Showing 51 - 75 of 91 comments
It just occurred to me that if there was a theater on Court Avenue in Overton Square, it may have been the original Playhouse on the Square before it moved to the reconfigured Memphian. That would make sense.
I saw a few soft-core pornos there while stationed at Mather AFB in 1968-69.
Point taken. I still believe the name change was a cheap trick, but I agree that this is not the most appropriate forum for the subject, so I apologize and will try to give it a rest. Meanwhile, this is a great site, and my most sincere compliments and appreciation to those who set it up. Now as for Memphis theaters—how about the Rosemary at Jackson and Watkins (replaced by a First Tennessee Bank which later also folded), the Princess on Main Street just North of the Malco/Orpheum, the Crosstown on Cleveland near North Parkway (Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall), the Luciann on Summer just East of Trezevant (Porno/Bowling Alley), the Suzor #2 on Jackson Avenue in “Hurt Village” where Elvis used to go when he lived in the Projects (closed but still standing as late as 1981), the Fare 4 (later 10) at Summer and White Station, the Strand right next to Loew’s State on South Main, the Southbrook multiplex in Southbrook mall, The Colonial (? could be wrong on the name) just North of Graceland on Elvis Presley Blvd/Highway 51 in Whitehaven, and the Southaven multiplex just across the line in Mississippi—plus a couple of other indoors and several drive-ins whose names even I can’t remember? So many theaters, so little time…. Best wishes, good luck and good counting to all. W.H. Wingo, Southwestern at Memphis/“Rhodes College” class of 1967.
The Mall of Memphis was just South of Loop 240 and Nonconnah Creek and just East of Getwell Road. It was built on the landfills of the 1930s and was very impressive, with two or three levels, a skating rink, the usual mix of retailers, and the theater complex. You could stand in the middle of the upper level promenade and feel the floor vibrate as people walked by—not very confidence-inspiring. The theater had an entrance separate from the mall, and was curiously sterile-looking. It always reminded me of the sets from “THX-1138.” The auditoriums were small and unpretentious. Saw Meg Ryan, Dennis Quaid, and Martin Short in “Innerspace” there in the late 1980s, while suffering from mild food poisoning—a memorable experience.
I went there a few times in the 1970s. One of our relief projectionists from the Guild ran it as an art theater for a while. It was a large strip-mall theater somewhat like the Paramount (described elsewhere on this site), but a little smaller and built later in the late 1960s/early 1970s suburban expansion. I saw several Laura Antonelli sex comedies, Romy Schneider and Rod Steiger in Claude Chabrol’s “Dirty Hands,” and most notably Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s “Aguirre-the Wrath of God” there. My impression was that it struggled for its entire existence, probably due to the obscure location, not being on any well-travelled main drag, and not being very well known. There were two or three other mall theaters in other outlying suburbs that eventually suffered the same fate.
In 1973-74 I had an apartment at 1390 Court Avenue in Memphis. 2105 Court would have been somewhat East of there. In Memphis, “Streets” run North and South, and “Avenues” East and West. Mapquest shows no listing for “2105 Court Street”; but “2105 Court Avenue” is right where I thought it would be, in the Overton Square area not far from the Memphian Theater which is on South Cooper just South of Overton Park. I seem to remember that there was a small theater of some kind in Overton Square at or very near this location but I don’t think I ever went there and don’t recall any details about it. If there was one it was probably a live theater or music venue rather than movies. Any multiplex there now is almost certainly a recent addition. The last time I was in Memphis was the summer of 1998, and then not in that area.
Saw the original “Star Wars” and “Alien” there in the late 1970s.
