Showing 176 - 200 of 334 comments
That was during my college years so I was the theatre gofer. I would change the marquee, pick up film, change light bulbs, and fill in whenever there was a need on the floor crew. Jack was one of that unfortunate group of EFC managers and projectionists who were carted off to jail for the crime of managing a theatre that was booked with “Oh Calcutta” all in the name of getting some free publicity for the Fulton County solicitor. Jack was the relief manager for the Atlanta area theatres at that time, but the manager of the Ben Hill quit rather than take the chance of going to jail so Jack got sent out to take the fall. For a short while after that he ran the Belvedere.
That was in 1972. By 1973 he was at the Toco Hill and he stayed there until at least 1975. The only notable thing that I can remember about his tenure at Toco was that “Deliverance” was booked on the intermediate break the day after it left its first run engagement at the 12 Oaks. The 12 Oaks was only about 5 or 6 miles away, but “Deliverance” ran at Toco for 14 weeks in the days that 4 to 6 weeks was considered a long run. It left for two weeks then came back for two more.
I ran into Jack again in 1977. By then he was managing a theatre for Georgia Theatre Company, the Village, I think. Later he was relief manager at Village, Suburban Plaza, South DeKalb, Westgate, but not Greenbriar for some reason. I always thought Jack a nice guy and pleasant enough to work for. He had one remarkable habit that I would never have had the nerve to try to get away with. In all of the times I worked for or with him I never knew him to have a home telephone in those pre cell phone days. Or, if he did he never told the company the number. This eliminated the aggravation of the company calling you on your day off and telling you to get to work, or switching you assignment for the day to some hell hole on the far side of town.
I have finally located the article from the newspaper announcing the first use of the digital projector at the Fox. “Narnia” was the feature. CT requests that we not cut and paste entire articles due to copyright concerns, but here are some sentences from the article that are of interest to this thread:
Projectionist Scott Hardin, who’s manned the booth for 29 consecutive Fox Summer Film Festivals, says he’s “kind of had to pinch myself” over the latest enhancement. “I’ve been anticipating this day for so many years.”
Instead of huge reels of celluloid, he’ll download “Narnia” from a removable hard drive into a new Dolby server, which will play it back through the NEC digital projector.
The projector is among the most powerful on the market. It has to be, because it must “throw” the image 160 feet, from the rear of the auditorium to the screen, more than double the distance in many cinemas.
Fox officials aren’t yet certain which remaining summer films will be available to be shown digitally, but they expect them to include “V for Vendetta” (July 31) and the recently booked “The Da Vinci Code” (Aug. 17). Other titles, especially older ones such as “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (July 17), will continue to be exhibited in 35mm format. And the lyrics for the follow-the-bouncing-ball singalongs before every feature will still be shown via the decidedly retro Brenograph glass-slide projector that, remarkably, operates from the same spot it did in 1929.
The article is dated 6/26/06.
First let me say that I have enjoyed your posts on the Ziegfeld and RCMH pages of this site. I need to say that the technical side of this business is not really my field. Having started out my theatre days downstairs, and later in management, this site, especially the Ziegfeld page which has turned into something of a blog on showmanship in general, is more in line with my interests.
Your Ben-Hur write up reminded me of something that I had known about but did not think to consider when this subject came up. As I remember the story, Ben-Hur was filmed in 2.76 to 1 but the action was centered within the frame in something like 2.55 to 1 so that the theatres of the day could show it without cropping out anything important. Sort of an early version of what I understand Super Panavision to be. If my understanding of that is correct then I guess I owe Mr. Wade an apology since it is possible that he did indeed see an earlier screening of Ben-Hur in the wider 2.55 version. There are a couple of reasons that this is possible.
First is the way the curtain and masking operate. Instead of the local megaplex method of having someone in the booth hitting a button to move the masking back and forth (or up and down as the case may be) to one of two preset positions, the masking at the Fox is set by stagehands pulling the ropes. This allows the masking to be set to accommodate even the smallest variables in the size of the image. Second is the fact that the head projectionist at the Fox, who has been there since that first showing 30 years ago, is a true perfectionist. Before each show, he makes sure that the side and top masking is set to expose every possible inch of screen surface. So, if the image on the print was greater than 2.35 to 1, I am sure that the masking marks were set at the points needed to show every bit of it. Also, the Fox has had several screens over the past 30 years, the first of which, like the projectors, was the refugee from the Loew’s Grand. It might have had different dimensions and been slightly wider than the ones that followed which were measured to fit the layout of the Fox.
