Fox Redondo Theatre

300 Diamond Street,
Redondo Beach, CA 90277

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Showing 76 - 100 of 146 comments

Schrader on January 5, 2005 at 7:00 pm

I remember beatnicks! I thought they were all pretty dangerous until my cousin became one, then they were dangerous but family.

I went to school with a kid named Robbie who may have been the son or nephew of Fred and Alice.

Remember the plastic whales and stuff you got at Marineland? You could just about eat them. Thick soft plastic and my whale was blue.

Favorite movie promotional item: Little white plastic Angeliques they gave out when NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS premiered. (Also I’d love to have got a barf bag, but I didn’t get to see THE CORPSE GRINDERS, etc.)

Schrader on January 5, 2005 at 6:47 pm

Worst Marineland memory: I’m playing on our front lawn in Redondo and my dad drives up in his new sports car and says jump in. So I jump in and we head up through Palos Verdes and the whole way he’s shouting, Guess where we’re going! guess! guess! and I have no idea, until finally Marineland comes into view and I say, Marineland? Is it Marineland? and he says, Yep! Marineland! and we turn around and head home. The ride was the thing, he really loved that car.

The best thing about going to the Fox with my dad was that he was a cop, so we got in free and I felt more important than the average moviegoer.

Here’s a great Dad-memory to make up for the last one: He figured out ahead of time what Soylent Green was, so we left the movie and went for a ride in a police boat. Man, it went fast! Pretty scary and pretty fun! (Picture me in the boat and the Fox somewhere over my shoulder …)

Sally1949 on January 5, 2005 at 6:44 pm

I think the bookstore you’re referring to in Riviera Village was Catalina Books. I knew the owners, Fred and Alice. Unfortunately, the shop went from a tri-level art supplies/music/book store to just a tiny bookstore in the eighties. When Fred and Alice lost their lease, Fred got Alzheimer’s Disease and Alice had to take a job as a clerk at Morgan Moore’s Stationery.

Catalina Books carried the coolest stuff! I bought my first very own 45 rpm record there — with my own money! It was Roy Orbison’s “Crying” backed by “Only The Lonely.” And I remember buying a Fugs album there — but I had to ask Fred for it because they kept the questionable stuff behind the counter.

Terrance just e-mailed me about The Insomniac. A beatnick joint in Hermosa. Any old beatnicks here? It was the neatest place, with a great bookstore downstairs.

As for Marineland … . I was dragged to see those dumb fish twice a year every year. We always went on a school field trip there, and of course my parents just had to take us kids. I don’t think anybody closed Marineland for economic reasons. I think those boring fish just bored visitors half to death!

Manwithnoname on January 5, 2005 at 6:21 pm

It’s too bad that Marineland wasn’t a theater. We could start a whole new discussion. The theater I remember as playing the same music over and over was the Stadium in Torrance. Every single matinee we would buy our tickets and just about the time we sat down on came a Ray Charles album that literally greeted us for years. Funny, although I saw everything at the Torrance DI from “Have Rocket Will Travel” to “E.T.” I can’t remember one thing that came over that speaker during intermission. Of course, I may have been a little busy….:–)

Schrader on January 5, 2005 at 5:55 pm

I ate there for sure, but I get my restaurants confused. With movies I can usually remember pretty well what I saw and where, or even what my parents saw and where, but meals I’m not so good at.

What was great in the Riviera Village was a small book store where in the early seventies they had rows and rows of Agatha Christie paperbacks. Also they sold large books edited by a man named Richard J. Anobile, which were like comic books but made up of pictures taken from frames of classic movies, with the dialogue written out beneath the pictures. Some of the titles were STAGECOACH, THE MALTESE FALCON, DR. JECKYLL AND MR. HYDE (the Rouben Mamoulian version), NINOTCHKA, CASABLANCA, and PSYCHO. When those movies played on television I made audio cassettes of them, leaving out the commercials, and played them back while looking through the pictures in the books. But PSYCHO was always heavily cut for TV (ABC used to show it with nearly the whole first third missing, so you barely knew why Janet Leigh had checked into the motel!) so I sneaked my tape recorder into a revival theater and got my PSYCHO soundtrack that way, with real screams on it. That was all in the days before VCRs.