I got my start in show business as a doorman/ticket taker at the Guild from 1965-67 and again from 1973-74, rising eventually to the rank of “assistant manager.” Everybody said it had once been named the Ritz. It was already being run by the Art Theater Guild in 1963 when I first went there as a freshman at Southwestern at Memphis (AKA “Rhodes College” —gag—). It was a medium-long walk or a short car ride (if you had one) from the SW campus and it seemed that entire generations of SW students had worked there. The tradition was that when you were about to graduate, you picked your successor and personally introduced him/her to the manager, Bill Kendall—a real nice guy and an SW grad himself. Almost everyone so introduced was hired. I remember seeing—not necessarily in order—“The Pawnbroker” with Rod Steiger, highly controversial in early 1960s Memphis because a black woman went topless; “Phaedra” with Melina Mercouri, Raf Vallone, and Anthony Perkins; “Blow-Up” for 8 weeks followed by “Georgy Girl” for 7 weeks (almost all showings were sold out—we called it “The House the Redgraves Built”); Roman Polanski’s “Knife in the Water”; Ingmar Bergman’s “Winter Light”; Fellini’s “8-½”; and (later) Richard Burton and Jenny Agutter in “Equus”, among many, many others. By 1973 the Art Theater Guild had pulled out and Mr. Kendall was booking the theater himself. Eventually, this failed and it was taken over by a third party who obtained a beer license and started perhaps one of the first “cabaret” or more accurately, “bar” theaters. Although no longer working there by then, I went as a customer and saw “Rocky Horror Picture Show” first-run before it became a cult classic and while you could still hear the dialog (approximately 1976). Unfortunately, I had several beers before the show started and don’t remember much about it. I lost track of the Guild during my last few years in Memphis, 1977-83. It was closed for a while, but eventally was acquired by Circuit Playhouse, a division of Playhouse on the Square, and is now a live theater venue. From the seating chart their website, it appears that they have enlarged the stage and cut out or replaced lots of the original seats. When I worked there it was a large open auditorium with no balcony and seated about 600. The original small square screen from the 1930s was still there, but a larger screen had been installed in front of it, with the loss of several rows of seats. Starting about 1966 we showed “Underground Movies” at midnight on Saturdays for a few months. It was illegal in Memphis to start a public movie after midnight, so we turned the entire theater into a private club with a 25-cent lifetime membership fee. Ah, memories.
I went to the Plaza while a student at Southwestern in the early 1960s and again from 1973-1982. Saw Michael Caine (playing a cracker with a hilarious fake southern accent) and Hanoi Jane Fonda in “Hurry Sundown” there about 1966. Years later, saw Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens” first-run after it was twinned. Plus many others, of course. The theater was surrounded on three sides by storefronts, and the side exits led through long (40 or 50 feet), dark passages between adjacent stores to the outside. My friend Bill Kendall from the Guild worked there in later years. He said that sometimes when a Cybill Shepherd movie would play, Cybill and her entourage would come down to the “cry room” and see it without having to mix with the rifraff. And you’re right about the curving walls—there was hardly a straight line in the entire place. Ah, memories.
The Memphian was the Memphian as far back as 1963 and until it was taken over by Playhouse on the Square. I first went there in late 1963 or early 64. Before that I can’t say—but the Guild on Poplar was the only one I ever heard of as having once been named the Ritz, as described above. The Memphian was just across Overton Park from the Southwestern Campus and I used to walk over there to the show and then walk back across the park to SW at Midnight or later. Probably just as well not to get stopped by the Cops doing that, even in the early 1960s—and don’t even think about it nowadays! Best wishes.
Went there often as a kid in the early 1950s. Saw “Zombies of the Stratosphere” a serial with Leonard Nimoy as the assistant Martian, obviously preparing for his later role as Mr. Spock. Also the original “Superman and the Mole Men.” Left Houston for Alabama in 1954.
The Hillcrest was North of town on the East side of Bronte Highway (not U.S. 83), a little North of the present-day high school. In the late 1980s it was an oil-field equipment junkyard, like many other Texas drive-ins at that time. The last time I saw it about 2002, it was a Miracle-Gro plant; but the original driveway was there, and a couple of showcases with posters from the closing bill still in place. Saw “Suddenly Last Summer” there in 1959 or 1960. I was only about 15 so it went clear over my head—probably just as well.
I spent the summer of 1958 or 1959 in Winters visiting my uncle who had his veterinarian’s office in the screen of the Fiesta Drive-In, South of town on U.S. 83. I remember a closed movie theater in downtown Winters, recognizable from the architecture. I was only about 14 years old so the details are a little vague, but I think it may have been a lawyer’s office. I’m sure it was no longer in use as a theater.
Correction: that’s Playhouse on the Square, not Theater Memphis—sorry.
I got my start in show show business in 1965 tearing tickets at the Guild Art Theater at 1705 Poplar Avenue (at the intersection of Poplar and Evergreen). Generations of Southwestern students had worked there and the tradition was that when you graduated you would take your replacement over and introduce him to the manager (Bill Kendall, a real nice guy and a SW grad himself). Everybody said that the Guild had once been called the Ritz, and was renamed when the Art Theater Guild took it over in the 1950s. I can’t vouch for this myself since it was before my time, but that’s what knowledgable people said. I believe the Guild/Ritz and also the former Memphian theater (on South Cooper near Overton Square, sometimes rented by Elvis after hours) are now part of the Theater Memphis organization, and occasionally used for live performances.
