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In the late ‘70s and early '80s, I worked at the Orpheum. I can categorically state that the fare at that time was definitely neither blaxploitation nor adult fare. Our bookings really ran the gamut, from Russ Meyer triple features (kind of porn light, but definitely not crossing the line into true porn), a month-long series of Disney Classics, and even the very long first run of Coal Miner’s Daughter. We usually had very little business, but a few block-buster films per year seemed to keep us, barely, in the black.
Even in a state of marginal disrepair, the theater was quite lovely, showing off its vaudeville roots. However, some systems were badly out of date. The non-working furnace mentioned by a poster above, is a prime example. The heat was supplied by a boiler and it was either OFF or ON. The thermostat was a non-functional joke. So if the auditorium was mostly empty, patrons froze. Busy? They sweltered. Both freezers and sweaters complained, but there was absolutely nothing that the staff could do to make them comfortable.
The projection equipment was in much better repair, but to get to the projection booth required flat shoes, nerves of steel, and strong thighs to get up a narrow, steep, turning,dangerous stairway. Popcorn was popped in the dressing rooms, behind and below the stage, and brought up in plastic bags. No aroma of freshly popped popcorn at this theater!
Having now seen the photos of the dome rehab., I can’t wait to go back to the old Orpheum, and see how pretty she’s become. I just wonder if the workers have found the old ice cream freezer that was walled in. Or managed to eradicate the legions of albino cockroaches…
I began working at the Co-Ed, Autumn, 1976. My memories are a bit different than others. That winter season, we were running Rocky and Network (first runs) in the two auditoriums. Neither can be considered “adult” fare; both were academy award winning films.
The Co-Ed began running midnight movies long before Rocky Horror Picture Show became a cult favorite. I know; I worked many of those late shows on Friday and Saturday nights. In fact, I worked RHPS during its first “regular” run. It was not a well attended film; maybe 20 people came during the entire week! The midnight offerings ran the gamut from comedies to horror to soft porn. We had a security guard who would check IDs for us, as the box office was very busy for these films. One night, the guard thought it necessary to verify the age of one young man in line. The decision was made to let the patron in, despite being underage. By the time the movie started, he was legal — this was his buddies' method of celebrating a major birthday. After a particularly gruesome horror film, my coworkers wouldn’t let me walk home alone. Even jaded theater workers, who see ALL the movies, can be affected by them.
I began working at the Co-Ed when it was a twin; I stayed into the 4 screen era. The clients were primarily U of I students, but during student hiatuses, the townies would come out in force.
My time at the Co-Ed caused a life-long addiction to films, but I became a very discerning addict. I still enjoy a really good movie, and deplore much of the dreck that today passes for movies.
I worked at the Varsity in the summer of 1976. At that time, there was a single screen, and the balcony was never, but never open. Only staff were allowed upstairs. We ran mostly soft-core porn, with an occasional blaxploitation feature. I remember that “Debbie Does Dallas” had been altered, with a black bar across the bottom 20% of the screen during the more pornographic scenes. The blaxploitation films were a rare addition to our scheduled films.
Our patron mix was interesting. We had the regulars, for porn features, and the blaxploitation shows brought in “ladies of the evening” and their “employers.” It was quite an experience to see a very elaborately dressed young man, complete with a feather in his hat, escorting 5 or 6 scantily clad young women! I used to sit in the box office, watching, to use the current vernacular, “pimped out rides” cruising past.
The staff members recognized most of our regular, porn patrons, so although our jobs required that we check IDs for verification of age (18), it was rarely necessary. One of our regulars was an on-duty police officer, who ostensibly came in to verify there were no underage patrons. We found it interesting that, over the course of the movie’s run (a week), he’d manage to see the entire film. He had a partner who always waited in the car — a K-9 unit.
As the previous poster has noted, Avanti’s was nearby. Many an evening saw staff members bring in an order of pizza bread (still a wonderful treat), sit in the balcony to eat it, and gaze out over the heads of the patrons who preferred not to be seen there. No patron ever complained about the aroma that had to be wafting down to them. All in all, it was an educational and fun experience for a naive young woman.