Favorite spot in the Fox: I think it was the left-side balcony entrance facing the screen—I stood there against the wall at the end of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with a lot of other people who were scared out of their seats, including a very pretty girl with long black hair and bangs who had seen the movie before. I’ve never forgotten the distinct way the floor felt under my feet. Favorite sense-memory also.

WERKSTATTE on January 5, 2005 at 5:06 pm

It was in Riviera Village.

WERKSTATTE on January 5, 2005 at 5:06 pm

It was in Riviera Village.

Schrader on January 5, 2005 at 5:03 pm

Did it have bright red bricks on the outside?

Sally1949 on January 5, 2005 at 4:46 pm

I make have been a freakish kid, but I loved the Cole Porter medley. Well, I loved musicals more than any other movies, so I guess it fits. I must not have been at The Fox the day of your experiment, Bruce … I think I would’ve remembered it!

Yes, we really are a weird little group here, aren’t we? The Fox, The Strand, The Biltmore … . Anybody remember The Windjammer restaurant?

Schrader on January 5, 2005 at 2:15 pm

My great gandmother and great uncle lived across the street from the Biltmore, and their two small houses are still there, according to my mother. The Biltmore was a big deal in my mother’s childhood, and she remembers going with my grandmother to hear Ethel Waters speak there. I looked for pictures of the Biltmore at the sites that had the Fox pictures, but didn’t find any.

BrucieB, I sure wish I could remember that Cole Porter music but it slips my mind completely. The music I DO remember is the stuff they played at the Torrance Drive-In, the same six or eight songs over and over, all instrumental and swoony like the soundtrack for ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST.

A favorite trailer I saw at the Fox was the one for TROG, where a little girl in a park goes down a slide and Trog is waiting at the bottom. Trog was kind of scrawny but he scared me.

BruceBerns on January 4, 2005 at 12:08 am

Sally, thanks for mentioning the Biltmore Hotel! I had forgotten about it until I saw your message. That’s another great memory brought back to me by someone I’ve never met. Aren’t we a bunch of not-so-strange strangers!

BruceBerns on January 4, 2005 at 12:03 am

Something that most us wouldn’t even try to remember about the Fox
Redondo was its intermission music. There were only a few times when
special films were delivered along with required music for playing
during intermission, but the rest of the time, for all the years I was
a part of the Fox, the exact same music was played over and over
again. It was a piano solo of a Cole Porter medley, up tempo and
bubbly. I listened to it from about 1954 through 1969, and of course,
I heard it several times in a day in my teen years, when I was
actually earning a salary there. Eventually, it started to drive me
nuts. I was hearing it even when I wasn’t at the theater! Why, I
would ask? Why can’t we get a little more modern with the music? I
had no concept of legalities or royalties, and while I was brought up
with the older, familiar music and styles, I still just wanted to
hear something else, something more fun to listen to. I started
dropping hints, and after several weeks, that turned into whining. Finally, I was given
permission to bring in a record from home, but only if the boss could
preview it before we opened that day.

This may seem to be a pretty mundane subject to anyone else. I, on
the other hand, could hardly sleep the night before. I had visions of
eventually bringing in all of my favorite and most unusual records.
It certainly wouldn’t sound like any old-fashioned intermission any
more. I might just have patrons enjoying the music so much that they
didn’t care if the movie ever started!

I decided to bring in my album of electronic music, created on the
Moog synthesizer. I couldn’t wait to hear this very different and
unique electronic music through those speakers behind the screen.
Those speakers were the size of Volkswagens, and this was going to be
so great! I had visions of patrons coming out to the lobby to say,
“Wow, what’s that great, new, upbeat and modern music you’re playing.
Who’s wonderful idea was that? You gave him a raise, didn’t you?”

