Oral History Audio Interview with Dorothy Brault
about the Sheridan Theater
DOROTHY: I’m from Washington D.C. I’m a native Washingtonian. And, I don’t want to give you my age if I don’t have to.
INTERVIEWER: You don’t have to at all. (laughter)
DOROTHY: Just before the war, we’ll just say that. Between the Depression and the war, I guess you would call it that time frame.
INTERVIEWER: Great, so where did you… I’d love to know a little bit about the neighborhoods you grew up in in D.C. and what it was like.
DOROTHY: Well, we were living in Maryland for a while even though I was born…my father was born in Washington also. He died 1943, so my mother, brother and I moved in with our grandparents who lived in Brightwood, in Washington D.C. They had a house on 9th Street at Madison. I think they bought that place back in the ‘20’s when they moved up from their farm. And, that is where I lived from the time I was eight years old until I was off to nursing school.
INTERVIEWER: And, what was it like; what kind of people lived there…
DOROTHY: The neighborhood? Well, it was a very middle class neighborhood; all row houses around us. People were in between but very patriotic now. We were at war at that time, and we were careful about not voicing anything, you couldn’t get butter and there was a lot of rationing. The neighbors were considerate of one another, but living with my elderly grandparents we didn’t exactly go from house to house with coffee clatches and things of that sort. At least, to my knowledge they didn’t. We minded our own business. But, everybody worked hard and were neat, clean and considerate. (both laughing) What else can I say?
INTERVIEWER: What was it like being a kid then?
DOROTHY: Oh, well, actually, I was a little bored because there weren’t that many children around. I, um, I went to the public school for one year and then I got on the bus, I was 10 years old and they put me on the public transportation went clear across town to a private school where I’d been going when my father died. So, I was a little bored. However, I read, of course we didn’t have TV and stuff like that, so I read endlessly and we did enjoy the movies, of course. What can I say, I was glad to go to school because at least it wasn’t boring. (both laugh).
INTERVIEWER: So, tell us a little about going to the movies.
DOROTHY: Yes, well, I loved it and I still love it. I understand you all are particularly interested in the Sheridan Theater. Now, where I lived is 9th and Madison, the closest one was the Colony down on Georgia Avenue, and then UP on Georgia Avenue was the Sheridan. So, the movies, there were a lot of war movies back then, and Westerns - those were my favorite. And, the, when a movie came in to the area, it was just one movie in one theater, and then after it was played there for about three days, it went to the next one. So, if you missed it at the Colony, you could catch it at the Sheridan. That’s sort of how that worked. We went often to the movies.
INTERVIEWER: Who did you go with?
DOROTHY: Well, when I was young, I went with my mother, primarily. Now, before we moved into Washington, back in the, before the war, my brother and I would walk to the Apex Theater where we lived, near there, and – on Saturday – went to the movie theater, I can remember doing that when I was about six or seven. I’d follow him along; he wasn’t thrilled to have me, but, he was stuck with his little sister. (laughing). We could walk, we walked all over the place. So, then, after we moved it was a little different setting, my brother stayed in the public schools and I was sent off back to the Immaculata’s the name of it, the high school. The grade school was Dunblane Hall, and Immaculata Cemetery (laughs), I started to say cemetery (both laugh). But, that’s where I went to grade school and high school all the way across town, I went on the bus. My mother sold the car that we had after we moved, in ’43, so we walked or rode the streetcar or the bus everywhere, and that’s the way it was. It wasn’t bad at all.
INTERVIEWER: So, was that how you would get to the Sheridan?
DOROTHY: Well, we walked, yes. We would walk north on 9th Street to Missouri Avenue which was originally Concord Avenue, but after President Truman came in, they discovered there was no Missouri Avenue. So, they changed Concord Avenue to Missouri. And, then, we’d go, um, left up a hill to Georgia Avenue, there was a post office there, and other places, and Nativity Church was across the street and then we’d walk past Ft. Stevens where President Lincoln went and all, and got his hat shot off. That was where the Sheridan Theater was.
INTERVIEWER: And, what was your favorite thing about going to the movies?
