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At the time TRON was released I was working at the Greens Corner Cinema where we had a Dolby 35MM print. The game room next door did more business with their TRON video game that we did with the movie, especially after the first week. I remember that it opened at the same time as the Secret Of NIMH. That one was the creation of the animators who had left Disney and formed their own company, but to the public it looked like a Disney. All day, parents would come up to the box office with their children in tow and ask for tickets to “the Disney movie”. Of course they meant NIMH as opposed TRON which based on the poster did not look like any Disney movie they saw when they were children. At that theatre at least, NIMH was a much bigger draw.
Atlanta did not get a 70MM release. The Phipps Plaza Twin #2 and the Tara #2 were among the very few 70MM theatres in Atlanta that retained 70MM ability after the twinning. Other 70MM locations, like the Rhoades were out of the first run business by then or closed down. TRON opened at several locations around Atlanta, but the central booking was at the Lenox Square Theatre. At one time, Lenox had a 70MM set up second only to the original Phipps, but in 1978 the 660 seat auditorium was divided into two 320 seaters. Although the Century 70MM projectors were still used, the screens were pathetically small and no 70MM was ever attempted on them.
In 1984, the Lenox was completely reorganized and the wall came down and a 500 seat auditorium was created. 70MM was restored, and Top Gun, Die Hard and Aliens were among the 70MM offerings there.
As Michael mentioned in his article, TRON did play in 70MM later that year in some of the neglected markets. In Atlanta this occurred at the Phipps Plaza in October. Two week run, very little business. It was preceded by a 70MM run of Deliverance. Again, not much business but they both looked impressive in 70.
Winterset, Iowa is a must for any movie buff. The romantics can swoon over the covered bridges, while the rest of us can spend all day at the John Wayne Museum and birthplace. Something for everyone in such a small place, and less than two hours from the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, and the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake. Vist in August and you are only 30 miles from the Iowa State Fair, the genuine “State Fair”.
There is also an Iowa Theatre (though not the same on as in the above picture) on the town square.
I saw CE3K opening week at the Phipps Plaza Penthouse in Atlanta. 35MM only since the Penthouse did not have 70MM equipment. This was the first film to use the new Dolby system here, and my first impression was that it was too loud. Too many people confuse volume with effect and do not think that they are getting their stereo effect unless they leave the theatre with their ears ringing. In the late summer of 1978, the Fox Theatre in Atlanta added CE to the end of their summer movie schedule. The Fox did not have Dolby then, but I went to see it because they had a 70MM print that would use the 6 track mag sound system that was there. There was a huge crowd, but two of the reels were in terrible shape and there were half a dozen film breaks in that section.
As for the movie, I enjoyed it and thought that it was a good, well made movie, but a little long is some sections. It has never been on any all time favorite list of mine. My favorite scene is when Richard Dreyfus wrecks his car on the way to Devils Tower. As the camera follows him as he climbs up the embankment to look around, you get your first glimpse of the Tower at the edge of the screen. This subtle effect is completely wasted on the millions of people who have seen the movie P&S on TV as the Tower is cropped off. In 1981, or whenever it came out, I was working in a theatre that ran the SE version. I thought the changes made the first version look like a masterpiece, but it did great business for a couple of weeks.
As for my theatre employee experiences with CE3K, I have two. In 1996 I was working the projection booth at the Fox, and one of the Summer Film Series bookings was an all day Spielberg festival of Jaws, Raiders, and at 8 PM, CE3K. Some people were there all day, and by 8 there were enough people to fill about three fourths of the 4500 Fox seats. Those of you who worked in theatres in the early days of Dolby might recall that the early Dolby features were released in two different versions, some with Dolby soundtracks, and the rest with mono soundtracks. As our bad luck would have it, the Jaws and Raiders prints had been struck recently, but not only was the CE print an original from 1977, it was mono as well. It was in good condition, but sounded terrible.
My other memory dates back only to March, 2006. In the early 70’s I worked at the Atlanta Theatre, which at the time was operated by Walter Reade Org. All I ever heard about from the managers and other company people who came to town from New York was what a great theatre the Ziegfeld was. I always wanted to see a movie there to see just how the theatre measured up to its reputation. When the Ziegfeld put on its Cinema Classics series I made a day trip to NY and caught an afternoon showing of CE. The theatre was nice, but I would have been much more impressed in 1971 when I was new to the business. The presentation was just fair. No 70MM, but 35MM Dolby. The movie was the third edition, which I believe is also the directors cut.
As do most people, I thought the SE version was a joke, and liked the original version best, although both the first or third versions are fine.
This is the link for the Moonlit page on the drive-ins.com website. Contains 6 good pictures. The comment section on this site is not up at this time, but one of the comments that had been posted said that the Moonlit operated into the 80’s which would put it well into the Salem Gate days. I know that it was still in operation during the late 70’s. Despite being located along the I-20 access road, from the dirt field itself you certainly had the feeling of being well out into the country.
Inside the can containing the Enchanted prints was a card explaining the opening so that the projectionist would not get confused trying to decide if Enchanted was flat or scope. The instructions were very explicit that the entire movie, including the opening, was to be run as scope. It specifically stated that the masking was to be set at the scope setting and that the sides of the first few minutes would be dark until the image expanded. This may be the effect they wanted, but more likely they did not want to leave it to the projectionist, assuming that there was one, to open the masking or curtain on cue.
Dennis has posted this photo of an ad from the AJC from the spring of 1963. On the right hand side is the drive in ladder where 15 of Atlanta’s drive ins representing several companies listed their attractions. The ad for the “Twin Starlight” is at the bottom. The North is playing “The Slave” and “Cairo”. The South has a triple feature of “Beast of Paradise Isle”, “Beast From Haunted Cave”, and “Beast With A Million Eyes”. Pretty standard drive in fare for those days.
Booth was equipped with Norelco 35/70MM projectors. These had the variable speed motors which allowed the 70MM version of “Oklahoma” to be run in its required 30 frames per second speed rather than the normal 24 frames per second. I do not know if it was ever run here, probably not, but the operator was known to run the moives at the 30 frame speed if he wanted to go home early.
During its final years it was operated by Georgia Theatre Company and was managed by Mr. Earnest Crowe, a former manager of the Martin Cinerama downtown. This was a pick up for GTC and did not have a house for the manager on site as was their usual custom.
You could get a nice overhead view of the Thunderbird when taking off to the east or landing to the west, although this proximity to the Atlanta airport probably did not do much for the moviegoing experience.
Like the Merchants Walk, Hairston, and Parkside, this location was closed down when GCC declared bankruptcy, which allowed them to break the lease. I am no lawyer, but apparently when you do that you have to just walk away and leave everything behind. Usually, when a theatre is closed, it is stripped bare, in part to either sell or store the furnishings, but more importantly to discourage the competition from coming in and reopening the site. As a result of the bankruptcy, instead of being stripped the theatres were left in operating condition, allowing the landlord the chance to market them as a turnkey operation which relieved the next operator the heavy upfront expense of equipping a theatre.
Of course “operating condition” is a relative term. I saw the Parkside after both EFW and Madstone shut down and walked out in the middle of their leases, and both times a lot of work was required to get the place in shape.
I do not know the condition of this place, but one encouraging factor is that it has not been reopened as a theatre since GCC shut down. GCC, for the most part, was honorable in the way they left the places intact. Unless the landlord has removed the equipment and furnishings it is probably in pretty good condition for a reopening, taking into account the fact that it has been closed for 7 years. Booth equipment especially has to be treated carefully when being started up after such a long shutdown.