The next day, I had to wait for the projectionist to arrive before
going into the booth. That projection booth, as in other theaters,
was the most off-limit place for anyone other than the projectionist.
Anyone but me anyway. Unbeknownst to the others working there, I knew
every inch of the room. I had been exploring that sacred place since
I was nine, but only when I was alone or with a trusted friend who was
receiving one of my private and secret tours. I had no scarier
thought than to be caught in that room if I was not invited. Of
course, I was invited many times over the years, and my questions were
answered as I observed the duties of a projectionist as they were
performed in the fifty’s and sixty’s.

I think that the Cole Porter medley may have been played on a
reel-to-reel machine, but right now I can’t imagine how a tape would
not have been completely worn out after years of daily multi plays,
and I can’t summon a mental picture of what type of machine was use.
I’m willing to say don’t remember clearly what type of playback device
was used, and maybe one of you can recall that for me. I do know
that it was not a record player. There certainly was a turntable
there, and I wanted it to be in use that day, but there was no needle
dropping for intermissions normally.

Mac, the projectionist arrived. Mac had a cigarette with a half-inch
ash surgically attached between his lips. He didn’t like people very
much, and he was going to need a lot of encouragement, if not begging, to
make this unexpected change in his normal routine. It seemed to me to
be a very little thing at the time. But the turntable would need to
be dusted and leveled, and this was not solid state equipment. In
fact it was a very lo-tech booth. Vacuum tubes and the carbon-arc
projectors heated the room like a sauna, and there were no modern
electronics or anything we would consider small scale today. Wires
and plugs had to be switched around, and let’s face it, just moving an
ash tray in this relatively tiny room that was occupied by the same
man for many years, could cause a verbal response so caustic it might
bleach your hair. But here again, I made it happen, because it was
me, Brucie Boy, the kid who grew up asking Mac questions, and I was now
asking for this gigantic favor. And I did get him to agree, although
I think I learned a few new words that day.

Well, I can tell you, like my other ideas, my new, updated
day-at-the-movies experience with modern, upbeat music was a total
bust. The music sounded absolutely horrible. I mean, truly like crap.

The turntable’s needle was probably better suited for 78 rpm records, and it sounded like it was cutting a new groove as it played. Moreover, the sound system simply wasn’t tuned to handle the frequency output. Things were probably not hooked up correctly, and Mac wasn't
about to lift a finger for any troubleshooting to perfect my stupid idea, and the more I screamed to turn up the volume or adjust the frequency responses, the more distorted the noise became. I was crushed, and the preview time was ending. The others on staff who were getting ready to open looked at me like I was nuts. While I was yelling uselessly at Mac, with the house lights up, they watched me running like a mad man, up and down the empty aisles and lobby steps, from balcony to orchestra, trying to find a spot where the music actually sounded like music instead of a garbage truck. They want to know why the hell was I thinking of playing that kind of noise in the theater? We spent the rest of that day, and subsequent years, listening to the Cole Porter Medley.

My name is Bruce Berns. If you were a part of the Fox Redondo in the 50’s or 60’s, I would like to hear from you.

Sally1949 on December 31, 2004 at 2:05 pm

People used to think both the Del Mar Hotel and the Biltmore Hotel in Hermosa Beach were haunted. We used to sit outside the Biltmore at night and wait for ghosts. Jeez, we were dumb!

Schrader, ask your mom if she remembers the “haunted” Biltmore.

Schrader on December 31, 2004 at 1:32 pm

Hi, Sally! I knew it was a long shot—I guess you and my mom didn’t know each other. My mom remembers the Del Mar Hotel, though, and a friend she had who lived there for a while named Jack Paar (not the Tonight Show host). My mom’s favorite movie that she saw at the Fox was ON THE TOWN (which I also think is one of the best musicals ever).

