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.


Joe Henry said...

I worked at the Jerry Lewis Cinema when it first opened and really enjoyed the whole experience. It was fun and we did get alot of southsiders. Our only problem was location. Had we been on Army Post Road or SW 9th at the time, the life of the theatre would have last much longer. -- Joe Henry (still a Southsider)

Janet said...

SE 14th & Indianola Road has a shopping strip on one corner... a gas station was recently torn down on another... Flower-Rama on one... and on the other - you won't believe it... "Mr. Egg Roll," a Chinese restaurant, the former home of my dad's short-lived "Pie Eyed Pies" experiment!! LOL