I don’t actually remember watching it, but the first movie I ever went to in a theater was Mary Poppins. My grandparents took me to see it. I don’t recall watching the movie, but I do remember the movie theater. It was one of the old movie palaces. For years I thought I remembered red velvet love seats in the theater, but rejected that as a memory gone awry. Just the other day, my mother mentioned the red love seats in movie theaters in the old days. It was strange and wonderful to have the memory confirmed.
The first movie I clearly remember watching was a Billy Wilder film, Irma La Douce, dubbed into Spanish. We were living in Seville, Spain while my dad was stationed at San Pablo Air Base. We had a maid–not because we were rich, but because at the time Americans, even those with a small salary, were relatively affluent compared to some Spaniards.
The maid, Carmen–who was like another grandmother to me and my sister–had a daughter who was seeing a boy she didn’t approve of. In order to sneak out to see him, the daughter offered to take me to the movies. I think I was about four years old at the time. Her mother thought that was wonderful and agreed.
We met her boyfriend and, as promised, they took me to the movies. While I watched my first Billy Wilder film, the two of them smooched. I don’t think they unlocked lips once during the entire running time of the movie.
Of course, the subject matter of the movie was totally inappropriate for a four year old (years later I was amazed to find out Shirley MacLaine’s character was a prostitute), but I still liked it. Mostly, because at the time I thought it had cleared up the mystery of where babies came from. In one of the final scenes, Irma gets married in a church and goes into labor. She is taken into a room in the back of the church to give birth.
Oh, so that’s it, I thought. You go to church to get married, then they take you into a room in the back and give you your baby.
Regardless of how it inadvertently made me misconstrue the facts of life, I was entranced by movies from that moment on. And I think it’s highly appropriate that my first remembered film is a Billy Wilder film. Other kids of my generation can keep the experience of seeing The Sound of Music as their first movie-going memory. I’ll take a saucy Billy Wilder movie over that any time.