An interesting urban legend about the Park is that when it was built about 1947, Park Avenue was the Southern City Limit, and being on the South side of the street the theater was not legally in Memphis. Lloyd T. Binford was still the Memphis Movie Censor at that time, appointed by E.H. Crump himself in the 1920s. They booked Howard Hughes' “The Outlaw” into the Park —the one where Jane Russell leans over the bed and a soldier in the audience is supposed to have jumped up and shouted “Bombs Away!” It was done very hush-hush, but Binford heard about anyway it and got the Mayor and City Council up in the middle of the night to move the city limits of Memphis 200 yards to the South so he could ban the movie. “The Outlaw” played in West Memphis like all the other “banned in Memphis” shows. That’s the legend anyway. I went to lots of movies at the Park while a student at “Rhodes College” (—gag—) 1963-67, and then again from 1973-1983. It was a large open auditorium with no balcony. Saw “Being There,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Altered States”, and “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” there, among many others over the years. It closed not long after I left Memphis in 1983, was briefly a recording studio (I think) and then was boarded up for a long time. It was still standing in 1998, but I haven’t been back since then. Binford died in 1956, and I didn’t arrive in Memphis until 1963, but he was still a local show-business legend. I broke into show business by tearing tickets at the Guild (1705 Poplar at Evergreen) and the Studio (535 South Highland a few blocks down from the Park near MSU) and heard many amazing stories from the old-timers, most of them probably true. West Memphis had several drive-ins and several large indoor theaters, far more than you’d expect from its size, because they showed all the films that were banned in Memphis.
It opened before 1969: it was open while I was attending “Rhodes College” (—gag—) 1963-67, and “The Sound of Music” played there for nearly 2 years during that time (but I didn’t go). I think it was still a single screen when I got back from the AF in 1973, but was twinned shortly after that. A typical post-WWII shopping mall-airplane hangar house. Demolished and replaced by a Stein-Mart last I heard.
There definitely was a Horseshoe Drive-in, South of Ballinger on the East side of US 83 south of the Colorado River bridge but not quite as far as Paint Rock. The first time I went there must have been about 1950 at the age of about 5 with my grandfather (Q.V. Miller, d. 1954). Saw many movies there while visiting through the 50s and into the 60s. The last time I saw it standing was the fall of 1967 when I drove up from San Antonio for a weekend visit. It was a large wooden screen building with a long narrow “apartment” in the bottom, built immediately post-WWII, like the Hillcrest North of Ballinger or the Fiesta in Winters (both q.v.) All the foregoing is true to the best of my knowledge and belief. Best wishes, good luck, and good counting to all.
In the late 50s/early 60s my uncle, who was a veterinarian, had his office in the screen of the Fiesta. It was a long, narrow space—maybe 15 ft. by 50—but it had a certain style. He even knew the combination to the safe. There was also a back door in the screen that made it possible (occasionally) to sneak out into the theater area and watch the movie for free. I spent two summers with his family in Winters and Ballinger. We saw several movies at the Fiesta during this time, including Jerry Lewis in “Cinderfella” (ouch!) and Robert Mitchum in “Home from the Hill” and “Thunder Road.” The last time I went through Winters was in the late 80s/early 90s and the theater was being used to store oil drilling equipment during the “oil glut” (We could sure use an oil glut now!!) I think the screen was still intact at that time. A lot of Texas drive-ins were used like that in those days. There had also once been an indoor theater in “downtown” Winters, recognizable by the architechture—but it must have closed before my first visit in 1959; only vague memories remain. Best wishes, good luck, and good counting to all.
If I remember correctly, the Handy was on the South side of Park avenue just East of East Parkway in the area known as Orange Mound near the Fairgrounds and Libertyland amusement park (which Elvis would occasionally rent after hours). Central avenue is considerably to the north of there. Don’t have a Memphis map handy, but I once lived at 3549 Mynders avenue near Memphis State University just East of Highland, so 3475 Central should be just West of Highland, probably in an old mansion. That’s a good long way from Orange Mound.
The College was way out East on First Avenue North and a little out of my neighborhood. I saw occasional movies there in the 1960s and 70s, including Jane Fonda, Michel Piccoli, and Peter McEnery in “The Game is Over”—which resulted in a Playboy spread for Ms. Fonda (1966 or 67) as well as several entries in bad-movie directories. I remember the theater as a medium-sized neighborhood job, like the Normal (later Studio) theater near Memphis State University in Memphis, with a spacious lobby but no balcony and no striking features. The entrance on First Avenue North was very narrow, but the lobby opened up inside. I’m not sure where the “College” name came from. All the Bham-area colleges I’m familiar with are pretty far away.