DOROTHY: I don’t know, I just liked being distracted by interesting things. Back then, when we went to the movies, it was just one movie per theater, so you got the news, and that was, that was good. Got to know what was going on in the war, and then, as long as there was a war. Then, I’m trying to think, then they had the ‘also selected’ short subjects, which could be any number of things, cartoons and things, just interesting things, previews, and then the movie itself - the main feature. So, I don’t know, I just like, I still like movies, and I turn on TN, TCM, I think it is, has the old movies, and I enjoy watching them.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what the inside of the Sheridan looked like, like could you paint the picture for us?
DOROTHY: Well, uh, I think they all looked pretty much the same inside and outside; they had attractive entrance, façade outside, and then you just went in to a hallway, and then into a darkened theater. Very much like they are today, just rows of seats. (chuckles). And, then the screen, that was pretty good sized. I think they did have exit doors there, like the do today.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the first movie that you went to see in a theater?
DOROTHY: Oh, (laughs), do I, well, I remember some early movies, that was before I lived in Brightwood, however. We went to the Hiser Theater in Bethesda, and the Apex in Washington, just over the line. I think the first one I saw was ‘Bambi.’ I’m not sure.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the feeling?
DOROTHY: I think it was at the Hiser, and there was a fire in the movie, and, not in the theater, in the movie itself, and I remember being very upset about that when I got home. Must have only been five or six. But, I do remember seeing, I think, ‘Bambi.’
INTERVIEWER: So, at that time, you didn’t have a television?
DOROTHY: Oh, back in the ‘40’s? Good heavens, no, we didn’t have TV (both laughing). I was, I’d left home and went off to college before my family ever got a TV.
INTERVIEWER: So, one of the things I’m interested in is that, if, now, there’s so many ways to watch videos and see movies, thatwe sort of take it for granted. And, I imagine that, um, going to see something in the theater before TV must have been a very special experience.
DOROTHY: It was routine, I wouldn’t call it, because, movies were always enjoyable, I don’t know that special is the right word. But, I didn’t miss television at all. And, I still, I never watch it in the daytime now.
DOROTHY: No, I enjoy the sports, the news, and then old movies, that’s the extent of my TV watching today. Um, but back then, movies were just something to do on a Saturday afternoon and we just enjoyed them; what can I say.
INTERVIEWER: What role do you think the Sheridan Theater played in the neighborhood?
DOROTHY: Well, I don’t know; that’s an interesting question. I don’t quite know how to answer that. They were there, and they were popular, and they were always full. And, I think the news that they presented, particularly during the war years, when we would get news from the battles and so forth; Yes, they were…I wouldn’t call them a place to go where you socialized with other people. You might see your neighbor – ‘Hi, how are you?’ – and in the summertime when we walked down to the Colony, there was a ice cream store there. And, the two sisters of Mr. Abraham who had the DGS next door (delicatessen?) served us ice cream, and that was, of course, always fun, in the hot summer. But, I would say they were just, they were just there for entertaining us.
INTERVIEWER: So, now, a lot of these neighborhood theaters have closed?
DOROTHY: Oh yeah, I think all of them have, haven’t they? In DC, the Apex, which was my favorite, that was a wonderful theater, that’s gone; the Hiser in Bethesda is gone; the Tivoli I guess is. And, the two downtown, all the way downtown, the Palace and the Capitol. As I was older and I could get on the streetcar, go downtown, walk down F Street, and those were wonderful theaters. And, even in my high school years, they had some vaudeville occassionally. Those were the best, so I was very sad when they left. And, I think, the Colony’s gone, the Kennedy’s gone, and the Sheridan – they’re all gone. So, life has changed, completely.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think has changed; I’m wondering, like, why do you think they closed, and do you think we lost something, or do you think it’s just change, or what are your thoughts about that?
DOROTHY: Well, I don’t lie awake and worry about it (they laugh). I still love going to the movies and there are some awfully good ones, I think my favorite, I have to tell you, I think is Gone With the Wind. My favorite book and my favorite movie, um, and it still is. But, the movies today, some of them are trash, of course (laughing). But, a good movie is a real treat to go to, so I still love them. So, I don’t think that changed our lives that much. There’s just so many more of us, so that’s why they have all these theaters now.
