John Boston | Why Does Movie Popcorn Taste Like Origami?

John Boston

I so hate to say this, but the last time I went to the movies at the old American Theatre in Newhall, it was sneaking up on 60 years ago. The locals called it The Sit & Scratch, due to the presence of what scientists sometimes refer to as, “fleas.”

Newhall wasn’t exactly “Leave It To Beaver.” Often there were fistfights in the American, during the movie. I remember once Crazy Matthew, a special needs kid, had a severe fit when bad guys shot the mammal/thespian, “Flipper,” in the motion picture of the same name. Matt ran at the screen, pencil held like a knife. Screaming all the way down the ramp, he promised:


Hillary, or her ghost writer, was right on one thing. Sometimes, it does take a village. A dozen kind souls caught up to Matthew before he could shred the screen.

Subdued, but still sobbing, C.M. was led back to his seat.

I must commend management at the old American. Back in the day, there was no cable, no 16,000 networks, no Hulu, YouTube, Facebook or Netflix on your cell phone.

(No cell phone). 

There was the American. The theater stopped showing movies in 1965, but the building’s still there, behind the Newhall Library. It’s the American Legion hall. When I was a kid, I spent Saturday afternoons in that blessed dark sanctuary, safe in air-conditioned splendor from the quadruple-digit Newhall summers and hopefully from pencil attacks via Matthew.

These were the days of endless previews of coming attractions, at least three cartoons, a newsreel and the occasional reminder not to turn communist. I’m guessing, somehow, the message didn’t stick. There were at least two features and sometimes three. It cost 35 cents for kids.

Kudos to the evil geniuses who built the American. 

On the wall behind the concession counter was a hidden lever, next to the popcorn machine. Right before intermission, management would pop a fresh batch, and then open the chute. A special air duct connected the popcorn maker to the auditorium. An intoxicating cloud of hot, fresh popcorn would fill the theater, sending the patrons into blind religious hysterics. 

You were powerless to not buy a delicious, semi-greasy bag. And oh my heavens, was it tasty. Granted. You paid extra for hot REAL butter poured atop. Add enough salt to dry out a mummy and voila. Taste bud devilment, loving artery-coating liquid animal fat. Twelve-year-old life has meaning.

The politically correct can find ways to ruin the simplest of pleasures. Under pressure, probably from vegan Democrats, years ago, movie houses stopped using the old-fashioned yummy oil used to cook popcorn. They replaced it with pneumonia phlegm from parrots.

Which, I’m told, you can buy at Whole Foods.

You take that first bite of old-fashioned movie popcorn, with a palette-cleanser of ice-cold Coca-Cola and you can actually hear the rock band Iron Butterfly play the first eight bars of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”


Sadly, that is no longer.

What the heck happened to modern movie popcorn?

It tastes like cardboard. Not that I’ve tasted cardboard. But once, I was on Metrolink, sitting next to a mental patient who used to eat cardboard. He complained it was “dry.” And tasteless. Like 10,000 little origamis.


A large tub of this cardboard Splenda costs 10 Samolians. 

That’s like ELEVEN Mr. Santa Clarita Valley columns.

Add a soda pop and you’re out 20 bucks. Add a date and you’re out 50 bucks. Worse, if you’re Mormon, you’re out closer to 350 bucks.

(SIDEBAR: In the olden days of multiple wives, when single Mormons went on dates, did they go with five or six girlfriends at the same time? Can you imagine? The show starts. You’re the guy and you’ve got to schlep down the stairs to the candy counter probably 47 times during the show. Which is why Mormons have strong legs.)


Popcorn has been around for millennia. About 40 years ago, kernels of popcorn were found in a cave in Chile at an archaeological dig. Carbon dating found the popcorn to be more than 1,000 years old. It was called “pisancalla.” Scientists took one kernel, tossed it into a fire and were delighted when the darn kernel still popped. Not making that up.


I just want to know: Why are the Santa Clarita movie houses still serving me that same batch of tasteless stale popcorn from 919 A.D. and charging me a house payment?

John Boston is a local writer who has spent more than $47 billion on movie popcorn in his life. He also enjoys putting paren(th(ese)s where they don’t belong, just to annoy his editor.)

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