Of all the “first-time jobs” that are available to young people, I think working in a movie theatre is the most comprehensive experience. It teaches you people skills, responsibility, teamwork and discipline. And for those who love movies, it’s a dream job.
When I moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA, I got a job as a theatre usher at the Village Theatre in Westwood. That was the beginning of my journey through Hollywood. Shortly, I moved over to the Plaza Theatre down the street where I was Assistant Manager. I’m most grateful for my tenure at the Plaza Theatre for lighting the Showmanship Spark of promoting movies in me. I got to do promotional tie-ins with other Westwood merchants and made alot of Studio friends.
Theatre employees, no matter what city, I’ve found to be some of the hardest working people. As many of you remember…you are sometimes required to work “a double” where you work both the matinee AND the evening…and definately you work the Holidays.
And for many of us who started in movie theatres, the logical transition was to the movie studios. It was at the Plaza Theatre that I first met my Warner Bros. mentor Marty Weiser. He was in front of the theatre looking at a nearby light pole which had a “street sign” attached to it pointing at our theatre marquee. The “street sign” read MEAN STREETS. Well, it happens that we were opening Martin Scorsese’s movie MEAN STREETS starring Robert DeNiro. So I asked him, “Did you do that?” And Marty replied, “Yes.” I immediately shot back, “I want to do what you do!” He smiled at me and said, “If you want to do what I do, you’re starting at the right place. Because you’ll learn the mechanics of the movie business and it’s here at the movie theatre where you find out how effective our marketing is. Because if not enough tickets are sold…then we’re not doing our job.”
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, Westwood was THE place to go for entertainment and dining. When I say THE place, I mean that Westwood was where the Hollywood elite would go to see a movie or eat. Movie stars, producers, directors all frequented Westwood.
The Plaza Theatre was frequented by stars such as Fred Astaire, Vincent Price, Jackie Gleason, Mel Brooks, Darren McGavin, Karl Malden, Anne Bancroft and Bruce Dern.
When Vincent Price came to the theatre, I let him in ahead of the line and greeted him with, “Welcome to the theatre of blood!” It so happened that his movie THEATRE OF BLOOD was showing at another theatre down the street.
When Mel Brooks and his wife Anne Bancroft came to the theatre, I gave Mel a box of Raisinets candy because of a scene in his movie BLAZING SADDLES where Harvey Korman buys a box of Raisinets from a theatre concession stand. Mel’s reaction was, “You know, ever since that movie came out they send me a case of them every month!”
Bruce Dern was another favorite for me because he was such a down-to-earth nice guy…who was in a just released movie with John Wayne called THE COWBOYS. In this western, Dern plays a real bad guy who kills John Wayne by shooting him in the back. As Dern entered the theatre, I said to him, “You’re the guy who shot John Wayne in the back!” With a wink in his eye, Dern put his index finger to his lips and uttered, “Shhh”.
Theatre people all have stories about working in theatres and dealing with the public. Some are so outdrageous that they defy belief. In a future posting, I will relay some that I’ve experienced at the Plaza. And I’m sure many of you who’ve worked in theatres have some great ones, too. So I’m inviting you to tell us your favorite moment from your days at the theatre. Just click the word “comment” at the bottom of this posting and tell us your story. I’m sure our readers will enjoy your memories.