Saturday, April 22, 2006

Great Uncle Leo and his Date at the Garrick

As mentioned previously, the Orpheum at 208-8th street eventually reached a checquered point in its history when it became a burlesque house on the Mutual circuit, from 1925 to 1928, before a final attempt to rescue its reputation by becoming The President Theatre just prior to The Crash.

My great uncle, Leo Myron Satterlee (he, that crashed the "State Fair" premiere party some years later) found himself on a date there. He was living with someone who took in roomers, and it was one of these very roomers that led to the date. As Leo tells it:

Pearl [his househost] mentioned that while I was gone, a new theater had opened up in town, and she would like to go. I had never seen this girl [the roomer] before but Pearl said, "why don't we get reservations, make a foursome, and go see the show?" She called the theater but we could not get them for that night, so she made them for the next night. It turned out to be a burlesque stage show with live actors. Some of the skits were pretty risque for that time. I was embarrassed and the girl just slid down and would not look at the stage. She finally left before the show finished. In one of the skits, a man came out carrying a rooster and a lady carrying a kitten... [I think we've all probably heard this joke before!]

This Garrick Theater did not have shows every night of the week and once they advertised a men's-only show about the ravages of venereal disease. It was sponsored by most of the big companies in town, including the company I worked for. One night, several of the fellows got together and went. It showed actual pictures of what happened to the body of a victim. I decided then and there I would never chance such a thing. One of the fellows knew one of the ushers, as they were all volunteers from various places in town. He told us that one night, two girls dressed like boys came and were seated when the head usher got suspicious and challenged them. One of them cocked her head, looked up at him and said, "Yes, we have no bananas."

An S. Barger took over management duties under the Garrick monicker, and Joseph Oppenheimer--of the Mutual Burlesque Association--promised the theater would present "high standard shows", in an attempt to refute the "abuse" the term "burlesque" had suffered of late!

An Ode to Two Drive-Ins

To the right is a photo of a flyer sitting in the rubble of the Capitol Drive-In in the late 1980s--advertising something that was once fairly commonplace for drive-ins to do: Sunday morning open-air church services, with the sermons coming in over the attachable car speakers.

Around that same time, I was going to the S.E. 14th Street Drive-In a lot, and getting a good laugh out of the rocking vans and sudden brake-lights during the show. I thought of the church flyer I'd found at the Capitol site, and was struck by the irony of a place that be a passion pit one night, and then, a few hours later, a redemption spot. The chorus lyric popped right into my head, and then I scribbled down the rest of the lyrics right then, combining the Capitol and the S.E. 14th into a single south-side drive-in experience.

South Side Drive-In Night
(M. Heggen)

Late in the weekend when the sun goes down
Something is starting at the edge of town
The good ol' boys are taking good ol' gals
Out for a good ol' badass time

Cheapest thrills that you have ever seen
Found under a ninety foot asbestos screen
The South Side Drive-In Theater
Was still a legend in its prime

Well who could have known that while the folks at home
Lay dreaming with eyes shut tight
Everybody'd be singin' on Sunday morning
After sinnin' on Saturday night

Temperature's rising as the screen lights up
Whiskey and Fresca from a paper cup
Heartbeats hittin' in overdrive
While the car's just sittin' in park

Shadows moving as the picture shows
Chinese firedrill in the back three rows
Bright eyes winking in the snack bar light
And brake lights blink in the dark

Well who would have guessed that while they did their best
To raise hay with all of their might
Everybody'd be singin' on Sunday morning
After sinnin' on Saturday night

Forty-two winks after the midnight rain
The bottles are empty and the back seat's stained
Boyfriend's heaving in misery
While girlfriend's left in the lurch

Oleo glistens on a paper cup
And catching the light as the sun comes up
The South Side Drive-In Theater
Becomes the South Side Drive-In Church

Well I should have known that way down home
They've their own way of puttin' things right
Everybody was singin' on Sunday morning
After sinnin' on Saturday night

(Copyright 1989 Mark Heggen)

When I recorded the song shortly after (with local scenesters Lonnie Urich on drums and Rick Van Oel on lead guitar), I added a scrap of an honest-to-goodness S.E. 14th intermission film audio, which I'd taped on my boom box one night, tuning in to the drive-in's radio audio. (Listeners might mistakenly note a couple of blasphemous moments in the recording, but offense can only be taken if it's Got that you believe in!)