I doubt if this is a viable location anymore. Georgia Theatre Company reopened the old United Artists 12 across the mall parking lot but I gather from the information on this site that it is now closed again. GTC also operates the Venture Mall 12 across Plesantdale Road as a dollar house. Although it had its moments, this theatre was never a blockbuster of a location. It did well given the right movie, but for the most part business was just OK. When AMC opened the Colonial 18 in Lawrenceville, the GP6 business suffered a noticeable drop. With the Discover Mills 18 having since opened up just up I-85, and a 12plex dollar house across the street, that makes 36 first run and 12 second run screens in the area.
Scott: I am not aware of any other raids on the Gay Paree. The Glen Art Theatre had long engagements of both Deep Throat and The Devil In Miss Jones but was never raided. In that case, the fine print in the ad indicated that they were showing the “Optically Edited” versions. I was told that meant that the XXX parts of the scenes were covered by black dots and strips, a la the fight scene in Borat, or were smeared like you will find in some airline prints these days. It could be that is the type of fare the Gay Paree showed, or perhaps there was not enough publicity to be gained by a raid unless is was showing something high profile like Deep Throat.
Ed and Ken: Thanks for the kind words. I know very few people in the Atlanta area read this site, but your comments encouraged me to post comments on the Peachtree Art and the Fox. One paragraph of the Fox post might interest you:
Another event during this summer of 1973 was the first and perhaps only time the Fox hosted the Atlanta Film Festival. This was a short lived effort during the 70’s that is notable here only because there was quite a bit of attention paid to it since it had been announced that “The Last Tango In Paris” would open the festival. Not a big deal you would think except for one small detail. This is hard to believe now, but although the film had been in release around the country for weeks if not months, it had yet to play in Atlanta. This was because the Fulton County Solicitor General, Hinson McAuliffe, had made a name for himself, and attracted a lot of free publicity, by raiding theatres playing adult movies. He usually left the hardcore 16MM stuff alone but never hesitated to go after higher profile targets such as the Andy Warhol movie “Lonesome Cowboys”, “Oh Calcutta'‘, and later "Story of O’‘ and "Flesh Gordon”, and quite a number of managers and projectionists who were not exactly threats to the public were carted off to jail. McAuliffe had already vowed, in advance, to raid any theatre which dared expose the good people of Fulton County to such filth. A lot of us were waiting to see if the Fox Theatre, of all places, would get busted for daring to run Tango. As it worked out, the Fox declined to get involved and it was announced that Tango would open the festival at a different location. However, McAuliffe was hot on the trail, and the movie never played, or if it did, not to the public.
Another recent Rave theatre built about 5 or so years ago. It is located on a satellite parcel next to the big Galleria Mall at the usually gridlocked intersection of I-459 / US 31 / AL 150. Nothing unusual about the theatre or its setting as it looks just like 98% of big mall developments across the country. It was one of the first area theatres to offer digital projection and I hear that Rave is converting all of their theatres to digital and removing the film projectors completely.
When the last Star Wars movie opened I heard of a good number of people making the trip from Atlanta to Hoover since this was the closest place to offer a digital showing.
Although it has a Kentucky Avenue address, this theatre is part of a major retail development located on US 31 in the middle of Vestavia Hills which is a small suburban city just south of the Birmingham city limits. In the mid 60’s this vacant piece of land was cleared and a sort of hybrid shopping center / mall was built with a Sears and Parisians as anchors. In the mid 90’s the center was demolished and this large, glitzy, town square type development built in its place.
As for the theatre, nothing special about it. Typical Rave looking venue with lots of lights and an amusement park atmosphere. Not my kind of place to see a movie, but I am obviously in the minority as most of these Rave, Regal, AMC theatres built in the last 10 years are very popular. Actually, 10 screens seems kind of cozy these days. A few miles down 31 Rave has a 15 screen theatre next to the Galleria Mall in Hoover.
This is a long post on the final years of the Fox as a regular movie theatre, and the summer film festivals and was prompted by Jack being kind enough to place the above photo link on his Flickr site. If your Fox interest is the in early years, “Save The Fox”, or plays and concerts then you will probably find it dull.
I doubt if any one person, even Joe Patten, knows every bit of Fox history, but there are dozens if not hundreds of us who know the details of very small slices of the lifetime of this great venue. Yes, I do think that it is a great place, and a treasure as well, but in all honesty I never thought that the Fox was a very good place to actually see a movie. The trouble is that the Fox is a hybrid. Not really built as a theatre, either film or legit, it serves adequately for both, but not as well as it could if it had been built with either one in mind. The keystone deflection caused by the angle of the projectors is noticeable, and the sound bouncing off of the plaster walls pretty hollow. I have always thought that it is the look, feel, and atmosphere of the place that makes it great. Even though movie purists (of which I am not one) do not approve, the organ concert before the movie is enjoyable as well. The sing-a-long, less so to me at least, but lets face it, these days most people come to movie nights at the Fox for the experience. The movie is often secondary.
As for the small bit of Fox history that I am somewhat familiar with, it starts in 1967 when my family moved to Atlanta. The feature at that time was “The Dirty Dozen”. This list of bookings with the length of the run in weeks in ( ) will give you an idea of what the Fox was up against business wise as it entered the final years of its life as a movie theatre:
El Dorado (3)
Two For The Road (3)
Who’s Minding The Mint (2)
Waterhole #3 (2)
Point Blank (4)
Valley of the Dolls (8) – Christmas feature
Good, Bad, Ugly (2)
Happiest Millionaire (3)
Will Penny (1)
Doctor Zhivago (1)
Blackbeards Ghost (3)
“Doctor Zhivago”, one of my all time favorite films which over the years must have played in almost every movie theatre in Atlanta, was among the first movies I saw here. Little could I have imagined that 28 years later I would be running it from the projection booth for a sold out house. I also remember seeing “Blackbeards Ghost” here on a Saturday night, made memorable only because it was the first time that I saw and heard the organ used, this time just as a filler between shows. I also remember my mother telling me about how she attended movies here during the 30’s and 40’s when the place was full and she had to stand behind the wall located behind the last row of seats. Quite a change from that sparsely attended night. Next came:
Sweet November (3)
Stranger In Town (2)
Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (2)
Family Band (2)
Sweet Ride (4)
Green Berets (4)
For “Green Berets” it was the World Premiere since the movie was filmed at Forts Benning and Rucker. John Wayne was on hand and since the date was July 4th, he was the Grand Marshall of the WSB Independence Day Parade that year.
Where Were You When The Lights Went Out? (2)
Never A Dull Moment (2)
With Six You Get Eggroll (3)
Prudence and the Pill (4)
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (2)
I Love You Alice B.Toklas (3)
Lady In Cement (3)
Horse In The Gray Flannel Suit (3) Christmas 1968
Impossible Years (3)
Angel In My Pocket (2)
Stalking Moon (3)
Wrecking Crew (2)
African Safari (2)
Swiss Family Robinson (2)
Doctor Zhivago (1)
Hard Contact (2)
The Longest Day (2)
True Grit (5)
“The Longest Day” which was a booking for the 25th Anniversary of D-Day was a special event for me in that it was the first time that I was allowed to attend a movie here alone. I rode the bus downtown, watched the afternoon show, and then had the treat of watching it again since my father met me after work and watched it with me. I also saw “True Grit” here. My mother and I met my father downtown and since we arrived early, we sat on the steps to the balcony, which was closed on that Friday night. This was the first time that I noticed a problem with the Fox as a movie theatre. The lobby crowd, when there was one could hear the movie almost as well as those inside, and the noise from the lobby would carry into the auditorium.
