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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.”
I saw many movies at the Ritz in the 50’s and 60’s, including “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “Dr. Zhivago,” and “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm” (in Cinerama). It was torn down in the late 70’s or early 80’s, because by the time I came back to B'ham in 1983 it was gone. It was one block down and one block over from the Alabama, so on a Saturday afternoon you could sometimes see two movies, one at each place and grab some lunch at the Krystal (my God, did we really eat that stuff?) on the way between them. This saved on bus fare.
Never went there but drove by many times from 1973-1982. Occasionally it would be rejuvenated as a night club or something similar, but never seemed to last very long. Too bad.
I saw many movies at the State while attending Southwestern at Memphis (“Rhodes College”—gag) in the early 1960s. I partiularly remember Bob Hope in “Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number” (boy, did he!) and Jane Mansfield in “Primitive Love” (Primitive was right!) Then I graduated and went off to the AF, and when I returned to Mempho in 1973 it was gone. There was another theater next door called the Strand that played mostly porno in the late 60’s and it was gone too. Ah, memories.
Saw “The Day the World Ended” (a Roger Corman Cheapie) there in the mid-1950s. Glad to hear it’s still up and running.
I was in Cleveland form 1989-1995 and saw several movies at the Centrum. It was a most unusual architectural transformation from one to three screens. Saw “Sirens” there with Elle McPherson in 1994. Sorry to hear it’s gone down the tube at last.
I grew up in Birmingham, 1954-1963, and have many fond memories of Saturday aftenoons at the Alabama. It has to be seen to be believed.
I also saw 2001 there in the spring or summer of 1968, while stationed at Mather AFB. I remember when Kier Dullea was getting ready to “breathe vacuum” transferring from the pod to the ship, I was tempted to stand up and shout “I know you’re out there, Arthur C. Clarke!”
Went there a few times while stationed at Mather AFB in 1968. I remember two shows, a generic spy movie with Van Heflin and something strange with Tony Perkins.
Saw “The Fox” there in 1968 while stationed at Mather AFB.
I saw Shirley MacLaine in “Woman Times Seven” there while an officer cadet at Lackland AFB in 1967. Later saw “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” there while stationed at Randolph AFB in late 67 or early 68. A few years later it had gone to porno. The lobby defies description. Last time I was in town (about 1997) it was closed pending renovation.
I was stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Base in Tucson in Feb-Mar 1969 and went to the Fox to see Alan Bates in “The Fixer”. Don’t remember much about it, but it was a grand old lady of the classic movie house era. Ah, memories.
Saw “Dr. Strangelove” there in 1963. Also later Sean Connery and Jean Seberg in “A Fine Madness.”
Went there once in 1963 to see a Tarzan movie with Gordon Scott and Sean Connery as the villain. Even then I remember it as pretty seedy.
I went to the Memphian many times while attending Southwestern at Memphis in the 1960s. Used to walk across Overton Park and then back to campus in the middle of the night. It was still the Memphian into the late-1970s.