The Embassy Theater
by Bob Jandoli
I grew up in West Orange, NJ and I lived with my family on Nutman Pl… a suburban street of about twenty-five to thirty homes. Back in the 1950’s just about every home on Nutman Place had children. Kids ranging in age from six to fifteen years old. I once counted how many of us there were and I think the number was around twenty-five. For the most part, we seemed to be out of the house around the same time, on hot summer days, and wreaking havoc in the streets of the near-by neighborhoods. Playing stick ball, touch football, cowboy and Indians and a slew of other post war imaginative role-play games. At night it was Hide and Seek and, of course, we stayed out until “the street lights came on”, and sometimes after that, just hanging on someone’s stoop talking and planning the next day’s adventure. It was a great place to grow up. Most of all, it was a great TIME to grow up.
It was the 1950’s and not every home had a TV. We were one of the lucky ones. We had a colossal 9” black-and-white RCA Victor, and it was our lifeline to the world of all kinds of entertainment, but Hollywood movies were limited on tv in the early to mid 1950’s. You had to stay up past 11pm to catch “The Late Show”, and none of us kids were allowed to stay up that late. So, by the hundreds, from all neighborhoods, we were off to the local movie theater to see our movie heroes and heroines, along with the greatest combinations of cartoons and newsreels. It was a true wonderland for us, especially at the Saturday Matinee shows at The Embassy Theater in Orange; an old time movie palace of Hollywood’s Golden Age, with all the ornate decorations, such as fancy carpeting, beautiful sculptures on the walls and ceilings, a balcony, and the famous huge crystal chandelier. It truly made us feel like Hollywood. The manager was Adolf Finkelstein, who yelled and screamed at all the kids, but cared and watched over us like a parent away from home. Saturday’s shows were strictly for us: Abbott & Costello, The Bowery Boys, Martin & Lewis, John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Tarzan, Pirates, The Knights of the Round Table, and my favorite genre, Science Fiction. Giant Bugs and Dinosaurs wreaking havoc and destruction in big cities, along with aliens from every planet in the universe. Some were bad, but some of these “B” movies remain classics today. We kids from Nutman Place and all the nearby towns filled The Embassy each and every week with such excitement and enthusiasm. There were additional attractions as well, such as personal appearances, Duncan Yoyo contests on stage…and that enthusiasm continued on through the week. Those tales gave us ideas and inspiration in all our recreational activities. We LIVED the movies.
I continued to go to The Embassy through my teenage and young adult years, but the flavor was slowly slipping away. The theater was never remodeled in the coming years and sadly closed its doors sometime in the 1970’s. It remained vacant for some time. The Marquee was torn down and the lobby was used for an indoor flea market. Through the years the building was slowly demolished brick by brick, fixture by fixture, to be tossed or carted away by some of the demolition crew members. I understand that the crystal chandelier which towered above us is now hanging in the front foyer of The High Lawn Pavilion, one of West Orange’s prestigious restaurants.
Movies such as Godzilla, The Thing from Another World, Them, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, House of Wax will live in my mind and heart forever, as well as my friends who shared these memories with me. I was so blessed to be a part of this almost forgotten era. All because of a small bit of Hollywood we experienced at The Embassy.