The Chairman (1)
Once Upon A Time In The West (3)
Italian Job (2)
Bullitt / Bonnie and Clyde (2)
Rain People (2)
Butch Cassidy (7) m/o from Loews Grand (I think)
The Rievers (4)
101 Dalmatians (5)
The Only Game In Town (1)
Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (3)
In Search of the Castaways (3)
Kremlin Letter (1)
Ballard of Cable Hogue (1)
Butch Cassidy (2)
How The West Was Won (3)
Charlie Brown (4)
Kelly’s Heroes (5)
Jungle Book / Love Bug (2)
Son of Flubber (1)
Monte Walsh (4)
Dirty Dingus McGee (3)
Aristocats (4) Christmas 1970
Wuthering Heights (4)
Wild Country (4)
My Fair Lady (1)
Barefoot Executive (3)
Vanishing Point (3)
Racing Scene (1)
Escape From The Planet of the Apes (3)
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (2)
Million Dollar Duck (2)
Tom Sawyer (1) (not the musical)
Sand Pebbles (1)
Young Love Is A Melody (1)
Joy In The Morning (1)
Believe In Me (2)
The Late Liz (2)
Jesse James (2)
“Macbeth” ran for one night only, November 4, 1971, and someone did an excellent job promoting it. It was probably a rental, and was an old version with Maurice Evans and Dame Judith Anderson. For weeks before, the schools had been deluged with promotional materials and group discount ticket sales. I was an attendee, and the place was packed, although with so many teenagers present there was not much movie watching going on as it turned into one big party. As you might expect, the Varsity was packed before the show and the Krispy Kreame likewise afterwards.
Stars In My Crown (1)
Something Big (4)
Vanishing Point (1)
Lady And The Tramp (3) Christmas 1971
Peter Rabbit And Beatrix Potter (1)
Song of the South (5)
The Cowboys (8)
Even a brief glance at this long list makes it obvious what the booking pattern was. Lots of Walt Disney, John Wayne, and adult appeal movies that could still be viewed by the whole family. Very few “R"s. Also, very short runs. Georgia Theatre Company owned the Fox, but it was operated under a management contract by ABC Southeastern Entertainment, which also operated the downtown Roxy, the Phipps Plaza, and the Alabama and Ritz in downtown Birmingham. Although the Phipps had some long runs, the policy for these huge downtown theatres was family or acceptable adult movies turned over every two or three weeks. Given their large capacities, anyone who would be willing to go downtown for the movie could be accommodated at any time and after a couple of weeks, the feature would move to the intermediate houses in the suburbs where the rest of its audience awaited it. The longest run for any of these movies was "The Cowboys”. I do not know which one did the most business overall, but the one day record had to have been held by “Song of the South”. This was its last re-release before being banned, and although I had never heard of it, plenty of people had. On its opening weekend Atlanta was hit with a constant, heavy rain. This is a boon to theatre owners but a curse on the employees who actually ran the theatres as everybody always looks for something to do to get away from the house and such close proximity to the rest of the family. On the opening Saturday, every one of the 4600 Fox seats was full for the afternoon shows, and the two night shows did well also.
This pattern continued until the summer of 1973 when things started to change. The features that summer will tell the story. After a very successful run of “Worlds Greatest Athlete”, the features were:
Song of the South / Arisocats (2)
Friends of Eddie Coyle (2)
Slaughter’s Big Ripoff (3)
Cahill: U.S. Marshall (2)
That Same Summer (1)
“That Same Summer” was nothing but a filler booking of the previous years Broadview Plaza hit “Red Sky At Morning” re-released under a different title. As you can see there was a changing of the guard here as the next three bookings were:
Detroit 9000 (4)
Super Fly / 5 Fingers of Death (1)
7 Blows of the Dragon (3)
At this time I was working as a doorman across the street at the Atlanta Theatre, and many of the employees of the Fox, Atlanta, Baronet, and Coronet, at least knew each other, and would sometimes meet for a midnight breakfast at the Huddle House next to the Atlanta. Afterwards, we would go to the makeshift firing range someone had set up in the old coal bunkers of the Fox basement and blast away. Many nights I would go home with my ears ringing and covered with a fine layer of coal dust shaken loose after all of those years by the concussions.
As for the picture in the link, it was taken on January 10, 1975. As everyone knows, the place had just closed. Mike Spirtos, one of the nicest managers I have ever had the pleasure of working with had invited everyone to hang around after the last show on the 2nd and enjoy their last visit. Mike moved up Peachtree to manage the Phipps Plaza, and the Fox sat empty. By this time I was managing the South DeKalb Theatre for Georgia Theatre Company which meant that every Monday morning would find me at the Fox to attend the managers meeting at the Georgia Theatre Company offices located in what is now the Grand Salon. Although rather cold sounding, that quote posted above from E.E. Whitaker, the GTC GM, was accurate. The Fox was no where close to breaking even. I was told that during the final years it was only the office rent that GTC paid to itself that kept the place open. For those of you who think E.E. was being too much the hard core businessman on this subject, you can take comfort in knowing that his office, where our meetings were held, is now Joe Patten’s living room.
I took this picture not as a reminder of the days when the Fox was closed, but because I expected the place to be torn down soon. There are a lot of people, some on this page that know the “Save The Fox” story a lot better than I do, so I will not get into that. I will just say that I was told that GTC just wanted a clean sale transaction and did not want to get involved with any non profit group who might start to buy the place but would then have trouble coming up with the money. That could have tied the sale up for years. The contract with Southern Bell specified that the property be delivered as a clean piece of dirt, or words to that effect. Southern Bell certainly did not want to take the PR hit for tearing the Fox down, something GTC was willing to absorb in order to close a quick sale. Again, all of this is just what I was told. I have no first hand knowledge. I do not believe that GTC wanted the Fox destroyed out of fear of competition, something that I have heard people say. If that had been the case, they would have been running it themselves all of those years.
Although not afraid of Fox competition, apparently GTC did not want anyone to get any ideas along those lines. Once more, the story I was told was that the booth equipment was removed as required by the contract. If this was true then someone left a giant loophole since nothing was said about running movies with other equipment. Maybe no one thought that it was economically feasible and left it at that. Regardless, as everyone knows, the Loews Grand just happened to catch fire about the time Georgia Pacific expressed interest in building their new tower on the site. Since only the entrance and not the auditorium was damaged, the booth equipment and screen made the journey from 157 to 660 Peachtree. Years later, the Fox also bought the projection equipment from the Atlanta Theatre when it closed for good.
When the Fox returned to the movie business I was there for the first one, Ben-Hur in 70MM, Monday, July 17,1978. 7:30 showtime, $2.50 ticket. My mother was with me to enjoy the floating focus and the beautiful stained screen. We ran into Tommy Young, the manager of the Stonemont there. He had worked at the Fox for several years as an usher and crew chief for ABC, and later at the Phipps as Assistant Manager. Tommy spent an hour standing in line at the popcorn cart waiting for some of that popcorn “popped using an old recipe found in the files in the Fox basement.” At this time the condition of the theatre was still pretty shabby and the old concession stand was still in its place in the center of the lobby. Some other memories from that year: 70MM presentations of Patton, That’s Entertainment, Close Encounters, and Around The World in 80 Days, in 35MM instead of the advertised 70MM and my only viewing ever of this film. The summer series was so successful that a fall series was run that year which allowed me to view 70MM showings of The Alamo, and Lawrence of Arabia.
