Friday Nights at the El Rey Theatre

El Rey Theater, Glendale Arizona
El Rey Theater, Glendale Arizona

I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s. 1959 found me living in Glendale, Arizona. Dad’s duty assignment was at Luke Air Force Base. Base housing was under construction at the time, so we lived in town, not on the air base. Our family would move into the military housing in February 1960.

While living in Glendale, our family would go to the El Rey Theatre in downtown Glendale at 17 N. 2nd Ave. It was a special treat. Mother and daddy saved from dad’s meager $275.00 a month pay as a United States Air Force staff sergeant where we could go to the movies.

Friday night June 26, 1959, found my family excited about seeing Sean Connery and Janet Munro in Darby O’Gill and the Little People. The movie is a tale about a wily Irishman and his battle of wits with leprechauns. It was the scariest movie I remember seeing. As a kid the appearance of the death banshee and the cóiste-bodhar, a spectral coach driven by a dullahan, to carry the dead’s soul off to the land of the dead scared me.

The real treat that night was an educational featurette film we saw before the feature film. It starred Donald Duck. The title was Donald in Mathmagic Land. It was 27-minutes long.

In 1961, two years after its release, Donald in Mathmagic Land had the honor of being introduced by Ludwig Von Drake and shown as the first program of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

The film was made available to schools and became one of the most popular educational films ever made by Disney. As Walt Disney explained, “The cartoon is an excellent medium to stimulate interest. We have recently explained mathematics in a film and in that way excited public interest in this very important subject.”

I saw the film at Luke Air Force Base Elementary School each year from 1961 to 1963. Maybe that is a reason mathematics never scared or intimidated me. The film’s popularity was so great that my Cub Scout Pack saw the film as well as it being shown each summer during the base’s day camp program.

I appreciate the sacrifices my parents made to take me to the movies where I viewed neat films like Donald in Mathmagic Land. I recently watched the movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People on DVD. The banshee and death coach are still scary.

Oh, the architecture of the El Rey Theater in Glendale was amazing. It was an art deco theater. The photo is of the El Rey Theater that seated over 500 people.

Author: Jimmie Aaron Kepler, Ed.D.

Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a full-time writer. He was born in San Antonio, Texas, to a career military father and stay at home mother. He lived in six states and attended eight different schools before graduating high school. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in History with minors in English and Military Science from The University of Texas at Arlington, Master of Arts and Master of Religious Education degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as the Doctor of Education degree. Before writing full-time, he worked as a US Army officer for 10-years, religious educator for 18-years, and as an IT software application engineer for over 20-years. He is a widower. He lives in North Texas with his cat Lacey.