INTERVIEWER: But, they’re a bit different than these neighborhood ones, right, which were a little bit more of a community place, maybe?
DOROTHY: I remember going to the Colony one time with my mother, this was during the war, and there was a movie there by William Wilder called…now, I can’t think of it, it’ll come to me in a minute…oh, The Memphis Belle, and I’m going to say about ’43, ’44, ’45, something in there; he made that movie, it was about the first of the ‘flying fortress’ or B-17 that made it through 25 missions. Most of them did not, you know there was a great loss of life from the Air Force, B-17s flying out of England, over Germany and occupied France and so forth, during the war. So great loss of life. And, my mother had a cousin who was a navigator, I believe, on one of the B-17s, and so she was interested in seeing that. And, I remember it. And, I have a copy of it today which I respect. And, I had a funny experience at the Sheridan, if you wanna hear about that.
INTERVIEWER: I’d love to, yah.
DOROTHY: Yes, well my grandmother wanted to see a movie called Black Narcissus. Now, that’s a, that was a book that was written by, um, Rumer Godden and she wrote wonderful books and I guess my grandmother wanted to see this movie, maybe she liked the book; I’m not really sure. So, the two of us walked up there and, you know, it took about 15 minutes to get there from our house, and there was a scary scene in there. Now, I must have been pretty young, maybe eight or nine, and, I was so scared I screamed (laughs) right in the middle of the movie, so since then I’ve seen that many times and I look for that scene and it does not shake me like it did back then, but it was so realistic, and everybody laughed. But, that was, I remember that, and that was one movie I remember seeing at the Sheridan.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a great story. I wanna ask you a little bit more, why do you like going to the movies. I know it sounds like a very simple, obvious question, but I think there might be something in there, you know, why do you like going?
DOROTHY: Well, enjoyment. I enjoy movies, I enjoy a good movie, I like the distraction from our every-day lives. And, I like good acting and good stories, well done. What can I say, I would like the opera and the theater just as well, but I can’t say anything more than that. They’re just very entertaining when they are good.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think there’s a difference between watching something at home and watching something in a theater with other people?
DOROTHY: Oh, I prefer the theater because of the nice, big screen; from the sound. As you obviously know, I have a hearing problem, so I like being able to hear the words, you know, the program, and watch the big screen. I like occasionally to watch an old movie, but we don’t get any old movies in the theater. I think there’s one in Silver Spring, it’s called the Silver, I believe. That’s very old and that’s been restored, it’s very an elegant place. And, they have old movies sometimes. No, they’re just, they’re more modest, there’s no vulgarity in the old ones (they laugh). Rarely did you hear a bad word. I don’t even think I, well Rhett Butler said, ‘Frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn,’ and that was the worst word I ever.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, that was risque (both laughing).
DOROTHY: It wasn’t condemned by the church however, but movies today, the vulgarity, is really awful. So, it’s a pleasure to go to a movie where we don’t have any women, we just have men fighting or something. At least they’re not engaging in activities that I prefer not to see in the theater, but, that’s just my age, I guess, I don’t really know. I like a good movie, though.
INTERVIEWER: So, do you have any other memories of growing up in Brightwood, or going to the Sheridan that come to mind?
DOROTHY: Oh, well, as I, as a young person living in Brightwood, and going to the Colony and the Sheridan, that was a fun life. And, then as I got older, was in high school, I would visit my friends, many of them lived over in Tenleytown. So, I would go over and spend the night on the weekend and almost every Saturday we went to a movie. So, it was our social life. And, we just enjoyed it. And, you could go to a movie then and pay whatever it was, it wasn’t very much, and stay there all day. No-a-days, of course, they empty the theater the minute the movie’s over. But, that was not the case then. You went in and saw the 12:00 show, you could go to the 2, and the 4 and the 6, if you wanted to. And, they didn’t throw you out. So, it was different; but movies are entertaining, they just really are, at least for me they are. And, I love going.