Sally1949 on December 29, 2004 at 10:43 am

P.S. Something just struck me. An old friend of mine (I don’t have a current address for him) worked as an usher at either The Fox Redondo, The Fox Hermosa, The Strand, or possibly The Loyola. He said it was his first job, so it would have been the mid-late sixties. His name is Gary Altobella. Does that name ring a bell for anybody? If so, I’ll try to track him down. Sally

Sally1949 on December 29, 2004 at 7:43 am

Schrader, Beachum sounds familiar. My maiden name is Parmer. Do anything for you?

I remember Roy! And one time, there was a big prize. I’m guessing it was a bike, because I never had my own bike and always wanted one. Anybody remember that?

George, I know what you mean about growing up in theatres, and having it protect you from the rest of your life. I grew up in Hollywood Riviera, in a dysfunctional extended-family situation, and all I did was dance and read. When West Side Story played at The Strand, I sat through every show I could get to, as long as it ran. After about the second week, I told my mother I was changing from ballet to jazz dance, which also got me involved in theatre. (I eventually became a Theatre Arts teacher.) Movies were, and still are, magic.

I have a great black-and-white shot of The Strand (well, The Marina) being torn down. It shows the theatre entirely gutted, construction workers with axes going at it, and the only thing standing is the “Tickets” sign. It depresses me every time I look at it.

Manwithnoname on December 29, 2004 at 7:36 am

Schrader: If you want scary Geraldine Page, look no further than “The Beguiled”.

Schrader on December 29, 2004 at 12:37 am

To Manwithnoname: I remember you having scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast. (Just kidding.)

Some of my favorite memories of the Fox are of movies I never really saw there, usually because they were Rated R. For instance, for years I thought MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN was a horror movie, like THE DOBERMAN GANG but too intense for children. As big a fan as I’ve become of Geraldine Page, her Aunt Alice isn’t nearly so scary as the one I imagined after seeing the poster for WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE?, which shows a face partially covered by sand—I took it for a doll’s face that Aunt Alice had cracked apart. And here’s a scene from ROSEMARY’S BABY that I never saw and will never forget: Rosemary has hidden her baby in a shoe box and run from the devil to the roof of her apartment building. The devil lurches at her and she drops the box. The end.

It may be blasphemous to say it here at Cinema Treasures, but I like that the Fox Redondo belongs so completely to the world of Things that Are Not. If the place were open today I would campaign to keep it open—but that said, I like that THUNDERBALL played there and STAR WARS did not, that WOODSTOCK played there and XANADU did not. The Fox is where I feel like I went to WOODSTOCK even when the movie wasn’t playing there. During the talkier parts of CRY OF THE BANSHEE, or almost any part of FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, the Fox was where on a rowdy Saturday night somebody might call out, “Give me an F!” and a good part of the theater would shout out “F!” and so on. It seemed terrible to me as a ten year old—and can’t have been much fun for the management either—but I like my memory of WOODSTOCK as a terrible event even more than I like the real event as I’ve come to understand it, or the movie, which is also very beautiful.

Now the Fox is its own kind of movie. It had reality in a specific place and time—now it’s echoes sounding on in the hearts of the people who loved being there. This is me doing my best to be profound—but if I come off sounding grandiose or corny, even that seems kind of appropriate to the Fox. It’s a palace with popcorn under its floorboards. It has a beautiful golden curtain with stains on it. And the great thing about discovering this site is that the movie gets bigger all the time. The Fox that I know used to have a basemnent where a little girl ate her parents—now it has many more underground rooms, as well as organ pipes and vaudeville players and Helen Twelvetrees.

Please keep writing, everybody. And Sally—I know it’s a long shot, but my mom and her friends were attending the Fox at the same time you did. Did you happen to know the Beachums?

Manwithnoname on December 28, 2004 at 8:40 pm

Schrader: Judging from your earlier posts your memory is certainly as good as mine. The memory I envy is our friend BrucieB. Sounds like I’m about 5 years younger than he and I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning!

As for the Will Rogers pitches, you probably remember them that way because they did come in between trailers sometimes and the lights were turned up to pass the collection plate. I never liked that “in your face” part of it. I felt a lot of folks donated because they felt guilty if they didn’t.

