Readers’ memories of the Carefree Theatre

For decades, the theatre was ‘the place’ for local entertainment.


You saw films and concerts there. Went on dates there. Even met movie stars there.

When it was recently announced that a developer had purchased the old Carefree Theatre building and was planning to raze it to make way for a multi-use complex, including a new theater, we asked for your memories.

You remembered when the Carefree was West Palm’s go-to social destination. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, it had separate pool halls for men and women and even a crying room for babies (still a great idea!)

Photos: Carefree Theatre through the years

And then there was that night in 2005 when the roof almost caved in and the old Carefree closed down, which is a good place to start our trip down memory lane …

‘FIREMEN WALKED IN, CARRYING POLEAXES’

As director of the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival at the time, I was there when the roof almost collapsed at the Carefree Theatre. It was Tuesday night, December 6, 2005 and raining heavily. We were showing “The Ritchie Boys,” a documentary about Jewish teenagers who had left Germany only to return as U.S. soldiers a few years later during WWII. Our normally senior audience was even more senior than usual, coming with walkers, portable oxygen tanks, and even wheelchairs.

The nearly 700-seat auditorium was full. My assistant and I were sitting in the lobby when we saw the flashing lights of a fire truck outside. Considering the ages of our audience, I thought, ‘G-d forbid, someone in the audience had had a heart attack’ and the paramedics were arriving. But when several helmeted, fully-coated firemen walked in carrying poleaxes, I knew it was something more.

Immediately, the audience was told the roof was in danger of collapsing and they’d have to evacuate the theatre using the small side-door exit. In a very orderly fashion, they filed out until the theatre was emptied except for one last person — my assistant Cecile Millman who had taken the opportunity to use the bathroom one last time!

The Carefree was shabby, the seats weren’t very comfortable, and for a 720-seat house there were only three stalls in the women’s bathroom, but it was the only movie theatre at the time playing the ‘art’ and foreign films I loved. I’ll always remember Joy, at the box office, answering the phone by saying, “Carefree Theatre. It’s more than a name; it’s an attitude!”

— Karen Davis, West Palm Beach

‘DANCING IN THE AISLES’

The most memorable times I spent at the Carefree theater were going to see those wonderful foreign movies, but best of all was dancing in the aisles with my friends whenever they had a klezmer concert.

— Friedel R. Mayer, Lantana

‘A FUNKY OLD PLACE’

I have so many memories of going to the Carefree. One of the stand-out concerts was Kenny G early in his fame. He walked around in the audience as he played. I had an aisle seat, and he stood right next to me! I also saw Leon Russell with Edgar Winter who brought back memories of the old hippie days.

The Carefree was a funky old place, but we loved it anyway. I remember standing in line in that long lobby waiting to get in and seeing people I knew. It was always a great time.

— Janet Schreiber, West Palm Beach

‘THROWING POPCORN AT EACH OTHER’

In the ’80s, if my fading memory is correct, (we) attended “Rocky Horror Show” twice because we had so much fun the first time. The fun we had was throwing popcorn at each other and the patrons behind/in front of us … or shooting water pistols at each other simultaneously with the movie action. It was a “hoot.”

— Charlotte Barbour, via the Internet

‘WE HUNG OUT WITH DENNIS QUAID’

In 1989 my wife at the time kept telling me she was Dennis Quaid’s second cousin. She had never met him, so I thought, ‘Yeah, right.’ So I heard in the news Dennis Quaid was coming to the Carefree to play with Bonnie Raitt’s band. I said, ‘If you are his cousin, you should get us tickets and we should meet him.’ Finally she said, ‘OK, I will call my mom and see if we can.’

So after a couple days, she tells me her mom called Dennis’s mom and we will have VIP passes at the will call and we are to go backstage after the show and meet and hang out with him. Sure enough, after the show we went backstage and upstairs and hung out with Dennis and Bonnie’s band until they had to leave.

He wasn’t married to Meg Ryan yet, but they were engaged and I asked him ‘When are you and Meg getting married?’ and he said as soon as they could work it in their busy schedule. A couple of months later Dennis sent us a 8-by-10 autographed picture.

I also saw Joe Cocker, Peter Frampton, Ian Anderson, and Delbert McClinton there in the final years not counting all the comedy shows over the years. I really missed that place when it had to close down.

— Lee Pinder, West Palm Beach

‘PUTTING IN A GIRLS’ POOL HALL’

Fifty years ago, since all the bad boys in town were always playing pool at the “guys only” pool hall at the Carefree (and the girls wanted to “hang” with guys), the Carefree put in a girls’ pool hall on the Dixie side of the building. Guys could only play pool there, if invited by a girl. Voila! – invite the guy you liked and he could not resist playing pool in the brand new “girls only” pool hall.

I played there several times – great fun, great memories!

— Meg Blackwell, West Palm Beach

‘THEY HAD A BABY ROOM UPSTAIRS’

My family was good friends with the Chalhubs (the original owners of the Carefree) and my mother, Eleanor Prince, managed several of their theaters over the years. She was cashier in the late ’40s at the Carefree, and I remember they premiered the first Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movie. They also showed heavyweight championship fights during the Marciano and Walcott years. My brother and I got to usher them and then watch them.

One unique room they had was a baby room upstairs where parents could take a crying baby and still watch the movie.

Great days.

— Ralph Prince, West Palm Beach

‘I SAW ‘AIRPORT’ 67 TIMES!’

I worked at the Carefree from 1969-71 as an usher. We were real ushers back then, carrying flashlights to show people to their seats during movies.

Whenever there was a John Wayne movie playing, the people would be lined out the door and down the street. Also when the movie “Airport” came out, it played for almost eight weeks. I ended up seeing “Airport” a total of 67 times!!

To keep from getting bored I would say the lines of the actors just before they did out loud. I knew the entire movie. On our breaks, we would go next door and shoot pool or play pinball.

—Bob Mason, West Palm Beach

‘WATCHING THE RED VELVET CURTAIN RISE’

The Carefree was The Place, for many years, to hang out, get a glass of wine before a show, have terrible popcorn, see a real full-size screen, and, if you caught the early show, watch the red velvet curtain rise! What a thrill!

I suspect true movie houses like The Carefree are forever gone. However, our memories linger long after the last picture show.

— Stacie M. Kiner, Hypoluxo


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