When I was a kid, we lived for a few years in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, a town about 32 miles outside of Pittsburgh. My dad ran two of the local radio stations, WHJB-AM and WOKU-FM. I was five when we moved there, nine when we left. Even at that tender young age, I was obsessed with movies. Obsessed. And not just kids’ movies — any movies. My favorite day of the week was Sunday, because we’d get the Pittsburgh newspaper with the big entertainment section filled with movie ads. I’d spend hours staring at them, trying to imagine what they were like from the artwork and the taglines.
As such, my parents took me to the local theaters on a fairly regular basis. One of them has always stood out: Cinema World in the Eastgate Plaza. It was your basic ’70s movie theater — a square building with four shoebox-like auditoriums inside, two on either side of the concession stand. The place was located in a shopping plaza that also had a Gee Bee department store and a supermarket, among other things. Cinema World was an important part of my childhood, one that I have always remembered with great fondness. Here’s what it looked like:
Some of my most important moviegoing memories happened inside this building. My dad took me to see Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein here when I was six years old. The film was my introduction to Brooks, who instantly became the first director I was consciously aware of. Decades later, I remain a major fan. Around the time I turned eight, my parents brought me to Cinema World to see The Bad News Bears. That film was a revelation. I’d never seen a movie in which children used profanity. There’s a moment at the end where one player hurls an insult at the other team, and it blew my young mind that a kid could talk that way.
Dad and I also saw the Neil Simon-penned detective comedy Murder by Death, starring Peter Falk and Peter Sellers, at Cinema World, along with the car race comedy The Gumball Rally, the Jane Fonda/George Segal romp Fun with Dick and Jane, and the Blake Edwards farce The Pink Panther Strikes Again. My family also caught the disaster movie sequel Airport ’77, which completely freaked me out. That’s the one where the plane crashes into the ocean, trapping everyone a hundred feet under water. To this day, deep water makes me nervous, and I’ve never flown in an airplane.
Like I said, I was obsessed with movies. We ended up in the Eastgate Plaza quite a bit because of the stores there. Whenever we went, I would make my parents walk me over to Cinema World so that I could study the posters displayed on the far left and far right sides of the building. In 1975, there was a sex comedy called If You Don’t Stop It…You’ll Go Blind!!! I looked at that poster for the longest time before finally asking what the title meant. My folks wouldn’t tell me. Similarly, I stood there examining the poster for Mother, Jugs & Speed, eventually figuring out that there was a reason Raquel Welch’s character was “Jugs.”
One of the really cool features of Cinema World was its right-hand side, facing the road. There were four mini marquees there. Each held the title of one of the movies playing. Now, there was a traffic light right beside the theater, so whenever we got stopped while traveling beyond the Eastgate Plaza, I would intently stare at those marquees until we moved again, once more trying to imagine the movies’ content based solely on their titles.
I saw the words Marathon Man up there and contemplated what that phrase might mean. I also recall other titles that captivated my young mind: Two-Minute Warning, The Man Who Would Be King, Gable and Lombard, Annie Hall, A Star Is Born (the Streisand/Kristofferson version), and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Of course, I was not old enough to see most of those, yet they captured my imagination nevertheless.
The reason Cinema World has taken up a small place of residence in my heart is that it held a lot of awe and wonder for me. My passion for film was in its earliest stages, and this was a location where it started to blossom. As you can probably surmise from the movies I saw there, my childhood wasn’t confined strictly to kiddie fare. Getting a taste of stuff a bit above my level suggested a whole world waiting to be explored. That’s why I was so consumed with posters and marquees and newspaper ads; they were the promise of what was to come.
Cinema World lasted a fairly long time — 25 years, in fact. It closed its doors in 2000 and was demolished shortly thereafter. A Chick-fil-A restaurant now stands in the spot where it once existed. I still think of it often. For hardcore film buffs, our personal history isn’t just the movies we saw, it’s also the theaters in which we saw them. Those experiences make up who we become as cinephiles. Cinema World was an essential part of my story.
My most sincere and heartfelt thanks to Rachel at Third Stop on the Right for graciously allowing me to use her pictures of Cinema World. Her blog is a lot of fun to read, and there are some great reflections on notable locations in Western Pennsylvania.