The Palm Theater lives on in my memory

This photo has been largely agreed upon as having been taken at the Palm Theater in Fort Walton Beach, although some doubt remains. I was unable to find the name of the photographer. If anybody knows the identity of the photographer, please let me know. I'll be happy to include a credit or remove the photo, if the photographer would prefer. I found it under a Creative Commons license and it appears to be available for use.

First they closed the Stardust. Now, the old Palm Theater has burned to the ground.

Ashes to dust.

For me, the Palm, called The Picture Show these past few years, had assumed a warm and comfortable place in memory, like a favorite song, that first love or one of life’s essential awakenings.

The Palm was the venue for my first “date.” I was 12 and she was 11. My mother dropped us off; her mother picked us up. The feature was Disney’s “Snow White.” I accidentally kicked over the bottle of Coke I’d smuggled into the theater. It clanked loudly all the way to the front of the auditorium.

And – ahem – there was no kissing (Yuck).

That first date notwithstanding, the Palm is where I traveled from childhood to adolescence. The occasion was “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” a James Bond movie, which for years my parents had forbidden me to see, the reason being sex, not violence. I knew that when James Bond became OK, something important about me had changed. I was growing up.

It is also where a friend and I sat through all five “Planet of the Apes” movies. We began this marathon by crouching on the floor in front of the screen, as every mother in town had spotted this rare opportunity to get rid of the kids for a day and the theater was overrun with fidgety 8-year-olds. Luckily, we found an empty seat next to a boy who was willing to let his little brother sit in his lap, so we moved back a few rows, preventing permanent damage to our necks, eyes and spines.

The Palm had a balcony – prime real estate for vandalous little boys with half foot-long gherkins ripe with bright green juice to be squirted onto an unsuspecting audience.

And the staff did not roust you from the theater after each movie showing. You could stay as long as you wanted. I watched “You Only Live Twice” three times in a row.

The Palm had terrific air-conditioning, and on a hot summer afternoon a bratty little kid could lie about his age, get in for 50 cents, and spend two wonderful hours ensconced within the balm of dry, cool, delicious darkness, mesmerized by what have become genre classics: “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Other” and “Omega Man.”

Alas, the Palm fell victim to the multiplexes – a shame because moviegoers today are deprived of a unique experience: sitting in a spacious theater, where curtains roll back to reveal a screen as wide as a prairie, and where the synergy of picture and audience reaches a critical mass that cannot be duplicated in the sticky little boxes that pass for theaters these days.

I miss the Palm. It didn’t have fancy sound systems or cup holders in the seats, but it did have grandeur and a sense of excitement that made going to the movies a big deal in a little kid’s life.

Maybe one day theaters will go back to what the Palm was. I think we could all use that small touch of class.

This column was published in the October 1998 edition of the Northwest Florida Daily News and is used with permission.

About the author:

Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”

Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.

As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.

Contact Del at [email protected]. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at .