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The Brighton Theatre was part of the fabled “subway circuit,” legitimate theatres where Broadway shows would go to to try out new shows (read Moss Hart’s account of this in ACT ONE) or after their runs on Broadway had closed. My father managed the theatre until it closed in 1954, and one of my earliest memories was seeing TOP BANANA here as a very young child (and it was Joey Faye, not Phil Silvers, by the time it got to the Brighton, sorry, ERD). There needs to be a proper book about the subway circuit, a very important segment of theatre in the first half of the 20th century.
I had the same guess before I read yours, RickB, and I’m sure you’re right.
This was right down the block from Erasmus Hall High School, and played all the foreign (read “adult”) movies of the day when I was a teenager in the 1960s. There was also a kosher pizza place nearby, the first time I ate falafel, as I recall. A small theatre, nothing like the other movie palaces in the area, but charming, and remembered fondly.
I was an usher, relief cashier and doorman, and eventually a phone receptionist in the mid-1960s. A fascinating building, still holding all the backstage stuff and dressing rooms all over the theatre for when it had been a vaudeville house earlier in the century. You always knew where the local cops were if there was a problem; the cops had their own “cards and beer” room in an old dressing room at the top of the theatre, where they hung out every day.
Being an old theatre, nothing was automatic, including the screen and the curtain, and as an usher, we had to close the curtain after each film (we were still in the days of double features) and actually adjust the size of the screen for widescreen (Panavision had pretty much replaced Cinemascope by then, but same idea) and the old 4:3 size. The old vaudeville signs on each side of the stage, which had been used to announce each act, were still visible but no longer in use. Some times I would be on the pay phone talking to a friend on the mezzanine level, and would forget to open the curtain or adjust the screen when the film began!
As an usher, mostly in the balcony, I had to make sure that two customers were NOT sitting in one seat, and when they were, I had to quietly go up to them with my flashlight and ask them to stop (lol, as if) and it was not unusual to find used condoms and wrappers on the floor! And yes, we sold separate loge tickets upstairs on Saturday nights, and I’m not too sure that the extra 25 cents always made its way down to the office…
Finally I was promoted to a “desk job,” where I spent the time answering the phone (Good evening, RKO Kenmore, may I help you?). By this point in time, autoanswerers were already in fashion, so people were surprised to hear a human voice on the line. Most were appropriate calls, some cranks or kid pranks or heavy breathers, and some people called every day because they were lonely. I was also given the chance to rifle through the file drawers, loaded with posters and stills from earlier films, when theatres actually used “ballyhoo” or in-house advertising and made up their own signs and posters from the ad materials provided by the distributor. This was how I really started my career as a poster collector, which has grown to over 5,000 posters, but that’s another story…
I was an usher at the Albemarle in the summer of 1963, my first real job as a teenager after my sophomore year at Erasmus (and we just had our 50th year reunion, fascinating). The Albermarle was a barn, and had not been reconditioned for air conditioning. We had many walkouts that summer due to the heat, and we were told to tell the customers, when they asked, that the theatre was “air cooled,” which really meant we left as many doors open as possible! Those heavy wool uniforms we had to wear were murder! At the end of the summer, Century Theatres, which had owned it, sold it to another company, and my job came to an end (when I went on to work at the Nostrand for a year or two, and then finally at the RKO Kenmore, a story in itself).
My dad worked for Century Theatre throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, and I spent many happy hours in the dark throughout my childhood and teen years. He managed the Rialto from the early 1960s for several years (I was in high school at Erasmus, and we lived on the corner of Ocean and Caton). Around 1961 they tried running old movies at a discounted price (the only one I remember is “Meet Me in St Louis”), but this was years before the ever-growing interest in old films, and no one came, so they gave up this policy very quickly. I used to bring my friends or my “dates” on a Saturday night for free movies, and often afterwards we would head back down Flatbush Avenue to Jahn’s ice cream parlor (or into Garfield’s, to laugh at the “old” people hanging out all night, sipping a cup of coffee). Glad to see that the theatre is still standing…
I worked as an usher at the Albemarle in the summer of 1963, when it was still being managed by the Century chain (I got the job because my dad worked for them as a manager elsewhere). It was my first job, and because I was under age, I could only work during the day. I made the minimum wage then (maybe $1.15 an hour). It was the usual neighborhood movie palace, not on a par with the Loews Kings or the RKO Kenmore, but pretty amazing. I was always explaining to people that no, the theatre wasn’t “air-conditioned,” it was “air-cooled” (we used to joke that that meant they kept a door open to the street), and that the coolest place to sit was in the back of the orchestra (again, near the open door). Lots of complaints and lots of refunds (it was a hot summer). Century let it go at the end of the summer, and I moved on to the Nostrand Theatre.
My dad worked for Rugoff & Becker’s chain thoughout the 1950s, and I spent a lot of my childhood in the dark at the Oceana, Tuxedo and Sheepshead theatres in Brooklyn. But my neighborhood hangout every Saturday was the Linden. Yes, I remember the matron with her flashlight, and I remember sneaking over to the “adults” section at a certain point in time, so I could see the films I really wanted to see (Love Me or Leave Me, Les Girls, Garment Jungle) and not the endless stream of serials, westerns and cartoons. I also remember my mom marching down the aisle with the matron to find me and take me home. I got 30 cents for the movies, which meant 20 cents to get in, and 10 cents for 3 candy bars at the corner candy store (never in the theatre itself, too expensive!) We moved away in 1959, and never went to the Linden again.
My father, Sam Lesiger, owned and operated this theater during the early 1940s. Wish I had more information, but he passed away nearly 40 years ago, and that’s all I know. Anyone else remember it?
My father managed the Oceana Theatre from the mid-1950s until 1960. During the 1950s it was one of three neighborhood theatres owned by Rugoff & Becker (the other two were the Tuxedo, where the Luna Park apartments are located on Ocean Parkway, and the Sheepshead, in Sheepshead Bay). All three theatres were acquired by the Century chain in the late 1950s, and my father worked for them until the late 1960s (Century also owned the Kingsway, Avalon, Midwood and other Brooklyn Theatres). At some point, when Century went bankrupt, the Oceana was converted to a sixplex, and there were often one or two Russian-language films playing for the now-Russian-speaking neighborhood. I went there several times in the 1980s while it was still a movie theater, and was fascinated to see how it had been converted (my father’s office and part of the lobby were now a separate theater!). Two years ago on a trip to Brighton Beach I managed to get into the Oceana, which has been operating as a Russian nightclub for some time. The facade was pretty much the same as it had been 40 years ago, but the inside had been totally adapted to resemble an old-fashioned nightclub. There was still a stage where the original screen had been (in the 1950s some stars made personal appearances to plug their movies). Probably the biggest event that I remember was in 1958 when “The Ten Commandments” played a two-a-day run for a number of weeks.
Here’s a final question: does anyone remember the Brighton Theater, a legitimate theater that was part of the fabled “subway circuit,” a group of theaters around New York City where Broadway shows toured when they closed their original run? The Brighton was located near the Tuxedo Theatre at the end of Ocean Parkway, just before you turned to go to Coney Island (right) or Brighton Beach (left). My father managed the Brighton for some period of time in the early 1950s, and I remember attending a performance of “Top Banana” as a very young child. Anyone have more information on the Brighton?