Tramp and Lady share spaghetti in a scene from the Disney classic, "Lady and the Tramp."
The cavernous theater in Dhahran was the incubator of my lifelong love of what were once called motion pictures. The movies.
Since evening entertainment was skimpy in Dhahran for years, especially before the company TV station debuted in 1957, my family constantly went to the movies at the Aramco theater, often three nights a week when the featured film changed.
Typically, we had dinner beforehand at the dining hall, but we still bought popcorn at the movies because Dad always wanted it; he couldn’t very easily eat popcorn himself but deny us our own. Tickets cost the equivalent of about forty-five cents (one riyal, fifty girsh), sold by an Arab or Indian employee of Aramco. For a few girsh more, you could buy a small bag of popcorn and a glass bottle of Bepsi (I’ll explain later) from the tiny snack bar.
People smoked cigarettes at all movie houses back then, including in Dhahran theater. A dense, smoky haze from Pall Malls, Viceroys, Chesterfields and, of course, unfiltered Camels, always wafted throughout.
We scarcely noticed; excessive smoking was normal everywhere in those days, and we were used to nothing ever looking completely clear.
Sitting in that wondrous, darkened pleasure palace, we watched all the era’s standard movies that had been approved for kids’ viewing (more on this censorship later), such as Old Yeller, Bambi and The King & I.
How Saudis reacted to this new technology that mysteriously appeared in their midst was mixed. But when Aramco’s American TV programs became available to Saudi nationals living outside Aramco camps (the ones who had acquired television antennae), many became particularly entranced by what they called “horse operas” — movies about cowboys and the Old West. But Saudi authorities were wary of how such technology and American ideals might adversely affect the conservative nation’s social culture.
Indeed, their third king — Faisal — was later assassinated, in 1975, as a direct result of radio earlier being introduced in the kingdom by his late father, King Ibn Saud.