My very first Imperial Theatre experience was one so very bizarre that my family still talks about it.
I was 4, maybe 5 years old, and my parents and my three older sisters had taken me, the first boy in the family, to see a movie, the title of which none of us can remember.
Sometime during the flick, the sugar rush from copious amounts of Milk Duds, Snickers and Goobers (ooh, I miss those) had run its course and I was bored.
I kind of remember asking to go to the bathroom, but then, the rest is real fuzzy. The next thing I know I’m all by myself outside the Imperial Theatre! Yikes!
So, with my lungs chock full of this unexpected “rarefied oxygen of freedom,” I decided to make the walk a few yards away from the theater to the bustling corner of Eighth and Broad.
Yes, I had seen this place before, and knew it was “forbidden fruit,” but those mysterious-looking steps that actually looked as if they would lead you under the ground were just too much for me to resist.
I think it was called Club 13 back then, but now, of course, it’s Joe’s Underground. I guess they didn’t check IDs back then, because the next thing I know, I’m sitting at the bar.
Some weird woman offered me a taste of her beer, but I already knew that her “creepy beverage” could not touch the taste of the full-of-cane-sugar Cokes that I existed on in those days.
BAM! Suddenly, incredibly strong arms swept me off of my feet and out of the club. Yes, it was my father, a burly former Navy fighter pilot who was immediately faced with a decision that only parents truly understand. What does he say?
Was it: “Little Ed! (My nickname then) Thank God you aren’t lost and we’ve missed you and we are so happy you are all right and thank you, Jesus, as you are my precious child!”
Or was it this: “What in the hell are you doing in here? I’ve told you you can’t walk down those %#*@! steps, and you promised not to leave the theater. You will ‘pick your switch’ when I get your butt home!”
Yes, you guessed right. It was the second one, as he knew very well that my mother (whose sweet, innocent son could do no wrong) would undoubtedly handle the first one. And she did because that’s what good moms do … sometimes.
Of course, after I got a few years older, we would take the bus or have a “grown-up” drop us off at the Imperial, give us a dollar, and we would watch the movie over and over and over. See, the Imperial was air-conditioned and the Turner home was not, so the crisp, cold air from the theater was a marvelous treat during those humidity-filled summers.
In 1964, admission was 35 cents, and popcorn and Cokes were cheap enough that you might have a quarter or so left to spend at Snappy’s Hamburger’s, which was right next door.
As I got older, the Imperial was the place to take dates, especially way up in the second balcony, where we would have the “privacy” needed to discuss “current events” and the like … especially the “like” part, which I always “liked” the most anyway.
But the most unique thing that has happened to me at the Imperial occurred in June 2007, when a new band I had just joined called Number 9 and I performed our very first concert of Beatles’ songs.
Unexpectedly, our show sold every seat in the house, so a lovely lady whom I had never met was forced to sit in the absolute top row of the Imperial. Her name was Sheryl Jolly, and she stayed the whole show.
I eventually met Ms. Jolly at our next concert nine months later, and it didn’t take me long to fall in love, head-over-heels.
These days, her last name is the same as mine. Had she not ventured out that night to the Imperial it’s likely I would never have met my Sheryl, whom I would marry again and again in a heartbeat.
So you can see what the Imperial has meant in my life, and you have likely heard similar stories from countless others over the years. That’s why Number 9 has decided to make the Imperial one of our two beneficiaries for our August 2013 concerts. Three years ago, Number 9 donated more than $9,000 to the theater, and next year the figure promises to be even higher!
Fellow locals and Number 9 fans are encouraged to join us by giving what you can to the Imperial Theatre Capital Campaign. The grand ol’ girl turns 100 in five years, so let’s make it a birthday party no one will ever forget … just as my family never forgot that afternoon 54 years ago at my first Imperial “experience.”
Hey, who’s got some Goobers?