Here's the link to the mp3: South Side Drive-In Night mp3

Saturday, April 15, 2006

From A Previous Attraction

Though not exactly a Lost Cinema, the Plaza Theatre still falls into a grey area, because its original run as such was from 1967 to 1987, before closing for a few years and being reborn as the Merle Hay Cinema, which today still seats 808 people, making it the biggest screen--and screening room--in town.

At the top is one of two tel-op slides I have with the Plaza monicker--once again, the image is a bit blurry or doubled, a flaw inherent in the actual glass slide. (I wonder if parking at the Mall is still "supervised"?)

Below is a lenticular coming-attractions board that was used to be mounted over a one-sheet of whatever feature was coming next at the Plaza.

More to come about the Plaza: a strip of original tickets, another tel-op slide (featuring an image of what used to be called the "Merle Hay Plaza"), and a photo of the Plaza on its last day of operation in 1987!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Commercial Popper Catalog, 1929

So the story goes, Myron "Mike" Blank (son of A.H. Blank and the final Blank to run Central States) came up with the notion that popcorn might sell at the movies. That notion paid off, and by the 1920's, popcorn had replaced peanuts as the mainstay of concession food.

Iowa was a natural location for popcorn promotion, and by 1929, National Sales and Manufacturing offered a number of poppers for commercial use, as can be seen in this catalog. (In the very back: one lone peanut roaster for the luddite exhibitors of the movie world!)

I'll post more scans from the catalog in the future--meantime, click on the pix for a bigger view, and enjoy the text (especially the prices in the testimonials!)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Urban in the Suburbs

At 6817 Douglas was the Urban Theater, in--where else?--Urbandale. It's been more difficult to find concrete information about this locale--it appears to have opened around 1952, but I never did find out when it closed as a theater. The location has operated as a dance and gymnastics studio for at least a couple of decades--this photo from 1986 still shows traces of the Moderne style it was built in, with glass bricking on the left, and the unused one-sheet frame on the right. Nowadays, the fa├žade looks very different--the makeover has placed a cloth or plastic awning where the marquee once was. (If anybody has more info on the Urban--which supposedly also ran as the Bijou at some point--I'd be grateful.)

Free passes to the Capitol D.I.!

Mildewed, torn, and probably unnecessary at this point, here are two free passes to the Capitol Drive-in! Just load up your car, head north to NE 14th and Broadway, hang a quick left, and drive on in. Unfortunately, the only movie you're likely to see is a frame or two of the Coming Attractions trailer, if you poke around the bushes long enough. (Come to think of it, even these passes won't get you in...they haven't been signed by the manager! Give Lloyd Hirstine or Jack Shriner a jingle and see if they can set you up...)

Mrs. Jordan, Silent Picture Accompanist

No photo today, but instead a story:

Caroline Jordan was a very pretty and nice old widow on my paper route, back in the mid-1970s. She lived in a house on University Avenue, across from and less than half a block east from the Capri Theater. I saw her every 2 weeks for collection, and sometimes more than that in winter, when I would shovel her walks, porch, and driveway. Sometimes I would stay and we would chat.

As it turns out, she was quite the piano player. We sat down at the keyboards and traded songs for a while, and I mentioned how impressive she was, wondering if she had ever played professionally. And, she replied, she had.

"I used to accompany the silent pictures in movie theaters," she said. "I knew all the themes, and could switch from one to another very quickly, depending on what was going on on the screen--there was a fast piece I played for the chase scenes, a melancholy piece for the sad scenes..."

This was during my film-collecting days (the Blackhawk catalog and Film Collector's World were my reading staples), so I was intrigued--but this was about a decade before my Lost Cinemas obsession took hold, so I didn't think to ask her where it was that she played as an accompanist. My guess would be one of the many downtown theatres, since most of the "nabes" didn't pop up until the sound era came in. Unless someone remembers her and tells me what they know, I can only guess where she played, as I'm sure she is long since gone.

(There was another Lost Cinemas widow on my paper route--in fact, she lived literally just around the corner from us at 39th and University, but didn't subscribe to the paper, so I didn't get to know her: she was the widow of either Elbert or Getchell, the two fellows that launched the Nickeldome and the Princess, among several others. You never know what interesting people there might be in your neighborhood...)