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From 1969 to 1980, the National Cinema Corp. franchised “Jerry Lewis Cinemas” as a business opportunity for those interested in theatrical movie exhibition. A harbinger of the cookie-cutter “cineplex” type movie theaters that would become popular in the 1970s, a Jerry Lewis Cinema was billed in franchising ads as a “mini-theatre” with a seating capacity of between 200 and 350. Though billed as “luxurious and plush”, the actual theaters were not luxurious, but not bare-bones either. Jerry Lewis Cinemas stated that the theater could be operated by as little as a staff of two due to automation and the fact that the franchisor would provide support in booking films and help in other areas of film exhibition.
National Franchise Corp. successfully wooed Lewis to provide his name and star-power to the franchising operation. As well as bearing his name, each Jerry Lewis Cinema bore a sign with a cartoon logo of Lewis in profile. The theaters were pitched to investors that were not movie exhibition veterans, pitching owning a movie theater as a “mom and pop” operation.
There initially were 158 territories that were franchised, with a buy-in fee of $10,000 or $15,000, depending on the territory, for what was called an “individual exhibitor”. For $50,000, the Jerry Lewis Cinemas offered an opportunity known as an “area director” in which investors not only were given their own cinema, but controlled franchising opportunities in a territory.
The success of the chain was hampered by the chain’s policy of only booking second-run, family-friendly films. Eventually, the policy was changed, and the Jerry Lewis Cinemas were allowed to run other, more competitive fare, but after a decade, the chain failed. Both Lewis and National Cinema Corp. declared bankruptcy in 1980.
I saw a lot of moves at Cinema 46. I wish I could remember more of them. When I was twelve an usher there caught me and my buddy trying to sneak into an R rated movie. I saw “Purple Rain” there and liked it so much I stuck around and saw it again. Sometimes if it was crowded the ushers asked people to exit through the outside doors. But if you told them you needed to make a phone call or use the bathroom they let you back in the lobby and you could usually stick around and see another movie. Does anyone remember pay phones?
I saw a lot of movies at Totowa Cinema 46. The one I really remember was “The Fly”. It was rated R. They actually checked our i.d.’s. My two buddies were only seventeen. But I was eighteen so they were allowed to see the movie because I was with them. I thought that was really stupid.
I saw “The Outsiders” at the RKO Twin. It became a second run theater a few years later. If my friends didn’t feel like waiting in line to pay full price at Loews we would go over to RKO.
I used to go to the Pennsbury when I was attending Trenton State College across the river in Ewing Township. I remember driving over the Calhoun Street Bridge. Everyone said it was made of popsicle sticks. I can’t remember all the movies I saw there. One was “The Color Purple”. When I saw “Witchboard” half of downtown Trenton must have been there. The theater was next to a fish market so when you left you were assaulted with the smell of fish.
An older cousin said he attended science fiction double features at the Montauk. Was he pulling my leg?
I think the Valleyview Cinema is now Extreme Kidz Parties.