Growing up in the west side I didn’t get acculturated in any form of entertainment because I didn’t know it existed. The idea of theatrical plays, concerts and musicals were new to me. However, I did enjoy movies because they set the standard of living even though I didn’t have the lifestyle the characters in the movies had.
It was until I joined the military that I was exposed to many other ethnic groups and their lifestyle. It excited me and I wanted to know more about how they lived, eat, dress and language. I got to know Puerto Ricans, Italians, Native Americans, New Yorkers and many other groups. Living in the same barracks, we got to know each other. For example, they wanted to know why I didn’t dress like a charro and why I couldn’t ride horses.
My most exciting experience was when I was ordered to West Point, New York as a cadre. I was assigned to an Infantry Detachment which consisted of about a hundred men. We were there to train West Point Cadets in Infantry and Ranger tactics.
As a Private First Class (PFC), I did the dirty work. Me and others had to do Kitchen Police (KP) honor guard duty and do the field work of a rifle squad soldier. There were times that we had free time and we go anywhere. We could go roller skating or ice skating depending on the season, watch a concert by the Army band or see the cadets parade. After that it got pretty boring. Thank God we had a service club. They took us on trips to New York City for the weekend. I was excited because we stayed at the USO building where they had bunks upstairs. We could stay there for breakfast lunch and dinner. All free. Donuts too.
While at the USO, we got free tickets to movies and plays. This was my first venture into drama plays. The first one was the play, “A Raisin in The Sun”. This was in1959 and was just starting to play on Broadway. It was so new that they had cardboard and wood boxes as furniture. (It was made into a movie later on with Sidney Portiere as the lead.)
I got hooked on Broadway plays whether it played on Broadway or not. There were quite a few off Broadway theaters and I went to several. My initial trip to New York set me off to going there when I was free all weekend. On my own, if I had money, I would take a bus. If not, I would hitch hike all the way to George Washington Bridge where I would walk across and take a cab to downtown Manhattan. I wore my uniform in order to get a free ride and in those days, everybody in uniform was given a ride.
This is the time when I started to get excited on musical plays. I enjoyed the colorful dancing, the songs and the music. The music had a strange sound and I never heard the kind of music that played for the staged shows. It was more horns than violins and drum beats. The second time I visited the city, I was given tickets to “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”. Staged show. It had been on Broadway for quite a while and later made into a movie. I liked the stage show better. So, all year in 1959, I was able to travel several times to the city to see concerts with Joni James at Carnegie Hall, Louis Armstrong also at Carnegie Hall. Also Perry Como at the NBC building. One of my favorite play was “The Music Man” with Bert Parks, the Miss America Host playing the lead part. All that came to a halt when I was reassigned to the Canal Zone in the Republic of Panama in 1960 where I started my career in a regular Infantry unit.
Before I retired from the Army, I was stationed in Washington D.C. at Ft. McNair in D.C. When I had some free time which was a lot, I visited all the museums and even visited the White House before my family arrived and we lived in Ft. Myers, Virginia. We had a lot of free time and we were able to attend several concerts put on by the Army, Marines, Air Force bands and also attended the Lincoln Center where we saw Jerry Lewis in “Damn Yankees”
Now in my senior years and not working for pay I started to go see some plays at the Majestic and the Municipal Auditorium where we saw “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats” among others. When the pandemic hit our area we were restricted in our travels and activities.
Thank God for YouTube. I discovered YouTube when I was watching Netflix movies. My son showed me how to get into YouTube and lo and behold, I was transferred back to 1959 and beyond. All the movies and serials that I watched in my younger days, wrestling at the Wrestlethon, westerns with movie stars like Roy rogers, Bob Steele, war movies with John Wayne, TV shows like You Bet Your Life, The Texaco Hour with Milton Berle, Tarzan movies and more. The current one I am really interested in is the musicals with Doris Day, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. I went back in time to see the original plays that I had seen in 1959 and others that I had never seen like “Wicked” and “Memphis”. Thank you YouTube. Even with the pandemic I’ll be inside watching my musicals.