The posts to this theater have become sort of a family reunion. It’s great to be part of it.

BruceBerns on December 28, 2004 at 8:16 pm

During the mid- to late-fifties, the kiddy matinees on Saturdays were a staple at the Fox Redondo. Most of the time, the movies were of the Abbot & Costello, Bowery Boys type, along with some shorts, cartoons and serials. It was amazing how often the same features and shorts would show up, but nobody complained. We saw Elroy Hearsh movies and sang along with Smoky the Bear. The afternoon, filled with films having short run times, allowed for plenty of mischief and visits to the candy counter, and that made the company happy. Kids had big decisions to make on such days. Just how much can be bought, and how long will it last, with the twenty-five or thirty cents they got from mom to spend on candy?

For about two years in the mid- to late fifties, when I was around 12 years old, there was also some on-stage entertainment offered by one Roy Gordon, an stout, gray-haired fellow who would play games and give away prizes during the extended Saturday intermissions. Of one thing I am certain. Gordon didn’t really like kids. My free run of the backstage area allowed me to lurk in the shadows and to hear his comments when off stage. His language was for adults until the spotlight hit him. But he did a good job and made all us kids happy during his performances. I’m guessing he was an old timer from the vaudeville days and happy to still be in show business. He worked a circuit of theaters on the weekends, but I don’t know exactly which ones he visited. Some of you may remember his coming to other theaters in the Los Angeles area.

At one point, with Dr. Pepper as the main sponsor, and with local businesses joining in, Roy Gordon promoted a long running contest with weekly drawings for prizes, some as nice as bicycles. One drawing ticket was given to each person attending the show that day, and tickets could be obtained from many of the downtown merchants on their own terms, and most importantly, you could get one drawing ticket for every two Dr. Pepper bottle caps you brought to the show that day. Toward the end of the weekly contests, this was changed to one for one. You could keep your tickets for future week’s drawings as well.

Prizes could also be won by earning the right to join Roy on stage to play some simple games. Roy would choose kids in the audience to come up and play the games in two different ways. The first was to use a pocket mirror, shining the spotlight in a kid’s face and saying, “Okay, you can come up.” This would be done with four or five kids each week. In truth, most of those chosen with the mirror were the kids that hounded Gordon when he arrived at the theater. They would hang on him, begging to be picked during the show. He usually gave in, and ended up picking them “at random” if he could find them in their seats during his bit. But there was often a kid or two he overlooked or couldn’t find, and they would end up crying, feeling hurt and betrayed. They would tackle him as he left, and he would make his usual insincere promise of, “Next week, Honey.”

I, on the other hand, ended up on stage more often than all the other kids. The second way to win the chance to participate in the on-stage games was to guess the name of a song. Roy would play the song on his accordion. There was just one problem with this. He could barely play, and he didn’t know the songs children new. He would explain the rules, that the first to call out the name of his song could come up and play a game. Then the hush would come as he would play something like “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue.” Nobody? So he would try others, like “My Blue Heaven” or “Cocktails For Two.” Now this is where I became a long-time, friendly enemy to Gordon. I came from a musical background, and I knew every song Roy could play by the time I was eight. I knew every song Roy couldn’t play, too. So week after week, he kept hearing my squeaky voice yelling out in the darkness something like, “THE SHEIK OF ARABY!” and he would say, “You again!” I was on stage most of the times he pulled out that accordion, and I had to bite my tongue several times after he finally sought me out to ask if I would give the other kids a chance in return for some future reward. But that’s a different story.

Once on stage, the game was often as simple as rhyming a word that Roy would say within three seconds. Do it, and he would drop a dime in a cup and give another word. Sometimes he would just shake the cup and not drop the dime. Either he couldn’t resist the con, or was short on dimes, but I watched him do that many times. Rhyme his words too well, and he would pull out one of his favorite game stoppers, like “balcony” or “orange.” But a kid could win sixty or seventy cents to spend on more candy, and there were no complaints, even though you knew you had been double-crossed. When he pulled such tricks on me, we both knew what was going on.