The next year saw a great improvement in the quality of the presentation and a new screen to show 70MM viewings of My Fair Lady, Camelot, Paint Your Wagon, Oliver, and Sound of Music, topped off by a 35MM show of North By Northwest, my first ever viewing of this great film. 1980 had 70MM showings of 2001, Hello Dolly, and Doctor Zhivago, plus a 35MM West Side Story, which was quite a change from my previous viewing of it 9 years earlier at the Candler Road Mini Cinema complete with intermission inserted at the reel change right in the middle of the rumble.
I do not recall any 1981 Fox movies, but 1982 started off with Ben-Hur again. My date was unimpressed with the 70MM despite my efforts to explain it. She said that the picture was too good since it showed up the models of the ships and men used in the sea battle so well that you could tell that they were not real. Next was a repeat of That’s Entertainment also 70MM as were Raiders of the Lost Ark, My Fair Lady (again), Camelot (again), and Oliver (again). After that the number of old movies and 70MM started to decline although GWTW could always be counted on to bring in a full house. More recent movies started to appear and finally the ‘'family’‘ aspect was dropped. Can’t have a family film festival with movies like Saturday Night Fever, Sin City, and 300 on the schedule.
It was during this period that many rumors made the rounds that the Fox would get back into the regular movie business on a part time basis. This was probably just wishful thinking, but people who claimed to be ‘'in the know’‘ were saying that the Empire or Jedi chapters of Star Wars, or the second and third Raiders might open for a two week exclusive at the Fox in 70MM before going wide. Since the film series proved that people would come downtown to see a movie at the Fox, it was not too much of a stretch to imagine what the Fox or Peachtree Street would look like if something like this came to pass. It never did of course, probably because it is almost impossible to find two consecutive weeks where the Fox is not booked with something, and more likely the film companies do not care to alienate the big megaplex operators by draining off the Atlanta audience for a film before they even got it. Still it is easy to believe that this type of booking would be a success. For the past few years, the summer film series has ended with two or three of the hit movies from earlier in that very summer, usually the ones that opened in May. Despite having worked their way down the hall to the smallest theatre in the local megaplex, or even moved on to the dollar houses, these films still draw capacity crowds as evidenced by some of the comments above.
One movie in particular that sticks in my mind is Evita. Since it had been a Christmas release, and may even have been out on video by then, it was expected to be just another solid performer in the series. At about 7:55 PM, after the organ recital, the sing-along, the cartoon, even after the “Sunrise / Sunset”, and just as the previews were about to end, the phone rang with instructions to raise the house lights and stop the show between the last preview and the “Feature Presentation”, an almost unheard of event. The reason: The line to buy tickets was still extended around the corner and down Ponce de Leon. About five minutes later came word to roll the film since the “Sold Out” sign had been put up.
My fondest memories of movies at the Fox are centered around the summer of 1996. Since the Fox only ran a dozen or so movies a year, the projectionist was hired only on an as needed basis, although they were lucky enough to get a highly qualified man who is still running the booth to this day, 30 years later. Of course he had a regular job as well which was no problem until the Fox decided to put on an Olympic film festival. Since this would be more than one person working all out could handle, and since I was available, I ended up practically living at the Fox for a good part of that summer. My main memory of that summer involved the week before and the week following the Olympics. Pre Olympic week called for 22 different movies in 7 days, usually one at 2PM and another at 8. On some days we ran all day events such at the Spielberg festival with Jaws, Raiders, and Close Encounters. On the final Saturday we ran Toy Story at 10AM, followed by a James Bond double feature and topped off with a 70MM showing of 2001 at night. That was also the week that the print of King Kong arrived the day before its showing, but it was the Jessica Lange version instead of the advertised Fay Wray version. The proper version was located and made it to the theatre three hours before showtime.
After the Olympics were over, the schedule called for 24 movies in 8 days. Since some of these movies, like Sound of Music, Zhivago, Ben-Hur, and GWTW were equal to two movies, my main memories of both of those weeks center around standing for hours at the make up table inspecting and building up print after print. There was hardly room in the booth for all of the film and cans. We also played Lawrence in 70MM. I never saw much of the shows since whenever a movie was playing I was breaking down the last one and loading the next one. The Fox had installed a platter by this time which was too bad since it would have been much easier to run everything reel to reel to say nothing of the pleasure of doing it the old way. Unfortunately, the one thing that we did do the old way was show the slides for the sing-along using the last bit of 1929 equipment in the booth, a Brenograph, double carbon arc lamphouse, alternating slide projector. Running this thing where you had to manually drop and remove the heavy glass slides into the carriage and crank the handle to alternate the slides, all the while listening to the organ so you would know when to change, was by far the most stressful part of the show. If you ever dropped one or got out of sync, you were finished, as was the sing-along.
It was a great summer. I think I put in about 120 hours per week for those two weeks and enjoyed 99% of them. The Fox was much more fun to work in when you ran grind instead of once a week since you did not have to set up and then secure the projector area each night. I remember working several shows in 1997, and a couple in 1998. The last movie I remember running there was L.A. Confidential. At the time it was hard and sometimes hectic work, but looking back on it ,it was for the most part very enjoyable, as was running the booth for the Opera all of those years.
With the opera gone, and the digital projector in place, I can safely place my Fox days in the past history file, but I will always have fond memories of working there to say nothing of the ten cent coffee machine.
The Walt Disney movie “Herbie Rides Again” opens with a series of implosions of old buildings during the titles. One of those is the Henry Grady / Roxy.
The Roxy auditorium shared a wall with the old Capitol which, as mentioned above was later taken over by the Davison’s department store. Since that was the extent of the demolition, about a third of the auditorium was not part of the implosion, but was removed by machine over the course of the next couple of months. inside this shell, some drapes, seats, and part of the balcony were visible, especially to those of us who rode the bus by the site.
I remember seeing “Viva Max”, “The Parent Trap” (reissue), and a Richard Brooks double feature of “The Professionals” and “In Cold Blood” here. In addition to “Willard”, I seem to recall that the first run engagement of “Bullitt” was here, and in the spring of 1970, the first run of “Z”. During its final weeks it played such epics as “The Thing With Two Heads”, with Rosey Grier and Ray Milland (as in Academy Award Winner: Ray Milland), “Big Bird Cage”, and “Caged Heat”. On opening day of “Caged Heat” they had some models in very skimpy prison outfits handing out flyers on the sidewalk in front of the box-office. Showmanship at its best, right up til the end.
For some reason, I have never noticed this page before, and only happened upon it while writing a comment for the 10th Street trying to sort out the identities of the four different theatres that were located along this four block section of Peachtree. I have little to add to the Peachtree Art part of this theatre’s history as I never attended a movie here during that time. One show that I did want to see was “Oh What A Lovely War”, but in those days I was not about to come down to this part of town, especially at night.
Starting in 1967, the section of Peachtree Street between 8th and 14th became the center of what would become known as the hippie, peacenik, Woodstock, (fill in your own favorite adjective here) scene. This lasted for about three or four years, and at night the area was gridlocked as thousands of people converged on the area surrounded by Peachtree, Piedmont, 8th and 14th to either participate or sightsee. By 1970, the fad was starting to fade away and the strip turned into a crime and drug infested dump, for lack of a better word. I observed this first hand as during those days I was riding the old Atlanta Transit Company busses through here twice a day while going to Georgia State.
It was during this time that the Peachtree Art closed, leaving the 10th Street Art and the Metro Art, both soft core porno houses as the only theatres in the area. The closest mainstream theatre was the Fox, about eight blocks south. In 1970, efforts were started to revitalize the area around Peachtree and 14th with the construction of the Colony Square office block. As part of this effort, Weis theatres reopened the Peachtree Art on July 30th under the name Weis Cinema with the Southeastern Premiere of “Catch 22”. In an effort to make suburbanites more comfortable coming to this area, free parking was offered in the Colony Square decks for the night time shows.
