In the early 1990s The Vineyard was its own destination, not a presidential vacation spot or a real estate speculation. Thousands of college kids would provide the Island with its summer workforce, knees hanging out of their jeans with sandals or without. They thought they would meet the love of their lives on its beaches only to find out that it would take three jobs to pay the rent. Hitchhiking was a Vineyard sport. There were only three things to do on the Vineyard; drink or go to the movies. I forget the third.
The Island theatre was playing Forrest Gump to a sold out crowd of 400 people with another 400 waiting to get in. It was $5 a ticket. Tourists flocked to these old movie houses. Those back home had been made into parking lots decades ago. Back then Hollywood wouldn’t go to bed at night until it had the Island Theatre’s grosses, the largest movie house in southern Massachusetts. The theatres on the Island were second in soft drink sales and would pop over four tons of raw corn every summer.
One night actress Sally Field would approach the Island Theatre’s ticket office with her kids to see Forrest Gump, a film where she played Forrest’s mother. She couldn’t get in. It was sold out. She went instead to the Strand Theatre across the street. Gump would make it to the screen of the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven a few nights later with yet another large crowd waiting to get in. John F. Kennedy Jr., a stocking cap pulled over his ears, managed to get a seat a few rows from the back with his Hollywood gal-pal at the time Daryl Hannah. Whether he knew that there was a trick edit with Forrest talking with his dad or that there was actual footage of the assassination is not known. Could he have been sheltered from seeing that footage for all those years?
When the film ended, he was the last one to leave the theatre, sitting there shaking his head slowly back and forth and oddly rubbing the back of his neck.
It’s a shame that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission could not have protected the old theatres, some of the oldest movie houses left in the country, regardless of ownership.