As for the prizes from ticket drawings, I had a tremendous advantage over the other thousand or so kids each week. First of all, my “work”, which took an hour or two on Saturday mornings, longer if I wanted to wait for others so I could show off, meant that I was in attendance for every drawing. Second, downtown Redondo Beach was my territory, and the participating merchants all knew me, and I sweet-talked most of them into giving me a few tickets. But third, and most impressive of all, was my resolve to find every Dr.Pepper bottle cap in town. There were two liquor stores just across the street from the Fox, one owned by my grandparents. Any bottle caps in the catch-bin there, as well as in the other store, were mine! I made my daily pickups.

One day I enlisted my older cousin with a car to take me to every liquor store we could find from Torrance to Manhattan Beach. I remember spilling the caps out on the back seat floor, sifting through them for the Dr. Peppers. Each week, my supply of drawing tickets increased. Because they came from different sources, it was nearly impossible to find a single number called out during the drawings in time to claim the prize. I lost a couple of prizes simply because I couldn’t find the right stub in time. So eventually, with hundreds of tickets, I put them in numerical order, stapled them to cardboard sheets, and paid other kids a few cents each, assigning them boards to check after each number was called out. It was my own little enterprise, and it paid off, since over time I won two bicycles and a half dozen other nice prizes and cash.

Kiddy matinees will always be happy memories for me, and I’m sure for you as well. And somewhere up there, Roy Gordon may be looking down and saying, “Come on, Bruce, what rhymes with ‘balcony’?” My name is Bruce Berns. If you worked at the Fox Redondo in the 50’s or 60’s I would especially like hearing from you, and all others who would like to share their Fox Redondo memories.

Schrader on December 28, 2004 at 6:41 pm

I wish my memory was better, but I can’t think either what movie I witnessed being interrupted at the South Bay Theater; I can only think of movies that were not. My apologies to the late Mr. Rogers and his foundation.

Manwithnoname on December 28, 2004 at 5:53 pm

Schrader: You are no doubt thinking of the Will Rogers foundation. Taking up collections were common for many years for this particular charity in most theaters not just the FOX. I can’t remember a film being interrupted for that, though. I was at the UA Del Amo (the first Assistant Manager) in 1972 and worked the South Bay Theaters in the ‘80’s part time. I was with MANN (FOX Palos Verdes, FOX Cinemaland, etc.) in between.

Schrader on December 28, 2004 at 4:07 pm

Bruce, your story got me hungry for a tub of popcorn with extra butter.

Speaking of stopping a movie in progress: I remember a period in the early seventies when at the South Bay Theater they would interrupt a movie between reels with a short for some charity or other (sorry I can’t remember which charity), then bring up the lights and pass collection baskets through the auditorium. I sure wouldn’t have liked being an usher during that experiment. But that’s a South Bay Theater story …

Manwithnoname, I think it’s great you remember the poster for DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. I actually saw that twice at the Fox—or 1 and 1/13 times, because on the first try I was too scared to stay for more than a few minutes. Afterwards I went to school with a couple band-aids on my neck, as a sort of homage to the movie, and wound up being sent to the school psychologist.

One more great Fox memory I have is that one night before the main feature they showed the FRAZIER/ALI CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT—it was about a thirty minute film and the nearest I ever got to experiencing an old-fashioned night at the movies, with newreels and whatnot.

O.C. or Bruce, I know that the last show to play at the Fox was WOODSTOCK with MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN—but do you happen to remember if WOODSTOCK also played there at another, earlier time? Also, during your time at the Fox was there electricity in the old dressing rooms or were they pitch black?

Sally1949 on December 27, 2004 at 7:33 pm

I remember being seated in the front row during “The Swiss Family Robinson.” Forty-five years later, my neck still hurts. And now I know why!