“Catch 22” must have done well because it played 19 weeks, leaving on Christmas Eve to make way for “Little Fauss and Big Halsey”, starring that well known comedy team of Robert Redford and Michael J. Pollard. With its 10 week run, “Halsey” was the last hit to play here for quite a while. These were the days of exclusive runs which required considerable up front money paid, in advance, to the film companies. Since blind bidding was legal in those days, it was even more of a gamble to put up a big guarantee for anything other than a sure fire hit, and there were not enough of those to go around. Weis also had the Fine Art, Broadview Plaza, and its flagship, the Capri (Garden Hills, Screening Room, and Buckhead Roxy on this site) to book, and since those locations were located further to the north in seemingly safer Buckhead with a better parking situation, it was less of a gamble to book the more expensive efforts there.
Following “Halsey” was a series of low profile first runs, reruns, fillers and reissues. Here is a list with the number of weeks in the run in ( ):
Little Murders (5)
Mephisto Waltz (3)
Making It (1)
Left Handed Gun (2)
Joy In The Morning (2)
Grissom Gang (3)
Fortune In Mens Eyes (3)
Velvet Vampire (2)
Panic In Needle Park (4)
Beast of the Yellow Night (1)
Death In Venice (2)
The Touch (4)
Bless the Beasts and Children (6)
Cisco Pike (3) (Christmas attraction)
Goodbye Columbus (3)
“Goodbye Columbus” a filler after “Cisco Pike” bombed, was the first movie I saw here. As described above by Mike, I found the place to be dark, cavernous, and a little creepy since I was the only one in attendance for the weekday 5 PM show. The sound was pretty hollow and the auditorium did not seem big enough to hold the 800 seats I see listed for it here. Maybe there was a balcony that I did not notice. The lobby had been somewhat done over in the Weis style which has been described on other pages of this site as “mod”, “hip”, and groovy". Since everyone is entitled to their own opinion I will just say that I found it downright ugly, distracting, and unfortunate in that it ruined the old time appeal of older sites such as the Fine Art and Capri. The most obnoxious example here was the round frame built around the marquee overhanging the sidewalk which was covered with copper colored metal sheeting with a conflicting rectangular box cut in it to expose the sign itself. This type of stuff was fine for the newer Peachtree Battle (Silver Screen on this site) and the Broadview, but it certainly clashed with the traditional architecture of older sites like this one.
Following “Columbus”, were one week bookings of “Casino Royale” (the Woody Allen version) and “Ryan’s Daughter”. Next, on 2/16/72 came “Cabaret”, probably the most successful of the Weis efforts here. It probably played here by default since on the very same day the Broadview opened an 8 month reserved seat run of “Nicholas and Alexandra”, and the Fine Art opened its own four month run of “The Last Picture Show”, while the Capri had to be kept available for its upcoming run of “The Godfather”, opening in mid March. These three movies opening in the same week followed by “The Godfather” three weeks later certainly marked the high point of the Weis days in Atlanta during the 70’s.
“Cabaret” ran for five months but it probably did not perform up to expectations as Weis went to extremes to draw crowds. During this time the Weis Cinema consistently had the largest space in the Weis newspaper ad block. Nearing summer, the ad included a letter to Atlanta that was printed as part of the “Cabaret” ad. In it Albert Weis stated that he thought “Cabaret” was the outstanding picture of the year and encouraged Atlantans to come see it as he was confident that it would win more Oscars than any other film. He also stated that its was “no goody goody Julie Andrews type musical” which enraged a Julie Andrews fan from Brunswick to the point that he wrote a letter to the Weis company complaining about this disparagement and suggesting that Albert go see the striptease scene in “Star”. (To bad that “SOB” had not been made at that time.) Weis wrote the man a letter of apology and from that day on, there was a blank space in the middle of the ad where the offending sentence had been blacked out. The letter also offered a money back guarantee, later increased to “double your money back” if the patron did not think that “Cabaret” was indeed the movie of the year. I do not know how many, if any refunds were given, double or otherwise, but Albert was proved correct when “Cabaret” did indeed win more Oscars than any other film, although it was long gone from here by the time the Academy Awards rolled around the next spring.
After “Cabaret” it was back to the grind with:
Easy Rider (1)
Salzburg Connection (6)
Little Mother (2)
Play It Again Sam (1)
Twilight People (1)
Hello Dolly (1)
Bad Company (1)
Devil’s Widow (2)
Come Back Charleston Blue (2) (m/o from Coronet)
Hammersmith Is Out (4)
Black Girl (6) (Christmas attraction)
Heartbreak Kid (11)
Caesar and Rosalie (2)
As you can see, the only one of these to have any success at all was “Heartbreak Kid”. The attraction for summer 1973 was “Day of the Jackal”, another big budget / big guarantee movie. I saw the movie here with a pretty good crowd, but I do not know how it did overall. Albert Weis tried to repeat his “Cabaret” act by using the newspaper ad to remind Atlanta how he had been right about “picking a winner”, and reviving his Academy Award prediction, this time with “Jackal” as the winner presumptive. Although I considered it a good movie, and still do, I thought that this was a bit of a reach. Later, I came across a Macon paper and noticed the same letter in the Weis ad, this time slightly adjusted to promote the current feature of the Riverside Twin, “Paper Moon” as the next big winner. I do not know what his prediction for Savannah was but it was probably whatever he had the most money up for.
During this time, the industry phrase “Go Black” was the motto for most of the downtown theatres as the white audience had mostly fled to the burbs. The Coronet was the first and most successful with these bookings followed by Loew’s Grand, The Atlanta, Martin’s Rialto, and occasionally even the Fox. The Weis Cinema was in something of a no mans land, customer wise, being too close to downtown to attract the white audience, especially at night, and too far north to be considered downtown. As indicated above, the Christmas 1972 feature was “Black Girl” starring Leslie Uggams which was not a bad movie but a dud at the box office. For Christmas of 1973, Weis Cinema presented Billy Dee Williams, and in a small role, Richard Pryor, in “Hit”. This one did better, but again, not a success. In 1975 the Christmas feature was “Uptown Saturday Night” but by then had Weis put most of its effort in this area into The Atlanta after they took over the lease from Walter Reade in the fall of 1973.
For Christmas of 1974, the Weis Cinema was booked with the X rated “Story of O”, not much of a Christmas movie for sure, but one that was sure to do big business if they could get away with it. By this time I was managing theatres and was not paying much attention to anything but my own problems, but I remember that this movie was either raided or threatened with a raid, and as a result the Christmas booking fell through. The Weis ended up playing the same feature as the Capri, “The Man Who Would Be King”. Another odd story was the booking of “The Savage Is Loose”. This movie is notable only for the way its star and owner, George C. Scott marketed it. Instead of renting it for a cut of the box as was the norm, he offered to sell the prints to theatre companies who would then keep all of the box office receipts. Weis bought several prints and two of them played at the Capri and Weis Cinema. Later those prints made the rounds of most of the Weis theatres in town whenever there was a gap in the schedule, and for years seemed to be the permanent co-feature at many of the Weis drive-ins.
