Friday, May 06, 2011

Spokane's Dark Side: Rex Adult Theater

While some prefer to remember Spokane, WA, for its beautiful parks and lovely churches, I have a 55-year-old memory of the notorious Rex Theater on Riverside Avenue. This was too real to be a dream.
To say that the Rex was a BYOB “girlie show” movie house for gentlemen of dubious distinction is being kind. But to a hormonal 15-year-old the lurid poster advertising burlesque queen Patti Waggin in the feature “Too Hot to Handle” was something I never forgot. Not that I could see the movie because it was adults only and I was working. Then again who was going to negotiate with the imposing cashier, one stout tough looking bleached blonde.
For all I knew the publisher of the Spokesman-Review and local ministers could have been Rex regulars but I imagined it was a cheap place to enjoy a bottle of muscatel and take a nap.
Mom and Dad never took us to skid row so how did I find the Rex of my youth? After classes at Lewis and Clark High School, I delivered drugs for a downtown pharmacy and deliveries took me to west Riverside Avenue where I passed by the Rex Theater and saw the lurid poster with a nearly naked Miss Waggin for ADULTS ONLY.
No one will probably ever admit to the existence of the Rex Theater but me.
I realized that this was not a dream but the Waggin movie really existed. As I opened the pages of the movie catalogue I found the movie of my lost youth under the “exploitation” listings. So 55 years later I realize a youthful dream, I buy the DVD and watch THTH. The Rex was real according to the online document, “Washington State Movie Houses,” with 350 seats open from 1949 -59 at 326 Riverside Avenue. It also operated as the New Rex and the El Ray. I was fortunate to grow up in an era where movie houses had character and were distinctive if not colorful, That era lasted about 30 years as theaters were being torn down in the 50s. and 60s.
The DVD is pristine and features comics Harry Savoy and Mannie King, much like Abbott and Costello but with a lot of nauughtiness. (“I’ve got diabetes and you’ve got a couple of lulmps yourself. I went to a gay 90s party. The men were all gay and the women were in their 90s. I’ve never seen a waitress with such big tips”. Cop: “I’ve been pounding my beat for five years.” Comic: And you look it.”
Vegas has made an attempt to revive burlesque with the Absinthe show.
For more on the Paris sensation Ms. Waggin, go to A book is available, “Fan Letters to a Stripper” by Bob Brill.

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