Bruce, I think Heloise (of Hints From Heloise) must have hung out at the Fox during your popcorn experiment. She suggests that to “freshen” your house and put people in a good mood, you should stick a bag of popcorn in the microwave when you see guests pull up outside. You tear the bag open as they walk through the door and they get a blast of good-memory-provoking popcorn. It works. You were ahead of your time!

BruceBerns on December 27, 2004 at 6:56 pm

I think it was during the holidays somewhere around 1961, and a Disney film was booked at the Fox Redondo. A first-run Disney film would mean a full house for each showing. There was no practice of clearing the house between runs, and kids would sometimes stay all day. We would began announcing, “First ten rows only,” to those in the ticket line. This wasn’t quite true, since little kids who liked sitting that close would often break away from their friends or siblings and fill these rows before taking good seats elsewhere, even the doubles and triples. There were over 1,300 seats,but some kids would rather sit right at the screen than in the last row of the balcony. The noise factor, especially during a packed Disney matinee, was quite loud. Kids had to speak louder just to hear each other over the rustle of so many candy wrappers. And the aisles were seldom empty, with a steady flow of children walking to and from the concession stand, bathrooms or just wandering. They were immediately blinded by an usher’s flashlight and scolded if they ran. That worked until they returned, running again.

One thing that National General management did especially right during packed house runs, was to hire plenty of help, and beside the doorman and those assigned to the candy counter, there would always be ushers stationed inside keeping the peace, usually one each at the top of the center aisles downstairs, and another two upstairs between the loge and balcony. Among their duties was to always light a path to vacant seats for those entering who were blinded by the darkness. Splitting parties up when the house was full was a busy and stressful duty for young ushers trying to do professional jobs. People entering at the top of the aisle would naturally stop and wait for their eyes to adjust, but in doing so would block the view of those in the last aisles. So speed in finding them seats, especially in their blinded state, was where we took pride in our jobs.

Even with the most rowdy of crowds, I do not remember ever stopping the movie at the Fox Redondo. There would always be enough ushers on staff during such times, and we would simply walk toward the screen and back to the aisle tops. In those days, this was enough to keep the peace. The ushers with their flashlights actually commanded respect due to fear of reprimand. Times were certainly much simpler then. Within only three or four years, those innocent times were gone, and a private duty police officer would be needed, more often for show than need of force, to keep the peace.

You may remember that the Strand Theater, three blocks South, was a different world. The manager, named Polis, a sour, self-important sort of man, never paid for the additional staff needed to keep the peace. Kids would nearly tear the place apart on weekend matinees, and it was close to a ritual for Polis to stop the film and stand spotlighted on the stage with a microphone, and threaten to close the show if the kids wouldn’t stop throwing popcorn boxes and quiet down. I think he like the attention he got doing this, and he took his time ranting and repeating himself. It never changed anything for more than a few minutes, and there were times when he would stop the movie two or three times. I mention all this in praise to the management of the Fox Redondo and others in the chain that were not so cheap as to avoid having adequate staff.

While ticket sales for the blockbusters, like “Babes in Toyland” and other holiday films, were obviously good, the bid made by theater management to the distributors for the rights to exhibit big films could leave very little profit when the run was finished. Nearly all of the ticket sales in the first week, or even weeks, were not kept by the theater. But as Manager Bill Mauck taught me early on, the business was there for selling candy, with popcorn and drinks being the largest profit makers. All the rest of our show business was to funnel the patron to the concessions, and cleaning up kiddy vomit was just part of the price paid to sell the candy. You may recall the free “kiddy matinees” with all cartoons or “Mighty Joe Young” a few times each year at the Fox. Now you know why they were free. Concession sales from a packed house was good business. That’s probably not changed a lot, considering the price of popcorn, drinks and candy at theaters today! Earlier, I recall popcorn costing a dime, with butter 15-cents. I remember it rising to 15/25, 20/30, 35/50 and so on. It was real butter,too, kept in the freezer backstage. It wasn’t uncommon during such busy runs for Mr. Mauck to give me a few dollars and send me to the market, because butter supplies would be exhausted, and the Fox Hermosa could not afford to lend what they had. Butter was one of the few items not under the heavy inventory control. If a patron said, “Extra butter, please,” they would get it. Eventually, different colored popcorn boxes helped to keep inventory control of the butter. And extra butter had an extra charge.