Given the right movie, any theatre will do big business regardless of where it is located. This was proven true here in May 1975. The feature of the moment was “The Great Waldo Pepper” not exactly a hit, but more importantly a Universal release. This meant that when Universal ran their sneak preview of “Jaws”, a common practice in those days, they placed it at the Weis so that it would play with their own current release. The name of the movie was not advertised, but the jaws artwork was included in the ad so everyone knew what the feature was. As a result, for one night at least, the Weis Cinema had the hottest ticket in town. By 1975, the Weis chain was in big trouble from poor bookings and overexpansion. In 1972 they had bought out the Peachtree Battle Mini Cinema, in 1973 the Atlanta, followed by the rest of the mini cinema chain in 1974. The last big effort to return to the glory days was during Christmas 1976 when they put up big money for “7% Solution” at the Capri, and “King Kong” at almost every other theatre. The next year they tried again with “Ode To Billy Joe”, and you don’t need me to tell you how that worked out.
Since I was busy with my own theatre I do not recall when this location closed, but by 1978 or 79, Weis was gone from Atlanta, only six years or so removed from their years of being home to most of the big, high profile movies that came out. There may have been some efforts to reopen this location but I am not aware of any. In the late 80’s or perhaps early 90’s the entire block was demolished and the Peachtree Art went to the landfill to join so many other once proud Atlanta theatres.
Just to sort out all of the different theatres from this strip of Peachtree, here they are starting from the south and working north:
10th Street Theatre @ 990 Peachtree was located on the SW corner of Peachtree and 10th. Its CT page is /theaters/21354/ .
10th Street Art @ 1026 Peachtree was located on the west side of Peachtree between 10th and 11th Street. It was built in the late 60’s, was nothing but a converted storefront and always played 35MM soft core porn. This is the page for that location. The Atlanta branch of the Federal Reserve Bank now sits on this site.
Metro Art: Located directly across the street from the 10th Street Art was also a 35MM soft core house. It was at this location that Russ Meyer’s “Vixen” played for over a year. This theatre does not have a CT page. It is the only one of these locations with the building still standing. It has played host to several different nightclubs and restaurants over the decades since the theatre closed.
Peachtree Art: Located on the east side of Peachtree @ 13th Street. This is the true “Art” theatre of this bunch and is the one described by Don in the second comment of this thread. In addition to the movies listed by Don, the Richard Attenborough film “Oh What A Lovely War” played here. This is the theatre that Margaret Mitchell was either going to or coming from when she was struck and killed by a taxi while walking across Peachtree. In 1971, Weis Theatre Company took over and remodeled and renamed it the Weis Cinema. It’s premiere feature was “Catch 22”. Other notable releases to play here were “Cabaret”, “Day of the Jackal” and “The Great Waldo Pepper” notable only because it was a Universal release and was the reason Universal held the Atlanta sneak preview of “Jaws” here. In the early 90’s the entire block was demolished and a Bell South office tower now occupies the site. The CT page for this theatre is /theaters/11690/
This location operated under many different names and formats during the 60’s and early 70’s. Prior to its Gay Paree days it was known as the Walton Street Art and was operated, I recall, by George Ellis. George left the location in 1971 to take over the Ansley Mall Mini Cinema which he renamed the Film Forum.
With its slightly more suburban, shopping center location, the Film Forum became the best known and most successful of all art and indie film venues of its time.
The Walton, located downtown, became the Gay Paree. It must have been successful to some extent because for years it had the largest ad in the XXX section of the Atlanta paper.
Those of you who were alive in those days may recall the nature of the XXX movie theatre business in those pre video years. In Atlanta, there were several hard and soft-core locations located in the central downtown area which I walked through every day on my way to class at Georgia State. The soft-core locations, such as the 10th Street Art, Metro Art, and Buckhead Art, seemed to run 35MM and the booths were Union operated. The hardcore locations, such as the Ashby Street Art, were 16MM and non Union. This was before my days working in theatres, but I have been told that one of these, the Houston Street Art, was a twin where one side was soft-core 35MM and the other was hardcore 16MM. Also notice how all of these locations used the word “Art” in their name, a matter of no small discomfort to the Peachtree Art Theatre located at 13th Street, which was Atlanta’s one true “Art” theatre at that time. It was during this time that the Peachtree Art closed down and was reopened by the Weis chain as the Weis Cinema, showing standard first run product.
I did not intend for this to become a history of the XXX theatres of Atlanta, but only mention it to set the stage for the most well known incident involving the Gay Paree Theatre which occurred in the summer of 1973 when it made a short lived departure from its “gay” theme. The most notorious example of the XXX type of product was “Deep Throat”. By this time I had been working in theatres for a couple of years and had heard stories of private, borrowed, or bootleg versions of this film being shown privately in mainstream theatres around town after hours. However, it had never had a public engagement in Atlanta because it was almost sure to be raided. The Fulton County Solicitor of the day, Hinson McAuliffe, rarely bothered the low profile hardcore locations downtown, but never missed a chance for the free publicity to be garnered by a raid on a suburban location playing a movie like “Oh Calcutta”. (If you are interested, I have described an example of this in my post on the North Springs Theatre: /theaters/11778/)) Hard to believe now, but the United Artists release of “Last Tango In Paris” did not open in Atlanta for months after its national release date due to McAuliffe’s vow, in advance, to raid any theatre that dared play it.
This was the situation in Atlanta in July 1973 when the morning paper had a large ad for the “ALL NEW” Gay Paree announcing that it was proud to present “Deep Throat” with showings from 9:30 AM until 1:30 AM. It looked like the late hours would not be necessary since the theatre was raided at noon and the owner / manager, the projectionist, and the cashier were hauled off to jail. The owners were obviously ready for this as the owners wife brought out another print and was back onscreen by mid afternoon. For the next couple of days, the Gay Paree did the volume of business that the mainstream theatres in town only saw in their dreams, with lines around the block. The theatre was raided again and without a third print on hand, it was back to the regular fare for the Gay Paree.
At a court hearing later in the week, a large crowd of mostly county courthouse employees showed up for the hearing since it had been rumored that the movie would be screened for the judge. The sheriff tried to close the courtroom to the public, but since that was apparently illegal, the public was admitted and the judge cancelled the plans to show the film, if such plans ever existed. I never heard what happened to the case and since the main point, being the publicity, had been achieved, the whole issue disappeared from view. Until this theatre was posted, I was not aware that it was still in operation in 1977. The next time I am downtown I will look to see if the building is still there, but I doubt it.
This is long before my time of course, but from my reading of the website link it seems that the Empire of this page was built new in 1927. The organ story you mentioned probably took place at a different theatre that at one time used the name Empire. During my days of attending the Empire (1955-67) I never heard or saw any evidence of an organ such as the pipe bays up on the wall next to the screen. In fact, I do not even remember a stage.
In the mid 90’s, a company known as O'Neil Theatres entered the Atlanta market. They took over the space formerly occupied by a Sears in the Columbia / Avondale Mall and put in a 16 screen theatre which from opening day showed only second run movies for only $1 per ticket. In other words, they were in the concession business. This location was successful and they later opened another location at a strip shopping center known as Northeast Plaza. This location used a brand new building constructed as a movie theatre.
This started a small trend in Atlanta of conveting some older marginal theatres to dollar houses. The wave of theatre closings in the late 90’s, and the narrowing window between a movie release date and the release of the DVD soon finished off this niche. Now it is not unusual to see the big megaplex theatres run a movie until the week of its DVD realease, especially in the fall.
Both of these 16 screen theatres are now closed as is the 12 screen Movies @ Gwinnett and other 6 to 8 screen locations around town too numerous to mention.
