the schmooze
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

The Yiddish word for movie theatre is "der kino"

Larry King wrote, "...the movies provided the most powerful view of the world.  Americans were like Gary Cooper, and Americans were brave, true, strong, and good. Period.  Every Saturday we went to the Benson Theater and had this knowledge reaffirmed.  Because so many of the movies of that era were about the war, and because we wanted to emulate our heroes in whatever way we could, we conducted major battles right there in the Benson."
      (Source:  "I Remember Brooklyn" by Ralph Monti)
The newspaper headline read:  MOVIE MATRONS SILENCED!

As a young girl I was "fardeiget" (worried) that the movie theater matron would turn her flashlight on me.

Growing up in the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens, we had to deal with the movie matrons-- women who were employed by movie theaters with one common goal:  To make all kids‘ movie experience as terrifying and uncomfortable as possible.

Apparently there were "fir" (4)  qualifications to be a movie matron:

  1.  Must be a minimum of 85 years old
  2.  Must be a minimum of 40 pounds "ibervog" (overweight)
  3.  Must have an instinctive hatred for all people under the age of 12 ("tsvelf")
  4.  Must be able to say "hush" and "quiet" in several languages.  (In Yiddish, it was "shat, shat!")

If you were employed, you were given a stark "vays" (white) uniform, a blinding flashlight and instructions to patrol each and every aisle  of the theater.  Your mission:  find those persons under the age of 12 who were violating one of the many
theater rules:

Do you remember the term "feet on the seat" offenders?  When the light from the matron’s flashlight disappeared, our feet returned to the top of the seat in front of us.

It makes me laugh now when I think about the movie matrons in Rockaway Beach, New York.  They left a long-lasting impression on me.

Gary Cohen wrote, "The matrons were basically a bunch of angry old women who were hired basically to keep the kids in lines, especially at weekend "kiddie matinees...If you tried to sneak into the adult ("dervaksener") section (because you wanted to watch the film in peace), the matrons would shine the flashlight in your face and drag ("shlep") you back among the screaming maniacs in the children’s section..."

Jimmybo12 wrote about attending movies in the 1960s Brooklyn:  "In those days, for 75 cents we could go to the movies, and we often did.  For six bits you could sit in the Fortway theatre for six hours between lunch and dinner ("lontsh" and "mitog") watching bad movies and giving grief to the matrons!  They were basically vacation nuns, serving the same purpose--to keep us out of our mothers’ hair during the day so they could go o the A&P and the beauty parlor ("sheynkayt salon") and drink rum and Coke.  If a movie was particularly boring, we’d drop nickels and summon the matrons with their flashlights to come help us find them, or we’d spill popcorn ("kokoshes") or sodas (accidentally) and then put our feet up while we watched her sweep the mess up.  God forbid if the film snapped or clogged the projector and started to bum; pandemonium would ensue as the matrons ran around trying to keep order while we stamped our feet, screamed, and threw Dots ("tsukerl") candy at the screen.

My mother tells me that, these days, the streets are empty of kids during Christmas vacation ("vakatsye")  Apparently they’re all inside on their computers ("kompyuters") or thumbing electronic devices in front of the television set.  They’ll never know the pleasure and community of crowding into an old movie palace and just being lousy rotten ("paskudne") kids for a few hours.  Every kid should experience that, especially during winter ("vinter") break...and the memories would last longer than two weeks."

Judylobo wrote, "I remember we would go to an afternoon double feature at the Nostrand Ave. theater in Brooklyn.  All of the kids were forced to sit in the section marked ‘CHILDREN.‘  It was the left hand aisle of the theater.  The rest of the theater would be totally empty ("pust")...what adult would go to a movie filled with kids?  The matron would march up and down the aisle, similar to Nazi prison guards...throwing popcorn could get you banned from the theater forever ("oyf eybik").  I don’t know how we survived.  It was horrible ("groylik")."

Yes, today, multiscreen cinemas with 3-D and digital technology are replacing mom-and-pop theaters.  When that happens, people have to stop seeing the theater as another business ("gesheft") and see it as a community center.  Years ago, these movie theaters were as beloved as the houses where the moviegoers grew up. Those days are gone.            

MARJORIE GOTTLIEB WOLFE says, if you want to find out what happened to the movie theater where you saw your first film...or had your first date, visit the website ("vebzayt") called


Search for Stories Beginning with the Letter
N O P Q R S T U V W   Y Z
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

Yiddish Stuff
Jewish Humor
Schmooze News
More Majorie Wolfe
Jewish Stories
All Things Jewish
Jewish Communities of the World
Site Designed and Maintained by
Haruth Communications