Sam Elliott’s Special Childhood Moment at a Theater Gave Him ‘Tunnel Vision’ for Career

Ask Sam Elliott, and he’ll tell you he’s known his calling strongly since childhood. And it’s all thanks to Sacramento’s movie theaters.

“I went to a local theater called the Sequoia Theater,” the Hollywood icon begins for NPR in an extensive 2017 interview. “And I just was captivated by going into a dark theater and watching those lights jump around up on the screen.”

For Sam Elliott, this created a direct path for his life. One he would follow without fail from his youth on – leading to a 50+ year career in film.

“I just knew early on that – as preposterous as it might seem at that point in time to any number of people – that it seemed a possibility to me. And I pretty much had tunnel vision most of my life in that pursuit.”

If you follow Elliott, you’ve probably heard these comments before. Yet we say this with no disdain or tiredness, as the actor holds fascinating glimpses of a bygone era with crystal clarity.

“I used to go to Saturday matinees a lot with my sister Glenda,” Elliott continues of the subject, but this time for his local Sactown Magazine. “The classic films, the serials, Creature from the Black Lagoon—I liked them all,” he reveals.

Sactown is, of course, shorthand for Sacramento, California, from which Elliott hails. The Sequoia no longer exists there, but lives on through the success of Sam. In his interview for the magazine, he doubles down on comments made for NPR, stating plainly that “Going to the movies in the olden days was what I think made me want to be an actor. In fact, I’m sure it is.”

“The experience of going into a dark theater,” he recalls, “and seeing that light come through the old celluloid film, which is what it was in my day, made me want to make people feel something, the same thing I was feeling in the audience…”

Sam Elliott’s Childhood Movie Theaters: The Sequoia, The Crest, The Alhambra, and The Tower

Yet The Sequoia wasn’t alone in inspiring Elliott’s journey to Western icon and Hollywood stalwart. Sacramento was full of “grand” movie theaters, the actor recalls.

“I remember The Crest—I remember the name ‘The Crest’ more than anything else,” Elliott continues for Sactown. “I saw Annie Get Your Gun at the Alhambra Theatre with my parents and my sister – I remember that specifically. It was the big theater in town. There was another one by Tower Drugs, The Tower Theatre.”

At The Tower, a young Sam Elliott would see Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock on a rainy, rainy day there one day in the ’50s.”

But no Sactown theater held a candle to The Alhambra, which the icon says was “the place to be.”

“It was pretty grand,” he beams of the movieplex. “I remember it had a really big front [entrance] and a long walkway—it was incredible.”

Sadly, Elliott doesn’t see the same magic in movie theaters today. Future actors receiving “tunnel vision” via the latest Sam Elliott performance, however, might disagree.