Not only is the Columbia Mall location closed, but the entire mall is boarded up. This is the second time that this has occured at this mall. The first time was during the mid 80’s. If anyone remembers the Chuck Norris movie “Invasion USA”, then you saw the inside of this mall destroyed. Meanwhile, the old Belvedere Twin, which started out life as a second run neighborhood family theatre in 1966 is still going strong, the last 15 years as a soft core porno house. I guess that there is not enough soft core product to keep 16 screens going.
Now, let me try to straighten out my mess.
This post is for the 6 screen GCC location.
It was opened in October of 1984 and was of a transitional design, more modern than Perimeter Mall, but not what the Merchants Walk, Parkside, or Hairston would look like. I don’t remember which one was first, but GCC and the Plitt Mall Corners opened about the same time. This location was like a set of triples backed up to a common lobby. The houses were about 400, 275, and 220 seats. One of the large houses was equipped with a Cinemeccanica V5 35/70MM projector and the rest were 35MM V8’s. I do not recall 70MM ever being run here.
This was a nice booth to work, but I do not recall anything remarkable about its history.
Closed down along with the rest of the GCC operations except the new Parkway Point in 2000.
Started out life as a discount store in the Service Merchandise mold. Don’t remember the name but it was new to the Atlanta area and did not last long after its 1984 opening. Georgia Theatre Company took over the lease but sold out to United Artists Theatres in 1987 before doing anything with the property. UA converted the building to a 12plex and moved Richard Swank, the manager of the Lenox Square in as manager. Closed down in the late 90’s wave of theatre bankruptcies as was the old GTC and current UA Greens Corner just down the interstate. Reopened by the new Georgia Theatre Company but I was not aware that it had closed again. The design of the theatre was like two 6plexes shoved together with a box office and concession stand in between. Really not a bad place considering the fact that it was a conversion.
I was in it a good bit but the only movie I can recall seeing there was a 70MM presentation of Lawrence of Arabia.
Located across the mall parking lot from the old General Cinema Gwinnett Place 6 which opened in 1984 and closed in 2000.
The old Plitt Mall Corners 6 is located across Pleasant Hill Road from the mall entrance. Its life span matched that of the GCC 6.
Disregard that previous post. I should have looked at the picture first. This page and picture is for the old GCC 6 that I mentioned above. The post you see above you is to the location listed on this site as Movies @ Gwinnett.
The Starlight has been proclaimed as Atlanta’s first drive in though that may be drawing a fine distinction as to just what constitutes a drive in. I have some old newspapers from the late 30’s that have ads for the Piedmont Auto Park. I have read that an auto park was a drive in with a few big speakers blasting the lot with sound, so perhaps the Starlight was the first in Atlanta with individual speakers. At any rate, the Starlight opened in 1949 as a single screen. The long driveway off of Moreland Avenue led to a double box office which was located in front of the managers house. Behind that was the field with the screen on the north end. About four years later, the success of this location led to the addition of a new field located in a ravine just to the north of the existing field. The new field was designated the North, and held about 750 cars. The old field became the South and held about 600. The location was marketed under the name Twin Starlight, and the newspaper ads would indicate which program was playing on which field.
When the North was added, two big improvements were incorporated into its design. The driveway from the box office to the field was routed so that the cars entered the field from the rear thus avoiding the problem of the headlights from the new arrivals shinning on the cars already parked on the lot. On the South, the cars entered in the left front corner of the field just as they do to this day. The second improvement was to split the projection booth off from the concession stand. In those days the booth was located near the front of the lot, and on the South, it was located in the same building as the snack bar. This meant that the snack bar was located on the third row and was, and still is, a big distraction to all of the cars parked behind it, which in those days amounted to about 80% of the spaces. On the new North field the booth was placed in its own building near the screen and the snack bar was located well to the rear of the lot.
I do not claim to know the entire history of this great place, but I can relate some of its major events. In 1956, the manager, Mr. Partee died and was replaced by the manager of the recently constructed South Expressway Drive In, Mr. Tom Pike. Mr. Partee’s widow, Sylvia, stayed with the company and managed the Bankhead Drive In until it closed in 1983. Mr. Pike managed the Starlight for 10 years, and these years and perhaps the next 8 or so were the true glory days of this period of Starlight history. Although downtown Atlanta can be seen from the South field, in those days a movie coming to the Starlight from the first run theatres downtown was like a fresh opening in a small town. The only real competition was the Euclid and the Little Five Points, about 5 miles up Moreland Avenue, and the Plaza and Hilan, about 2 miles further north. All area drive ins operated year round in those days, and any weekend, especially warm weather ones could be expected to bring in a full field of cars. The Starlight was certainly the king of all of the Georgia Theatre Company drive ins and was easily the equal of the Piedmont, Stewart Avenue, or Fulton Industrial Blvd. locations of the Dixie and Storey chains.
In 1967 Mr. Pike, a fine man who I would work for during most of the 70’s and 80’s, left the Starlight to manage the Lenox Square Theatre, the flagship of the GTC chain. He would later become the city manager and still later, General Manager of the company. His place was taken by his assistant manager, Mr. Roy Knowles who also had a 10 year run here. The Starlight was truly fortunate to have 20 solid years of such good management. During this time the upkeep and operation of the place was as good as anyone could ask for, and the appearance of the Starlight was the equal of any theatre in town. In 1973 things began to slip a little. The area around the theatre started going downhill, and the massive South Expressway Drive In was twinned. I well remember a managers meeting in the late summer of 1974 when the manager of the South Expressway brought in a paper titled “The King Is Dead.” On it was a listing of the identical programs that the South Expressway and Twin Starlight were playing and a listing of the grosses for each feature. The South had beaten the Starlight every night for each movie and in the concession stand as well. That was a big event at that time within the company.
In 1978, Mr. Knowles left to take over management of the South Expressway, and his place at the Starlight was taken by his assistant, Mr. Murphy. Everyone expected the good management streak to continue, but sadly Mr. Murphy died of a heart attack a year later. My knowledge of Starlight gets a little hazy here as I was not working for the company at this time and did not know any of the parade of managers who passed through for the next 5 years or so. The next big event occurred during the winter of 1982-83 when the snack bar on the South field caught on fire. Although heavily damaged, the building itself, unfortunately, did not burn down, making it possible to rebuild in the same poor location. Even worse, the decision was made at this time to triple the South field.
The best thing to do would have been to build a new two story snack bar / projection booth combo at the junction of the fields in their new layout. However, as with many such GTC projects, it was done “on the cheap” and the result was truly pathetic. A new projection booth was built in the center of the lot and new screens were added to the east and west so that the projectors would shoot out of the booth in a T shape. The snack bar was left in its original spot, far away from the new fields and still spoiling the view for most of what was left of the old field. Also, the new screens, which I was told came from closed down drive ins, are noticeably smaller than the original South screen and the cinemascope picture on both is badly cropped. Even worse, if possible, the ramps on the rear two thirds of the field were flattened, but the field itself, which slanted downhill towards the original screen, was left as is. So, not only are there no ramps, but when you park on the fields for the new screens, your car tilts to the left or right, depending on which way you are pointing. This situation was made even worse a few years later with the advent of the mini van and SUV. These models, which have become the official vehicle of the majority of Starlight customers, usually park with the rear towards the screen with the back gate open. This is not a problem on the part of the field that was untouched and serves the original screen, but on the flat fields for the new screens the open back doors of these cars can block the view of people sitting in small cars behind them. As for the booth itself, the two Simplex projectors from 1949 were combined with another Simplex from the bottomless pit of used GTC equipment to complete the new 3 projector set up. Having learned the hard way at the South Expressway that platters are not really suitable for a drive in, especially one with a one hour runback policy for the first show, double sided Cinemeccanica towers were used for the film feeding system. Although it is an aggravation to have to rewind, at least there is no such thing as a brain wrap anymore.
