduced here.

Continue to Part Two - May I have a Penny?

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Copyrightę 2010 - : Charles S. P. Jenkins