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In October of 1962 THE LONGEST DAY debuted at the Ontario on a reserve seat basis, and stayed there for 18 weeks until the arrival of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in February of 1963. LAWRENCE was also shown on a reserve seat basis, and it remained at the Ontario for 34 weeks, making it the longest-running film ever to play there up to that time. Upon concluding its run at the Ontario, THE LONGEST DAY was immediately moved over to the Apex where it continued for another 13 weeks.
On Christmas Day of 1963 TOM JONES opened and stayed for twenty-eight weeks, making it the second longest-running film at the theater up until that time.
TOM JONES was followed in July of 1964 with BECKET, which ran on a reserved seat basis for fifteen weeks. With that film the Ontario entered the same arena as the Uptown and the Warner, both of which exhibited the road show engagements of most of the super-colossal epics and the super-spectacular musicals that were released between 1955 and 1971.
From July of 1964 until July of 1968 the Ontario played back-to-back road show engagements of eight films. In addition to BECKET, those films were: MARY POPPINS (16 weeks), THE SOUND OF MUSIC (97 weeks!), THE SAND PEBBLES (29 weeks), THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (20 weeks), THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE (8 weeks), HALF A SIXPENCE (8 weeks), and the six and half hour Russian version of WAR AND PEACE (Parts I and II) (12 weeks).
In October 1957 RAINTREE COUNTY became the first film that the Ontario showed on a reserve seat basis, but it would not be the last. It played there for 8 weeks before closing on Christmas Eve of 1957. On January 30, 1958, RAINTREE COUNTY opened an exclusive engagement at the Columbia, where it played for an additional 10 weeks.
Unlike other lateral moves where a film was shifted from its original location to another one that was part of the same theater chain, the Columbia and the Ontario were owned by different companies. The Columbia belonged to Loews, and the Ontario was a K-B theater.
OTHER ONTARIO TRIVIA:
After leaving the Ontario, ROOM AT THE TOP moved over to the MacArthur, and continued its exclusive D.C. engagement there for another seven weeks.
Four Doris Day films played at the Ontario between 1956 and 1960: THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (9 weeks), TEACHER’S PET (3 weeks), PILLOW TALK (10 weeks), and MIDNIGHT LACE (8 weeks).
THE NAKED EDGE, Gary Cooper’s last film, opened at the Ontario approximately two months after his death.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC reigns as the Ontario’s longevity champ by playing there for an astounding ninety-seven weeks! This almost ties the record set by THIS IS CINERAMA, which ran for a little over 98 weeks at the Warner from November 6, 1953 to September 27, 1955. No other films that played in D.C. during the 1950’s and 1960’s even came close to matching their long-running engagements, and I doubt if any other films did at any time before them, or at any time after 1972.
A little bit of Ontario trivia: MARY POPPINS and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which played back-to-back, both starred Julie Andrews. THE SOUND OF MUSIC and THE SAND PEBBLES, which also played back- to-back, were both directed by Robert Wise.
Also for you trivia buffs, a trifecta of Julie Andrews' films played in D.C. in early March of 1965. THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY finished its run at the Trans-Lux on March 9, 1965, and opened locally the very next day! MARY POPPINS ended its run at the Ontario on March 16, 1965, and THE SOUND OF MUSIC opened there the next day. So, within one week you could have gorged yourself on Ms. Andrews' first three movies!
Four Audrey Hepburn films played at the Ontario, all with great success: SABRINA (8 weeks in late 1954), FUNNY FACE (8 weeks in April and May of 1957), LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (9 weeks in July and August of 1957), and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (11 weeks at the end in 1961).
Ironically, three of Ms. Hepburn’s first five films played at the Ontario (SABRINA, FUNNY FACE, and LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON). The other two, ROMAN HOLIDAY and WAR AND PEACE, played at the Playhouse and the Capitol respectively.
The top ten longest running films at the Ontario were:
JULIUS CAESAR, with Marlon Brando and James Mason, was released in June of 1953 and played in other major cities before coming to the Dupont on February 3, 1954.