The only good thing to come out of this mess was the installation of radio sound which more than any single factor is responsible for the survival of whatever drive ins are left in America. The old speaker, hanging on a post was for decades the bane of discriminating customers and frustrated drive in managers. The sound quality was terrible although not too bad when considering the circumstances. For the manager, it was a never-ending struggle to replace missing speakers and to check those that were in place to make sure that they were working. I can remember when the old Northeast Expressway Drive In devoted half of the space in the base of the massive screen to speaker repair and storage. The broadcasting of a less than 1 watt AM signal from a transmitter in the booth allowed everyone on the field to pick up the sound for their respective screen. Later, the addition of a FM stereo signal allowed people to enjoy a sound limited only by the quality of their in car system. Since most cars today have better sound systems than any theatre, the drive in is truly the place to find the best sound in town.
With the reopening of the South field triple, the Starlight entered a short phase as a quad. The change in booking patterns for movies from single theatre exclusives to wide break first runs had really put a dent into the business of the neighborhood theatres since the new releases were now available to everyone citywide on opening day. By the time a movie got to the second run theatres, dollar houses, and drive ins, most people had seen them. The solution was the same as with the indoor theatres, get as many screens as possible. Within a year or so, the North field had been tripled as well.
Some improvements over the job done on the south were made. The screens were located in the back corners of the field so that the booth shoots out in a Y shape. This allowed the continued use of the ramps and though they do not really point towards the new screens the situation is still much better than having a flat field. The booth was left where it was and expanded to the absolute minimum space (and not one square inch more) necessary to hold the two new projectors and towers. In its new layout the field was divided at the front of the concession stand porch with everything to the front aimed at the original screen and everything to the back split between the new ones. The big problem here is that the projector beam from the booth to the new screens shoots over the heads, and in the face of, the people parked behind the booth who are watching the original screen. O well. Quality of presentation has never been a priority for any theatre twinning, tripling, or quading, that I have been involved in, indoor or out. Just get more screens any way you can. A new driveway was cut from the box office, straight down the hill to feed into the back of the field for the origonal screen. The old driveways which fed into the back of the lot now entered the new fields next to the screen, bringing back the problem of headlights from the new arrivals. The new screens as in the case of the south, used and much smaller th
In its new, and current, layout, the Starlight consists of 6 different fields. On the north lot are 1, 2, and 3 (the original North screen.) The south lot holds 4, 5 (the original South screen) and 6. The entrance and exit driveways are the same as when the place was built and continue to handle the load, but the driveways and exits from the fields themselves were not really designed to handle 6 different fields at once.
About the time of the dividing of the north field, another in the line of good managers, Mr. Ron Bacon, took over. I do not know, and would not try to explain if I did, the convoluted ownership setup at the Starlight. Put simply, it was a partnership of DeAnza, a California company, and Georgia Theatre Company, with GTC providing the management function. Georgia Theatre was a big operator of both drive ins and indoor theatres in the Atlanta area, and to the general public the Starlight was just another one of their locations. Mr. Bacon was the first manager, during my time at least, to come from DeAnza in California instead of being hired locally by GTC. With his arrival, the Starlight started another 10 or so good years of care.
In 1987, GTC sold out, in every way, to United Artists Theatres. After all of the lawyering that went into the transaction the Starlight emerged as an independent DeAnza owned property. Lucky for them since by 2000 UA had destroyed every GTC location included in the sale. The Starlight put an end to the one hour runback and started showing three full shows a night per screen, the prime show, the co-feature, and the prime show again. Occasionally, when a movie approaches 3 hours, only two shows are run, either the prime show twice or once each for the prime and co- feature. Also, the bookings are now entirely first run which allows the Starlight to compete with any theatre in town. Given time and the right circumstances, many depressed areas will rebound, and that is what is happening to the Moreland Avenue area at this time. That is good but hopefully it will not improve to the point that the 40 acre Starlight property becomes attractive to Home Depot, Wal-Mart, or any of the other big box drive in killers who now have stores sitting on once fine drive in sites in this town and across the country. Indeed, despite the great business that it is still doing to this day, the real reason that the Starlight survives at Atlanta’s only drive in is that the light industrial truck line dominated area it is located in is not attractive to developers. As it stands now, the Starlight is bordered on the north by a truck line, to the east by a construction landfill, and to the south by a cemetery, none of which are likely to complain about noise, light, or traffic pollution.
Sadly, I never worked at the Twin Starlight Drive In. Most of my work with Georgia Theatre Company was in indoor theatres. I did work briefly at the NE Expressway when it was a single, and at the South Expressway as a projectionist after it was tripled. I first worked at the Starlight shortly after the north field was tripled and have worked there many times over the years. It is not perfect, but the people are friendly, the ownership treats you well, and if you love drive ins it is the only show in town unless you are willing to drive to the Swan in Blue Ridge, the Tiger in Tiger, or over to Anniston Alabama. Although I have seen the place packed full in January, some years they close down the South field during the winter. But at least one field with three screens is open year round, and with the Atlanta weather, you can count on at least 8 good months of pleasant drive in viewing per year.
Jack, when you were in Roswell recently, did you try to find the site of the old Roswell Theatre which was on the square? You and I are the only ones who have ever made any mention of that theatre on this site.
When this place was built in the mid 80’s, 6 screens was considered a big operation, so the addition of this venue to the Atlanta theatre scene was an event of some note. I have never visited this site, but I do have one story from it as related to me by an employee of Benton Brothers, the shipping company which handled all film transport in those days:
Soon after it opened, the HW6 scored a real coup by getting a 70MM print for their run of Cocoon. During the Saturday night of the second weekend of the run, an employee who was obviously unfamiliar with the 70 operation was sent to the booth to thread up the next show. That show ran OK. When the following show hit the screen there was a nice twin set of little pinpricks of light running exactly 35MM apart down the center of the picture. What had happened was that the previous film threader had threaded up the print using the 70MM sprockets correctly, but had let the film rest against the last 35MM sprocket. Since all of the sprockets in these 35/70 machines ran all of the time regardless of which type of print was in use, the 35 sprocket in question ran merrily along for the entire show tacking little holes in the nice new 70 print.
All Septums were by this time manager operated and as is usually the case, when the theatre was busy the manager sent whichever employee could be spared to start up the next set of shows while the manager was busy actually managing the theatre. While he or she can be faulted for sending an inexperienced employee up to thread up a 70MM print, you have to wonder how familiar anyone was with this rarely used format. I have always enjoyed running projection booths, but have always considered managing theatres a thankless, aggravating, stressful job. In my managing days I refused to go to a theatre that did not have its own projectionist, union or non. Occasionally, in an emergency, I have done both, but other than the single screen locations like the mini cinemas, I have always felt that in manager operated multiplexes neither job gets done right.
As for Benton Brothers, they would not only deliver the weeks film prints to small town theatres throughout the southeast, but concession supplies from Wil-Kin and Blevins as well. Another firm known as Theatre Service Company would provide this service as well. The site of the old Benton Brothers warehouse at Techwood and Baker now sits within the boundary of Centennial Olympic Park. The company, now known as ETS moved out to Fulton Industrial Blvd, and later on to the Southwoods Industrial Park in Hapeville. A few managers still drive in to get their prints just as most of us Atlanta area managers did in the old days, but in this day of the megaplex, most of that type of work is done by professional delivery companies.
Just one more example of the way this business has changed over the 35 years I have been working in it.