The Tent Show

In the late 30’s and early 40’s, a “tent show” was a special attraction for the community. A “tent show” was a movie theater in a tent that came to town once or twice each year and stayed for about a week showing a different movie each night. If attendance were good it might stay an additional week. It would be erected on a vacant lot and under the tent, bench type seats were installed which could accommodate about a hundred people. Most of the movies were very old “cowboy” movies. Some were even silent movies that had been enhanced with sound. This was many years before television and any type of movie would draw a crowd. Admission was usually ten cents and popcorn was sold inside before the show for a nickel.

During World War II because so many young men were away in the armed services, school would be suspended on certain days to allow school children to help local farmers gather their cotton crop. Organized groups of students would be taken to a farm where they would pick cotton at a rate of one cent per pound. A group of my classmates and I went to Mr. Carl Graves’ farm and spent a day picking cotton. Most of us were not too good at picking cotton and not used to working all day in the hot sun. Each of us was given a large basket to collect our cotton. I picked a sack full of cotton and went to empty it in my basket. I was surprised to see a classmate sitting in his basket under a shade tree on the edge of the field. I asked what he was doing and he explained that he had already picked fifteen pounds and that was enough to go to the tent show currently in town and to buy a box of popcorn too.

To many of us the “tent show” was our concept of theater. A cousin and her family were invited by a neighbor to attend a movie at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. At that time the Fox Theater was the most elegant theater in Atlanta and even today it’s quite special with its stars overhead. My cousin was very young and had never attended a movie in a real theater. As they were being seated at the Fox Theater, she was overcome by the strangeness of this first time experience and began bawling out loud, “I don’t like this tent show.”

Every now and then, late at night on the late, late movie, I see one of those real old “cowboy” movies again. I pop some popcorn in the microwave and again in my imagination sit under the big tent.