Friday, March 23, 2007

A Legitimate Question


The very elongated group photo above is supposedly the Princess Theatre of Des Moines, circa 1920. It was part of a collection of photos of a Fordson industry exposition held at the Fairgrounds around 1923, which was definitely in Des Moines, but...the Princess photo just doesn't look or feel like what we know of the actual Princess Theatre built on 4th street in the summer of 1909. The color postcard shown is from the theatre's opening play, "Clothes", and as you can see, the fa├žade is nothing like that in the grayscale photo. At first, I thought maybe that Princess was still a work in progress, but there are too many differences to make that possible. Additionally, the year is way off.

So: this isn't our Princess. But more interestingly: whose Princess is it? Judging by the lack of buildings in the area, it's likely somewhere in a small town near Des Moines. But I have no idea where. Anybody got a good guess?

And another "legitimate" question: why do I bother discussing a legit theatre here in the world of Lost Cinemas? Because the Princess was begun by the entrepreneurial duo that jump-started the whole phenomenon in Des Moines: Kip Elbert and Jack Getchell, who began with the Mulberry street arcade, leading up to the opening of the Nickeldome on Locust Street in 1905. And it was their success with the Nickeldome that led to a long and successful career with the Princess.

(The Princess sat where Capitol Square is now.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

El Cid = El-Son

Way back in '61, the movie "El Cid" opened at the Capri Theatre at 42nd and University in a 70mm Todd AO presentation. To stir up interest, owner Bob Fridley--ever the showman--hired "well-known insurance man" Chet Elson to ride through town on horseback, wearing a real suit of armor borrowed from the Salisbury House. His mission: to invite then-governor Norman Erbe, as well as the mayor and the rest of the local government, to the premiere showing.

"Des Moines' favorite policeman" Tony Mihailovich delivered a mock violation ticket to Elson for allegedly parking his horse illegally. The Tribune and all the local news stations covered Elson's ride to glory.

Once again, this blog entry comes courtesy of the BoxOffice Magazine collection of John McElwee, used with his kind permission. Be sure to visit his beautiful website at Greenbriar Movie Theatre.

'Register' Recognition!

As many of you have probably noticed, the "Lost Cinemas" film project and blog were recently the topic of an article in the Des Moines Register, thanks to the journalistic efforts of Erin Crawford. Not only was it a real pleasure to speak with Erin on this admittedly obscure topic, but the coverage has brought in a deluge of wonderful emails from people who have pictures and stories to contribute. You'll be seeing them here soon.

For you out-of-towners who don't have access to the print version, here's a link to the Register's online edition where you can check out the article here. (I don't know how long this will be up before being archived, so check it out now! If you want a version you can print out on your own printer, this link will do the trick.)

Once again, huge thanks to Erin, the Register staff, and all the Lost Cinemas readers who help add even more fun to the mix. Cheers!

Hits, Runs, and an "Airer"

In 1962, the Pioneer Drive-In staff pitched a promotion for the upcoming baseball movie "Safe at Home", with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris: 5000 local Little Leaguers would sell tickets to the show ($1 per adult, 35 cents per kid) and each receive a percentage of the sale plus an autographed 8x10 from the stars of the film. A tandem promotion involved kids sending postcards to Bill Riley, who would draw winning cards on his TV show--the winners received baseballs autographed by Yankee ballplayers. The feature film itself premiered on June 6 that year.
Left to right: Chester Ruby, Saydel Little League; Ray Webb, manager of the Pioneer Drive-In; Joe Jacobs and his wife, of the local Columbia office; and owner Richard Davis.
Above: May 12, 1962 opening of the "Safe At Home" promotion, at Grandview Little League Ballpark. Note the makeshift ticket boxoffice at the back. At that time, the Pioneer was owned by Richard Davis, and managed by Ray Webb. (And that term "airer"? Just a slightly more modern version of the industry name for a drive-in--they also had been called "ozoners", perhaps a holdover from the days of pre-drive-in open-air theaters such as the Ozone on East 6th and the Airdome on the site of the Hotel Fort Des Moines.)

These photos come from the now-defunct BoxOffice magazine, this particular issue from the collection of John McElwee, used with his kind permission. Check out his own amazing movie site at Greenbriar Movie Theatre.

Any little leaguers out in our readership who took part?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Capri Tel-Op Slide

From my collection of 1960s TV slides, here's one from my own neighborhood: the beloved Capri, formerly the Uptown, located on University across from the Safeway plaza at 42nd street.

When I talked to Bob Fridley last year, he told me that he had visited the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood around the time that he purchased the Uptown, and was so impressed with the sound system there that he had a duplicate of it installed at the Capri!