I must have seen dozens if not hundreds of movies at the Homewood from 1954-1963. In the unfortunate era of segregation, the balcony was “Jim Crowed,” the only Birmingham area theater that I remember being so arranged. There was a separate entrance for Blacks, served by the same box office, leading to the balcony. In the picture linked elsewhere in this site, it’s the door on the far left. Black kids would come down the inside balcony stairs and ask us white kids to get them popcorn and stuff from the concession stand. As I recall fifty years later, we always obliged—or at least, I did. I saw many classics at the Homewood, including Frank Sinatra in the original “Ocean’s Eleven” (beware of imitations), Alec Guinness in the original “Ladykillers” (beware of imitations), Joan Collins in “Land of the Pharoahs” (1956), Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in “The Mummy” (1959), Gregory Peck in the Guns of Navarone" (1960), Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen in “The Magnificent Seven,” Grant Withers and William Shallert in “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” and John Agar in “The Mole People,” among many others. In the early 1960s it went under new management (?) and changed over to an “art” theater (i.e., Brigitte Bardot). It closed in 1963, at about the same time I went off to college in Memphis. When I returned to B'ham twenty years later, it had become a Schwinn Bicycle store, and later I actually bought a bicycle there (I guess what goes around comes around). Several of the original auditorium doors were still in service in different locations, and the exterior facade was only slightly changed, but no remnant of the balcony or the projection booth had survived. Ah, memories. I haven’t been back since 1994, and so cannot comment on more recent developments. Best wishes, good luck, and good counting to all.
I commuted from Covina to Duarte down Route 66 past the Azusa from 9/2001 to 6/2003. Also did a good deal of bicycling in the area and pedalled past it up close many times. Never saw a show there, although from other comments it apparently didn’t close until a few months after I arrived. As someone raised in the drive-in culture of the 1950s and 60s, I always had a nice warm feeling when I saw it. It was said to be the last standing drive-in in LA county as well as the last one on Route 66 West of Oklahoma. Ah, memories.
The main downtown Birmingham theaters in the 1950s-60s were the Melba on 3rd Avenue North (North of the L&N railroad tracks that is) and the Empire on 2nd Avenue N (or maybe it was the other way round), both near 21st St; the Newmar, later renamed the Strand, on 2nd Avenue N between 19th and 20th; the Ritz, on 2nd Avenue N between 17th and 18th; and the Alabama and the Lyric on opposite sides of 3rd Avenue N at 18th St. All were still open as late as 1960. The Lyric closed in the mid-60s, then later sacrificed its right-angle lobby on 3rd Avenue N, built a boxoffice in one of the fire escape doors at the rear of the auditorium on 18th St., and reopened briefly as the “Grand Bijou.” It folded for good in the late 1960s or thereabouts. I saw “Earth Versus the Flying Saucers” and “The Land Unknown” there in 1958. In the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Sally Field classic “Stay Hungry,” besides having Ms. Field’s only known nude scene, in the end credit sequence they have a bunch of body-builders posing on the ornate 18th St. fire escapes of the Lyric. I also remember seeing the original “King Kong,” the original “Mighty Joe Young,” “The Mouse that Roared,” and “The Amazing Colossal Man” among many others at the Newmar/Strand in the 50s, but it was gone without a trace by the mid-60s, replaced by a bank I believe. The Melba and the Empire lasted into the early 1980s. Both were still operating—or at least still standing—when I returned to B'ham in 1983, but were demolished shortly afterwards. The Ritz had gone a little earlier. In the mid 80s I got to tour the Alabama projection booth and the projectionist said some of the Melba/Empire equipment had been saved and taken to the Alabama. The Alabama and the Lyric remain, but another web site states that the Lyric has been completely gutted inside and is used to store equipment for the Alabama. It and the Newmar were by far the oldest, both being pretty run-down even in the 1950s, so that’s not surprising. In the unfortunate era of segregation, there were two or three African American theaters on 4th Avenue N near 16th St., including the Carver, the Famous, and (I think) the Frolic. Can’t tell you much about them. I think the Carver is still functioning as a multicultural performance/concert venue, and last I heard (a long time ago) the Famous had become a civil rights center, but they had kept the facade and the box office. There was also the Homewood Theater in the suburb of the same name, listed elsewhere on this site and now a Schwinn bicycle store. Since I lived in Homewood, I went there a lot as a kid—then later even bought a bicycle there. I guess what goes around comes around.
I never went there, but drove by just before it was demolished in the early-mid 1990s. The marquee said “Thanks for the Memories.”