The first movie I saw at the Ontario was THE SOUND OF MUSIC sometime in mid-July of 1966 when I was nineteen. I saw HALF A SIXPENCE and FUNNY GIRL both in 1968, but the movie I went back to see again and again was THE SAND PEBBLES. Four times in all between January and August of 1967.
Steve McQueen was, and is, one of my favorite actors, and I made every effort to see every film that he was in, but for this one I went a little overboard. I first caught THE SAND PEBBLES on Saturday afternoon, January 28, 1967, just four days after it had opened. Three weeks later I went back to see it again because I had read in “Variety” that Robert Wise was going to cut the film by a half an hour.
I loved this movie and abhorred the idea that it had to be cut for any reason. So, I vowed to catch it again before that happened. Fortunately, the cuts had not yet been made, and I was relieved. However, when I went back a few weeks later for a third viewing, a full half hour of footage had indeed been removed. I could even spot the sections where things were missing. I was devastated. Still, I went back again for a fourth time before it closed in late August. I was completely bowled over by McQueen’s performance. It’s one of the best examples of naturalistic acting I have ever seen.
Other films that also suffered the fate of being cut to reduce their running times included: THE ALAMO, SPARTACUS, IT’S A MAD WORLD, and even LAWRENCE OF ARABIA! Today, you can buy a VHS version of THE ALAMO in its original full-length version, but that version is not available on DVD. SPARTACUS and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA have been restored to their original glory on their DVD versions. I’m not sure about IT’S A MAD WORLD.
The longest running films at the Fine Arts between 1967 and the time I left D.C. in mid-January of 1972 were:
GOODBYE COLUMBUS (28 weeks), ELVIRA MADIGAN (18 weeks), THE STERILE CUKOO (12 weeks), PETULIA (11 weeks), THE GO-BETWEEN (11 weeks), I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOKLAS, (10 weeks), and THE 12 CHAIRS (10 weeks). THE SUMMER OF ‘42 almost ran for almost 10 weeks.
CACTUS FLOWER had already enjoyed a 9 week run, starting on Christmas Day in 1969, prior to its run at the Fine Arts.
IF originally opened on January 23, 1970 at the Playhouse and played there for one week. LORD OF THE FLIES opened at the Playhouse of December 25, 1963 and played there for a little over 7 weeks. They played on a double bill for one week in September of 1970.
I lived in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Bethesda, but in August of 1964 (probably Aug. 12-14), when I was 17, I came to Towson to see a friend. He set me up with a girl named Michelle, and together with his girl Sandy we all went to the Hillendale to see THE MOON-SPINNERS with Hayley Mills. The film had just opened locally in its first-run engagement.
Sorry, I made a mistake on this. The ABC Drive-In opened on 8/27/53. Its opening attraction was PONY EXPRESS.
The Super Chief Drive-In opened on June 7, 1953, and its opening attraction was HIGH NOON.
On 9/1/52, the Seco began showing films only on Fridays-Saturdays-Sundays-Mondays until 9/21/52, when it closed. Its last attraction was a double-bill of MACAO and WACO. At that time the theater was part of the Stanley Warner theater chain.
The theater re-opened on 7/9/53 as part of the Roth’s theater chain and was re-named Roth’s Silver Spring. Their first attraction was the Italian film THE LITTLE WORLD OF DON CAMILLO. The film opened simultaneously at the Plaza and the Little, both of which were Roth theaters in downtown Washington, D.C. Each theater showed the film in a different language. Roth’s Silver Spring showed a dubbed English print. The Plaza showed the film in French with English subtitles, and the Little showed the film in Italian with English subtitles.
The Dupont opened for business on March 19, 1948. It’s premier attraction was the documentary THE ROOSEVELT STORY.
