When Betty Ball started working at Oamaru’s Majestic Theatre in 1957, going to the movies was one of the only forms of entertainment on offer.
But it was much more than that – it was an occasion.
Mrs Ball started working at the Majestic Theatre as an usher for the 5pm late shifts, then picked up the afternoon shift before becoming a full-time cashier.
She sold tickets, cleaned up between screenings, ushered people to their seats, and watched the tail end of movies after counting the till.
“It was lovely.”
Mrs Ball was working at the Majestic when it hosted the New Zealand premiere of Lawrence of Arabia in 1962.
She also remembers when The Sound of Music was released in 1965 – having watched it about 35 times, it would be hard to forget.
Working at the theatre became somewhat of a family affair.
Mrs Ball’s late husband Rex was a projectionist at the Oamaru Opera House and filled in at the Majestic.
Her children also joined her at the theatre – her son was a tray boy and her daughter worked in the nibble nook, selling sweets and ice creams during intermissions.
You were more likely to see Jaffas, Mackintosh’s Toffee, Oddfellows and threepenny bags on the menu than popcorn in those days, she said.
Saturday nights were the busiest and screenings regularly sold out, and there would be a queue of hopefuls waiting eagerly for any cancellations.
There was even a dress code to sit in the “circle” on the second floor, Mrs Ball said.
“You always dress up in your bestest,” she said.
“I still remember the beautiful frocks.”
But, as the years went on, things changed.
“The movies were ruined by the television and videos.”
Mrs Ball always said she would finish up at the Majestic when her son went to university.
But she remained on staff for another four years, until 1975.
Almost five decades on, she still had the odd person recognise her in public as “the lady with the torch”.
Although not planning on picking up the torch again, she was excited about the new Oamaru Cinema opening in Thames St today.
“I’m absolutely sure the new movie theatre will be wonderful, because people miss the movies and are starting to get tired of their videos at home.”