As for your visit to the Fox booth, that must have been in the fall of 1974. The Fox was still a grind movie house in those days but would occasionally cancel an evening for live shows in an effort to keep the doors open. Those projectors are long gone. If you want to wade through my post from last year, that story is in there, somewhere. That was during my theatre managing days and was long before my days of working in the Fox booth.
Your comment on the Turner letterboxing story reminds me that there was a VHS release during the 80’s that was pan and scan except for the race which was letterboxed. I never actually saw it but have heard several people mention it so it is probably true.
Your mention of the Martin Cinerama brings back good memories as it was my favorite of all the theatres I worked in, even if I was only an usher working my way through college. It was located only a couple of blocks from the Fox, operated under several names over the years, and is listed on this site as the Atlanta Theatre. When Martin renovated it for Cinerama they put in the 146 degree ribbon screen. I never saw three screen Cinerama there, but did see numerous 70MM presentations using the projectors that were installed starting with Mad Mad World. I regret to say that the theatre now resides in the landfill and the site now serves as a parking lot.
Starting 30 years ago the Fox ran a true “classic” film series usually scheduled for ten straight Monday nights. As the Fox started to emerge from the run down shell it was during the mid 70’s into the palace it is today, more week long stage show and single night engagements made running a consistent schedule difficult. When the series started it was known as the Coca Cola Family Film Festival and the schedule consisted of the usual suspects of classic films plus a good number of more recent (for the 70’s) films that were available in 70MM. Although a couple of my favorites, Patton and Oliver, only ran once, others like Ben-Hur, My Fair Lady, and of course Gone With The Wind, ran numerous times. I will try to look up the titles of these years and post a list a la Michael Coate.
In more recent years 70MM has almost vanished. The last ones I recall were 2001 in 2002, and Lawrence of Arabia a couple of years later. Also, the classics started to drop out in favor of more recent releases and we are lucky to see more than one or two such films per summer. In the 90’s the “Family” aspect was also dropped so “R” rated films could be run. In recent years, the earliest of that summers releases have been available by the end of the summer for a final chance for people to see them before the DVD comes out.
As for the method used for presentation, it is either 35MM or 2K. For the recent releases, anything that was released in 2K or 4K and is available, is run in 2K. All of the older films that were released in the days of film only are still run on film since there does not seem to be any movement toward putting golden oldies on 2K digital. This summer is a good example with Casablanca and Ben-Hur on 35MM and everything else, so far, on 2K digital.
We can hope that one day the studios will see the value in putting classic movies on 2, 4, or 6K digital. That way they would be more available and the studio would not have to worry about someone cutting the leaders and tails off of their “archive” prints or damaging them in any number of other ways.
REndres: I enjoyed your post and I do have a couple of comments, but no time at the moment. Hopefully tonight.
Hello Howard: Always good to hear from another refugee from the Zeigfeld page.
Yes, Enchanted was shown in 2K.
Last year I was surprised to hear that even some of the recent movies released in Digital Cinema would not always be available in digital editions. The equipment used to send the download to the theatres has the content erased so that it can be reused. This makes sense although I would have thought that a couple of editions might have been kept intact just the way prints of old movies are. That may well be the case, since as far as I know the movies that have been released digitally have still been available up to a year later.
So far this year, the Fox has run a recently struck 1.33 to 1 print of Casablanca (mono), and the above mentioned Ben-Hur. Everything else has been Digital Cinema 2K.
I will have to confess that I am not a movie “purist” when it comes to new technology. As long as the content is not tampered with I am happy to see the classics updated from mag to Dolby stereo and Dolby and DTS digital sound. If no 70MM prints are struck for Ben-Hur next year, I would like to see it offered as a 2K or 4K digital download. As Mr. Wade noted, the Fox booth has a tremendous throw to the screen which is accompanied by a vertical keystone. Good people can disagree on matters such as this, but I think that unless you get a brand new well timed 35MM print, the digital picture looks better.