The longest running films at the Dupont between 1954 and 1972 (when I lived in the D.C. area) were: JULIUS CAESAR (15 weeks), THE HORSE’S MOUTH (14 weeks), NEVER ON SUNDAY (43 weeks!!!) ONE, TWO, THREE (15 weeks), PHAEDRA (15 weeks), THE THRILL OF IT ALL (14 weeks), DR. STRANGELOVE (14 weeks), THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT (11 weeks), ZORBA THE GREEK (22 weeks!), THE LOVED ONE (11 weeks), GEORGY GIRL (27 weeks!), THE FOX (16 weeks), ROMEO AND JULIET (36 weeks!), IF (12 weeks), and THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY (12 weeks).
There were also a great many films that played at the Dupont for almost two months, and I will include the entire list of every picture that played at the theater from January of 1950 to January of 1972 at a later date so you can find your favorites.
Some sidenotes: DR. STRANGELOVE and THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT played back to back at the Dupont between 2/20/64 and 9/1/64. THE THRILL OF IT ALL with Doris Day and James Garner was hardly an art house film, which was the Dupont’s specialty, but it obviously did great business. Undoubtedly a great “date movie”, it ran at the Dupont from 7/24/63 to 10/10/63.
Ironically, the 1954 version of ROMEO AND JULIET with Laurence Harvey and Susan Shentall also had its first-run engagement at the Dupont. It played for 7 weeks, starting on Christmas Eve of that year.
After enjoying a healthy run of 10 weeks at the Embassy, JOE (1970) moved over to the Dupont on 10/28/70 and played there for 8 more weeks.
The only films I saw at the Dupont were: PRIVILEGE (1967), THE SWIMMER (1968), the 1968 version of ROMEO AND JULIET, TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE (a late 1969 release that opened at the Dupont on 1/16/70), THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY (another late 1969 release that opened at the Dupont on 2/18/70), and THE GREAT WHITE HOPE (1970).
The Hyattsville closed on Tuesday 2/16/65. The last program was a double bill of “Your Cheating Heart” (1964) and “Go, Johnny Go” (1959).
I believe that I saw “Tarzan’s Savage Fury” (1952) at a Saturday matinee there on 6/23/56.
Between June 15-June 24 of 1961, the Metropolitan played THE RAT RACE while the Ambassador played BECAUSE THEY’RE YOUNG.
The Metropolitan was closed between September 6 and October 4 of 1961. The Ambassador played COME SEPTEMBER.
Between June 12-July 2 of 1963, the Metropolitan played THE WONDERUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM while the Ambassador played WEST SIDE STORY.
Between May 20-July 7 of 1964, the Metropolitan played the first run of WHAT A WAY TO GO while the Ambassador played a series of second-run features.
Between November 18-December 22 of 1964, the Metropolitan played the first run of GOODBYE CHARLIE while the Ambassador played a series of second-run features.
Between April 14-May 11, the Metropolitan played the first run of CHEYENNE AUTUMN while the Ambassador continued with its first run of JOHN GOLDFARB, PLEASE COME HOME.
While the Ambassador played BECAUSE THEY’RE YOUNG between June 15-June 24 of 1961, the Metropolitan played THE RAT RACE.
While the Ambassador played WEST SIDE STORY between June 12-July 2 of 1963, the Metropolitan played THE WONDERUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM.
While the Ambassador played a series of second-run features between May 20-July 7 of 1964, the Metropolitan played the first run of WHAT A WAY TO GO.
While the Ambassador played a series of second-run features between November 18-December 22 of 1964, the Metropolitan played the first run of GOODBYE CHARLIE.
While the Ambassador played the first run of JOHN GOLDFARB, PLEASE COME HOMEY between April 14-May 11 of 1963, the played the Metropolitan played the first run of CHEYENNE AUTUMN.
The Janus 1&2 opened on July 2, 1965 with the film SYMPATHY FOR A MASSACRE.
The Apex opened on November 20, 1940. Its opening attraction was “Down Argentine Way” starring Betty Grable, Don Ameche, and Carmen Miranda.
The Crystal City opened on 1/14/70 with BARARELLA.
The Springfield opened on 11/1/68 with ROSEMARY’S BABY which had just ended a 17 week run at the Embassy in D.C. one week earlier.