My sister is (sorry, Gwynne) ten years older than I am and when I was little she got the most awesome job in the world, working in a movie theater. At least, I thought so at the time. Free movies and free popcorn, who could ask for more? (Well, it would be nice if they paid you. But that didn’t keep me from working on and off in movie theaters once I was old enough.)
When Gwynne worked for a summer at the Park Cinema, they had two theaters and for many, many weeks they had the same two movies playing, “Oliver!” and “Funny Girl”. I watched FG, and it was okay, but I’m sure a lot of what was happening in the film flew over my head.
But “Oliver!”, well, I pretty much loved it. We went to see it (free, of course) as a family. But even better was when Gwynne worked and I went with her and watched the film by myself. This was the first time I watched a film alone, something I still enjoy on occasion.
At the time, I thought the very best seats in the house were in the very front row, so you could stretch your legs out and completely enter the world of the film. The screen was all you could see, and I was back in Merry Olde England with the Artful Dodger (played by Jack Wild who starred at the time in one of my Saturday morning favorites, “H. R. Pufnstuf”.)
Though my childhood was much happier than Oliver’s (Mark Lester), I still could relate to feeling alone at times (though not sleeping in a coffin) and envied his discovery at the end that in fact he came from a rich family (though I would later appreciate that my family was richer than most in nonmonetary ways.)
Oliver Reed scared me as he was meant to as the villainous Bill Sikes.
But best of all, was Nancy played by Shani Wallis. Sitting in the front row, I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. (My first movie star crush, narrowly beating out Katherine Ross in 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”.) Sadly, Wallis didn’t have a very prolific career. I see at IMDB she had a stint on “The Young and the Restless”, but I’ve never watched soaps. I might have seen her guest shots on “Columbo” and “Charlie’s Angels”, but I don’t remember. I wanted to see the horror film “Arnold” but my parents wouldn’t take me. But I do remember her voicing the Nancy-like mouse pub singer in “The Great Mouse Detective.”
There were kid’s matinees that Gwynne got me into that summer, such fine films as “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Attack of the Puppet People”, but “Oliver!” was even better than those great films in my 6 year old mind.