Saturday, November 28, 2009

Jerry Lewis Goes South

Here's an obscure one, due to its very short life: the Jerry Lewis Cinema 1 and 2, deep in S.E. 14th territory. The above article comes from the Carlise Citizen, November 16, 1972.

The idea behind this chain was "If you can push a button, you can run a Jerry Lewis Cinema!" These somewhat prefab mall-box theatres were designed to be plopped down into any local shopping center, and to require only 2 employees to operate it: a ticket taker, and a concessions person-slash-projectionist (aka, button-pusher). The films arrive weekly, the overhead is low, and local entrepreneurs make big profits for themselves and Jerry. How could you lose, right?

But lose they did, across the country. The reasons were manifold: the likeness of Jerry himself was a turnoff. The prefab machinery tended to break down, with no one in the vicinity to effect repairs. And, perhaps worst of all, programming was in short supply. Jerry's idea was to reintroduce the concept of the family-friendly theatre in an era already drowning in R's and X's. The problem: hardly anybody was producing the stuff. The G rating was even beginning to be seen as a liability--if it's General, it's super watered down for kiddies only, rather than the general concept of "family"--"something for everyone".

Mr. Tony Magnani was the proprietor of Des Moines' entry into the franchise, and sadly, I don't think it lasted more than a couple of years. I recall seeing a rerelease of "Scrooge" there one winter, but I don't recall any details whatsoever of the theatre itself, and have no idea of what now stands at S.E. 14th and Indianola Road. (Readers, rescue me here!)

In a way, the failure of Lewis' automated-film-box franchise is ironic--considering that it is practically the model of most multiplex operations today.

For a fuller treatise on the Jerry Lewis Cinemas franchise story, check out this excellent Cinelog article here.

Rudy at the Amuz-U in the 40s

Courtesy of his son John Elman, here is Rudy Elman manning the main portal of the Amuzu sometime in the 1940s.

Astute Cines fans know that the senior John Elman opened the Amuzu in 1913 and turned it over to Rudy later on. Rudy also received former rival theater The Star (situated just west across the alley) as a wedding present--The Star was operated for a time by A.H. Blank as part of his early his theatre empire.

John Elman of today tells us to look carefully at the tiling beneath Rudy's feet, and you will see the theatre's name spelt out in its alternate, hyphenated variation: "AMUZ-U". (John also tells us that it didn't strike him until years later that the name was a pun on "Amuse You"! His wife happened to point this out to him...)

A Funny Thing Happened, By The Way, To The Forum IV

...what happened is, of course, that it is now the Hobby Lobby, in what I still think of as the Ardan's Plaza, right next to Merle Hay.

As far as Lost Cinemas go, it ain't much--I don't even have the exact dates when this was opened and closed, though I think it's safe to say Sometime In The 70s to Sometime In The 90s. This was typical of the boxy, nondescript mall multiplexes that began to plague the scene after the Golden Era ended.

This telop slide design suggests there was something ornate and Roman about the Forum's architecture--but tain't so. About the only thing it had in common with ancient Rome is--it fell!

The Des Moines, 1943

Crowds line up for the war feature "Bataan", which places this photo in 1943. You'll notice the marquee is of the same style seen 2 years later--and 2 weeks prior to the war ending--during the world premiere of "State Fair" at this theatre and the Paramount.

This photo comes courtesy of Lost Cines reader Craig McCue, who is currently authoring an Arcadia book for the West Des Moines Historical Society. (Let us know when that hits print, Craig!)

Hmmm, are those sailors standing in line? And if so...are they real, or for publicity?

Film Progress Update!

Greetings once again to all you patient people out there!

It's admittedly been a long time since I've added to the blog--this isn't due to a lack of interest in the Lost Cinemas--but rather, because I've been working very hard to finish the documentary film of the same name. Whereas this kind of project normally has things like a budget, a set amount of time, and an army of people to work on it--it's been pretty much just me.

When I set out to make this film, I imagined it as being about 22 minutes long, and able to fit nicely into a commercial half-hour TV slot. Upon putting together the rough cut about a month ago, the running time came out to around 44 minutes! (Double your pleasure!) And it didn't feel overlong. Even so, I've been trimming whatever draggy spots and irrelevancies that might make anybody but me bored--and it's just getting better. There's been much work done to animate photos and clean up film--especially since there's so little actual film in the first place. Lots and lots of digital cutting up, layering, animating, and re-dirtying it all to make it gel together!

I've had some wonderful surprises on the way--Cal Bierman and his gang at KRNT Radio provided some smack-on voice over work you'll hear in 3 of the mini-films that pop up throughout the narrative. They did a fantastic job at capturing the period feel of the old spot announcers, trailer voices, and radio columnists.

There are only a handful of missing pieces, which I am actively trying to round up. Several scraps of film showing the late great A.H. Blank receiving his "Exhibitor of the Year" award in the early 50s have finally been located, and I should be able to use them to complete the Blank minifilm in the very near future. And I am hoping that some of my friends back home may be able to locate photos of the Eastown-slash-1536, as well as the eastside's Grand Theatre (preferably with that deadly trolley mashing through its doors).

But what's already there, I think, will be tremendously exciting for those of you who love the old theaters: the Paramount stage shows, the Berchel and the President in all their glory and decay, various fires [reconstructed] that downed their houses, and of course the grand and terrible destruction of the Paramount itself, reanimated from Jerry Tormey's incredible SLR photos.

When can you see it?

Here's my rough itinerary for 2010:
1. Getting the rough cut finer-tuned and mixed.
2. Preliminary panel screening of the rough cut, followed by the final fine-tuning and mix.
3. Los Angeles screenings and entries into festivals--which ones and where are all TBD.
4. Des Moines screenings--once again, locations TBD. Both the Varsity Theatre and the Historical Society have both shown strong interest in screening it, and, legalities willing, perhaps there can be some sort of broadcast showings--most likely cable or public TV.
5. I'm hoping to preserve this as some sort of DVD release, with the requisite bonus materials. There are stories and footage I simply couldn't include because of pace and relevance--such as more State Fair premiere footage than any run time would bear, and tales of vaudeville antics that fell just a little too far out of the realm of the cinema world. Hopefully I can raise the funds to cover licensing for this extra material--most of which has never been seen anywhere.

So--as I cut away and polish things up--won't you please take one more look through your scrapbooks and photo albums just in case you missed finding anything that might fit this film? I won't mind at all doing some last minute recuts and rerecords if you have something really exciting! Let's get it all in if we can!

Once again, thanks for your endless patience with "Lost Cinemas"--2010 should be the best year ever as the main event finally hits the screens!

Best holiday wishes to all!