Popcorn, surprisingly, was under very heavy inventory control. The boxes probably cost more than their contents, and the boxes were used to keep track of inventory. They were counted and compared to the number of bags of pre-popped corn delivered and sold. If the percentages were off, the staff would be scolded for supposedly eating too much themselves or for loosing boxes. Bill Mauck never accused anyone of stealing or giving popcorn away, but we were always warned that it was the boxes themselves that were inventoried, and to keep close track of them. Of course we understood if we were to eat the popcorn we were to use another type of container or a used popcorn box. During a Disney-type week, it wasn’t uncommon to order a hundred or more of the large popcorn-filled bags, but we did not have enough space to store them in the candy room, and had to take them upstairs to a break room used by employees, which you may have noticed just outside the manager’s office. I remember one very huge movie opening where even that room could not hold all the bags ordered, and we simply left them sitting in the upstairs lobby between the two restrooms.

During one of these house-packing days, I was working a shift as doorman, talking with Manager Bill Mauck, and the subject of concession sales techniques and subliminal advertising came up. We already knew the science of where to put which boxes of candy behind the glass, and not long before, upper management sent new instructions for selling drinks. They told us when a patron asked for a soft drink, our response was now always to be “Regular?” This immediately increased the sales of the large size drinks and decreased the sales of the small size. We were amazed at the amount of change, and therefore profit, from this technique. Mauck and I were wondering if there were ever any techniques within the films, like single frames or even other more subliminal techniques designed to increase concession sales. Then I said if we could only pipe the smell of the popcorn into the house we could sell tons of it.

He laughed and agreed. When the popcorn was extra hot, and the breeze was flowing the right way, it did fill the house with its delicious odor. We’ve all had the experience of first smelling the irresistible odor of popped corn, and being unable to resist buying some. Mauck had a twinkle in his eye, and said it would probably work. I kidded, suggesting we take bags of corn backstage and down to the room holding the giant fan that circulated the air throughout the theater. I said we’ll let it blow the smell into the house. Then we could see if our home-made subliminal suggestion would work. Well, theater managers are paid a percentage of concession sales, and Mauck actually agreed to give it a shot! In fact he laughed. I only saw Bill Mauck laugh to the point of tears a couple of times over the years. It was not a common sight to see him with more than a warm grin of a smile, but when he did smile enough to show his gold tooth, everybody’s mood changed for the better. Today’s laugh was not to tears, but the mood was jovial. After all, we had a packed house, concession sales were tremendous, and that had a direct effect on his earnings.

As for our popcorn experiment, things could have been easier if the corn was popped on the premises, but remember, it was delivered pre-popped and cold in giant bags. But there was little doubt in my mind that this was going to work, and we set to the task. We needed a very large box to dump the bags of corn into, the idea being to set it as close to the fan as we could manage. By the late afternoon our experiment was running, the furnace was on, the popcorn wafting. And it turned out to be a complete failure.

Our problem was simple: The corn itself had to be very hot to give off its wonderful aroma. Cold or cool corn is actually chewy and has a stale odor. But our experiment produced no odor at all inside the house. Even all that corn sitting in the small fan room could not do the job without a strong heat applied to the kernels. Of course, we probably looked strange walking the aisles, sniffing the air for the next hour, but we just had to give it all a try. We did agree the idea was sound. We just didn’t have the equipment. Of course, in today’s hi-tech world, I wouldn’t be surprised if a tiny chemical drop of artificial odor is frequently used to sell popcorn and pleasures in theaters or other places.

My name is Bruce Berns. If you worked at the Fox Redondo in the 50’s or 60’s I’d especially love to hear from you.