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Saturday, February 6, 2010

For Love of the Movies

It’s award season for the movies, my favorite time of the year for one of my family’s treasured traditions, the Oscars. For some families, it’s sports…for mine, it’s the movies. My family speaks “moviespeak.” It is a bond that transcends our lifestyles and ages and continues as a tradition through our generations.

Movies have been part of my life since my mother took me with her every week to the local Chicago theatres. It was both escape and entertainment for her while she waited for my dad to return from WWII.

I barely fit on the seat and often fell asleep while watching adult dramas or cowered under the seat for horror films like The Thing.

Later my mother took me to live performances at the elegant Chicago Theatre where musicians sometimes performed before a movie. Together we saw Harry James, the great trumpet player of his time, a sold out event similar to major concert tours today.

Mom adored the actors, read Photoplay (a precursor of TMZ and Entertainment Weekly) and the celebrity gossip magazines. She lived her life vicariously through film stars and knew not only their film credits but their personal lives as revealed through the “rags” of the day.

Movie stars were her special friends. She knew them the way diehard soap opera fans follow their favorite characters. Our family’s Super Bowl was the Oscars ceremony which we watched faithfully every year as the film stars accepted their awards. As a girl, I dreamed of someday accepting an Oscar. I got as far as a high school drama award that looked like an Oscar statuette.

Growing up in Chicago, movies along with Looney Tunes cartoons made for a perfect Saturday morning following the serial adventures of Tarzan while enjoying Good & Plenty candy and jujubes as well as air conditioning before most homes had it, and sometimes even a special event on the theatre stage like learning how to do yoyo tricks (never did master “walking the dog.”)

On hot summer nights, the family would pack up the car and go to the drive-in movies. Later we would stop by a Dairy Queen or Dog n Suds for a sweet ending to our family outing. We were together, entertained and shared a treat. Life was simple and we were satisfied.

My mother’s love of the movies is a legacy in our family. My brother quotes movie lines when the occasion calls for it. My son remembers and recalls favorite scenes in great detail like sporting fans that have total recall of their favorite sports moments.

No matter what else is going on in our lives, movies are a part of the family. As my mother started and we continue, we cast our votes for the Oscars as to who will win versus who should win. Like my parents, we critique and share our opinions about movies. We consider ourselves well-informed critics with a wealth of movie going experience as well as followers of the movie industry, my daughter as a TV producer and my son as a writer. We simply love stories, and movies tell and preserve them better than anything else.

I learned in my teens that my name came from a movie character. The Greek family tradition is to name the firstborn after a grandparent. My pregnant mother found the perfect equivalent for my grandmother’s name in what is now a black-and-white cult film from the ‘40s, The Curse of the Cat People. Simone Simon played a horror film’s heroine named Erana.

Years later, I named my daughter Dana, the name of the lovely British actress Dana Wynter who starred in the '50s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was an unconscious coincidence that I was following in my mother’s footsteps.

Over the holidays, we always go to the movies. Our tastes differ, but we want to share the family experience. We may not have read the same book, but we’ve seen the same movie. Even now, when I have a long day, I escape with popcorn to the movies, on the big screen or via Netflix or Blockbuster.

Movies still have the magical power to transport me to a place where I am totally engaged and the rest of life can be put on hold for awhile. They still move and sometimes scare me. They take me away from the ordinary and involve me in their stories where I feel empathy with the characters, their problems, struggles and victories. They make me feel more alive. I love the movies.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Chicago Theatre photo by Chris Ayers
 Popcorn photo by Steven Kapsinow


  1. Movies can be the most beautiful escapism, yes. As for The Thing.... I think I did exactly the same time and time again!

  2. Movies are an ongoing pleasure for me. If there was time, I'd watch one every day:)

  3. Erana, are you sure you don't know my sister? LOL I grew up in Chicago & she still lives in Oak Park she has a great Oscar party every year. I'm not big into awards the arts just not the award shows....thanks for sharing.



  4. Bill,

    Do send this post to your sister:)


  5. Your love of the movies certainly shines through! I'm not as big of a fan of them as you are (and I really don't like awards shows), but I do love going to the movies when I get a chance. There's something about that silver screen magic that will always overcome any of our feelings about particular celebrities, or Hollywood in general.

    When you're in the darkened theater, that all goes away for a couple of hours.

    I love it.

  6. Yes, movies can take us to extrordinary places and magically envelope us for a brief time. So much pleasure for so little effort:)

  7. Each time I watch a movie it is almost as if I am living there, feeling there and crying or laughing there... great way to escape reality, sometimes you don't even want to come back.

  8. Lena,

    I feel the same way. I think writing and loving stories makes us appreciate them even more.

  9. Erana,

    You not only portray a love of the movies, but a love for your wonderful family. I enjoyed reading this so much!

  10. Lena,

    Thanks for appreciating what I wrote and the emotion that is there.

  11. I grew up in Evanston where going to the movies every weekend--either the Varsity or the Valencia--became my routine. My mother took me to my first movie, to a theatre on Howard St. (near the Howard St El)to see "Imitation of Life" with Lana Turner. Such a sad movie. To this day, I remember all the ladies sobbing during the movie, dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs. Another time, my parents took me to see "The Devil at 4'o clock" starring Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra. It was too intense for me. I left my seat before the end and waited for them in the lobby. I couldn't bear to see Frank Sinatra get blown up by the volcano. My friends loved "scary movies," but I always failed to sit through them. One Sunday afternoon, I went to the Valencia with my friends to see a double feature. One of the movies was The Blob. I started crying soon after it began and made my best friend, Valerie, call my father to come get me. When I got into bed that night, I kept looking for the blob to roll across the floor of my bedroom. I was so scared to get out of bed that I wet it. I stopped going to scary movies after that for quite awhile.

  12. What would we do without them, Fran:)