Although not the point of this comment, I will note that as I write this at 6:28 PM on 7/17/2008, exactly 30 years ago, almost to the minute, I was walking into the Fox Theatre to see the first movie presented there since the place closed up on January 2, 1975. The feature: Ben-Hur, in glorious 70MM. I have described that event in more detail than anyone would care to read in my earlier post so I will get to the point. This comment will hopefully clear up a few of the technical questions raised by Mr. Wade in the above post.
As for the media used to present Ben-Hur, I can assure everyone that there was nothing digital about it, even, unfortunately, the sound. It was a 35MM print struck on May 9, 1993. This meant that while the sound was Dolby Stereo, it was analog since Dolby Digital did not come along until mid decade. Considering its 15 year age it was in pretty good shape, but I think that its condition could kindly be described as “Best Available”. As with any print that old there were numerous and noticeable dirt type scratches at the beginning and end of each reel, and repeated build ups and tear downs for platter screenings had resulted in missing frames. Fortunately, the Overture, Intermission tag, and second half walk in music were included although splices at the beginning of the Intermission tag and end of walk in music indicated that at least once someone had run this print straight through without an intermission. A real crime against showmanship in my opinion.
The size of the screen at the Fox is as large as it has ever been, and as large as it can be. Although there is some more room on the sides for a wider screen, there is no more room at the top. Since all of the vertical space is being used, expanding the width would cause the top and bottom to be cropped off. This is a problem I described in my original post where I pointed out that the Fox is a hybrid, designed as an auditorium, not a movie theatre or stage show venue. The image projected for Ben-Hur and other cinemascope pictures is as wide as it can be given the height limitations of the stage. If you are sitting the balcony, it may seem that the screen can go higher, but this is not the case. For anyone sitting under the balcony, especially near the back, the line of the bottom of the balcony meets the top of the screen, so anything projected on a taller screen would not be visible to these patrons.
When it comes to the screen size used for different movies, that is determined purely by the aspect ratio of the film in question. This is not a technical site, but simply put, there are three main screen shapes used in films. Describing the ratio of width to height, they are 1.33 to 1 (roughly the shape of a pre HD television), 1.85 to 1, called “flat” in the industry, and 2.35 (or wider) to 1, called scope, cinemascope, or widescreen. Some years ago someone who had attended a screening of “Gone With The Wind” at the Fox had written to the Q and A section of the AJC to ask why the Fox had taken out its huge screen and replaced it with a small square screen. The explanation for all of this is that the Fox is very careful to present the movies it shows in their correct aspect ratio. (When we ran “The Searchers” the 1.66 to 1 lens and screen width were used, a very rare event.) This means that when a classic such as “GWTW”, “Casablanca”, or “Wizard of Oz” plays, the side masking is brought in to make the screen the correct 1.33 to 1 size. It may look small in comparison to the massive Fox stage width, but the full height of the stage area is used. To try to widen the picture would result in the cropping that I described above. (For a perfect example of this, read the story of what happened to GWTW when they blew the image up to 1.85 to 1 for its 1967 70MM reissue.)
All of these notes apply to digital projection as well as film. The type of projection makes no difference in the size of the screen. Aspect ratio is the determining factor. A scope picture presented in digital projection will be the same size as one presented via film. The same goes for 1.85 and 1.33. I should point out that when I say digital I am talking about the new Digital Cinema Systems that are now being installed in theatres across the nation. I am most assuredly not talking about using some digital capable projector to show a DVD on the screen.
Speaking of this past Sunday, anyone who attended Ben-Hur was able to see all three aspect ratios in use. The preshow documentary Mr. Wade referred to was a Public TV production and was projected at 1.33 to 1 using the digital video projector. The rest of the program was all film. When the 35MM film projector was started for the previews, the masking was pulled back to the 1.85 to 1 mark. When the previews ended, there was a pause for the lens to be changed to 1.33 to 1 and the masking was brought back in so the cartoon could be presented in its proper 1.33 ratio. (Oddly enough, the film company logo on the front of the cartoon was modern and in 1.85 ratio so there were black bars at the top and bottom just like on a letterboxed DVD until the cartoon itself started and took up the full screen. When the cartoon ended, the 1.85 lens and masking were returned to present the Fox policy and feature presentation strips. At this point the curtain was closed and the curtain lights came on for the Overture. During the Overture, the masking was pulled back to its full open mark and the 2.35 to 1 scope lens was put in place. When the overture ended, the lights dimmed and the screen opened to its full width for the MGM logo.
With regard to some other points by Mr. Wade, I think that the newsreel in question is used because it features the World Premiere of “Gone With The Wind” as its final story. I am happy to see that he took note of the fact that the curtain and lights were properly used during the Overture. Very few theatres even have curtains anymore, and the applause from the audience when the lights dimmed and the curtain opened to reveal the MGM lion seemed to indicate that they appreciated an example of the long lost art of properly presenting a big, class, roadshow production. At least to the degree possible.
As for the debate between film as opposed to theatre grade Digital Cinema, let me say this. I have been working with film most of my life. Even though I now see my future job prospects being rapidly eliminated by the advent of Digital Cinema, I will have to admit that the picture quality of a movie properly presented (usually meaning being bright enough) using the Digital Cinema process is better than that of film. On Sunday afternoon, before the night showing of “Ben-Hur”, the Fox presented a Digital Cinema presentation of the Disney movie “Enchanted” using the digital projector. Both movies are 2.35 to 1 scopes so the picture size was the same, but the clarity of “Enchanted” to say nothing of the lack of scratches, specks, flecks, and splices, was greater than the 35MM film presentation of “Ben-Hur”. It is too bad that a 70MM print of Ben-Hur was not available for the Fox as it has been at least twice in the past. The last two times the Fox has presented “Ben-Hur” it has been with 35MM, so perhaps 70MM is no longer available. Next year is the 50th Anniversary of this great film so hopefully MGM, or whoever controls the rights now will order some 70MM DTS prints for an anniversary run the way “2001” is touring the country this year.
George, I believe we met in the projection booth at the Starlight Drive Invasion last September. If you want to contact me at
I have no brief for the City of Decatur Police Department, but lets be fair about one thing here. While the theatre has a Decatur mailing address, it is really in unincorporated DeKalb County. This means that the responsibility for investigating the crime, to say nothing of protecting the citizens of this area, falls on the DeKalb County Police Department.
Lets also be realistic. This is not the type of victim that engenders much sympathy from the general public. While it appears to be more of a street crime and could just as easily have happened to the victim and his mother if they had been walking out of any of the stores in the shopping center, the emphasis that the news stories put on the adult theatre aspect of this incident makes it just that much easier for the police to file this one in the inactive file and get on with whatever they were doing. (Please note: I said I was talking realistic here, not fair or right.)
I am sure that the police would like to have this case solved, for statistical purposes if nothing else, and if someone cared to walk into the station and supply the name of the perp then I am sure that they would be happy to listen. That possibility aside, I am afraid that this type of crime, against this type of victim, in this neighborhood, is not going to attract much pressure from the public or effort from the police. On the other hand, had the victim been the son of a business owner walking out of her store in, say, Northlake or Perimeter Malls, then I am sure that the situation would be investigated, and reported differently.
Hopefully, someday the police will arrest someone that knows the identity of the murderer and that particular someone will offer the name in exchange for a deal.
As to the manager you worked for, would his name perhaps have been Jack Demestre? (Pronounced da MESS tree)
This blogsite has a picture of the Miracle on opening day as well as a shot of the site today. Nice story on the theatre as well.
My apologies Jack. I do not know why I was so arrogant as to think that my memory was better than yours.
As for you R2, this makes three times you have had to correct me. I think that from now on I will just send you my comments for vetting prior to posting. Either that or just end each comment with “…I think.”
No, but it is the same as the other Northlake 1,2,3 listed on this site. I guess Jack had a senior moment when writing this post and forgot that he had already listed it earlier.
Talked with a former Georgia Theatre Company co-worker the other day. He reminded me that the movie that did the most business at Parkaire was the Burt Reynolds effort, “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings”. Don’t know how I could have forgotten. Following that, Parkaire was part of the wide break first run release of “Trial of Billy Jack”. I remember playing that three hour sermon at South DeKalb. Fall of 1974 I believe. It opened wide so that the film maker could make their money before word got out about what a snoozer it was.
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.