Tuesday, August 31, 2010

THE FIRST PICTURE SHOW



(Photo courtesy of Vintage Roadside-- click image to enlarge.)

While poking around searching for some old photos on the Web a couple of nights ago, I came across a literal blast from the past. A Flickr photo page from Vintage Roadside Productions offered up this vivid photo of the downtown district of my hometown, Lakeview, Oregon, pop. 2,500. The photographer estimates that it was taken sometime in 1960, the year I was born, and a look at the automobiles parked on the street bears this out. That bank building, quite the totem of modern architecture for a cow town like where I was hatched and grew up, still stands, with only a minimal nod to technological progress—there’s an ATM kiosk at the front entrance now. The Indian Village Restaurant and Bar has a different colored paint job, but otherwise remains as you see it in the picture, and I’d wager the menu hasn’t changed much either. (Prices have gone up, of course, but no Lakeview resident would be much surprised to learn they’re still cutting steaks from 50-year-old cows.) I also love how the caption underneath the photo characterizes the scene as “a fairly quiet day in downtown Lakeview”-- as if there were much of any other sort of day on the Lakeview calendar, excepting the usually raucous Labor Day weekend, which annually plays host to the Lake County Round-Up and Fair.

But it was the end of the caption that really caught my eye: “Visible are the Indian Village Restaurant and the Marius Theater.” I have long searched for photos of this old movie palace with nary a ripple of success, and even this photo, with the Marius barely visible down at the end of the street, is only a partial treasure. But given that the Marius was the theater where I saw my very first movie, I’ll take it. I was only three years old, and my mom and Aunt Norene, having no idea what kind of rock they were about to push downhill, took me to the Marius to see the Abe Levitow-directed cartoon feature Gay Purr-ee (1962), written and animated by Chuck Jones and featuring the voices of Robert Goulet, Judy Garland, Red Buttons and Paul Frees. The movie bears an interesting resemblance to Disney’s The Aristocats, which would come along eight years later, and it is far from a classic. But it’s also no stretch to imagine a pre-school film buff getting his fuse lit by movies far duller than this. Though I cannot recall anything specific about it (I haven’t seen it in probably 35 years), I still get a strange frisson of vague memory whenever I catch the girls watching it on DVD.

As for the fate of the Marius, it was razed around 1965 to make way for a USDA Forest Service administration building, and therefore I have absolutely no memory of the exterior or interior of the theater. Seeing this picture was my first real vision of what the big movie palace at the corner of 1st and “D” Streets in downtown Lakeview looked like. The owner of the Marius, who also owned the town’s other walk-in and the drive-in, had his office in that building, which was officially called the Marius Building, and there were a couple of times when his son and some other friends and I went exploring the basement and foundation areas. We were surprised to find the main stage construct still intact, and we even discovered some old remnants of the theater box office—a fa├žade and some cash register and ticket-dispensing constructs. It was a fascinating adventure, spelunking around the ruins of an old movie theater that existed only as an inaccessible memory, an important place for all of us that we had no recollection of actually seeing with our own eyes.

The picture provides a tantalizing hint of the theater’s place of majesty in the middle of town, and it has really piqued my interest in getting a closer, better view. I can only hope that someday soon someone with an old collection of photos of the town might discover some pictures of the Marius that might provide a new perspective on an old ghost, and that those pictures might find their way to a scanner and an open Web address.

Here’s a look at some other old single-screen theaters that are still in operation in Oregon and Washington. (Take a peek at the website for the Egyptian Theater in Coos Bay, Oregon, and get your heart warmed over a small town who knows the treasure they have on their hands and are quite active in its preservation.) And of course, Cinema Treasures will lead you to pictures of old and new movie houses from wherever you may be.

Question: What was the first movie you can remember seeing, and where did you see it?

(By the way, if this query piques your anticipation for another SLIFR quiz, fret not—there’s a new one just around the corner. It’s been a while, but the professorial staff has regrouped and is ready for another school year. Stand by!)

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(Photo of the Royal Theater courtesy of Iwantmyownname-- click the image above to enlarge.)

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24 comments:

Ron said...

Dennis, my first movie theater memory is that very theater, The Marius, and watching "Jack The Giant Killer" in 1963. I was accompanied by my older brothers and their friends. I was 5 years old. I also remember asking LOTS of questions during the movie (e.g. "what's that?" "what's he doing?"). I remember going with you and the owner's son to explore the basement of the theater years later to see what still existed. I remember being disappointed that it didn't look at all like the theater I remembered. Thanks for posting the photo! What a treasure!

Gerg said...

Bambi at the McDonald Theater in Eugene, OR, sometime in the early 60s.

Peter Nellhaus said...

First movie in a theater was Old Yeller back in 1958. I saw this in Detroit as a six year old with my grandfather and my four year old sister. I don't recall the theater, but it could well have been The Mercury.

Flickhead said...

I believe the first movie I ever saw in a theatre was the Steve Reeves Thief of Baghdad at the old Bellmore Playhouse, which used to look like this before a mass renovation scheme neutralized its downtown area. The film may pale in comparison to the Douglas Fairbanks and Michael Powell versions, but I’d opt to see it over either one of them any day. As far as I know, it’s not on DVD, and the old Embassy Home Entertainment VHS version was in desperate need of letterbox. There is a bootleg widescreen version DVD available from this outfit: has anyone done business with them?

Gareth said...

The first film I ever saw was The Cat from Outer Space, which I saw at a now-defunct cinema in Fermoy (Co. Cork, Ireland) in or around 1978. Unfortunately the name of the cinema is now eluding me. In my memory, it was a gargantuan picture palace - I watched the film from the balcony - but it was probably something of a flea pit even then. I don't think the building exists any more but I haven't been back for years.

Jon Rudd said...

The Wizard of Oz
Paramount Theater
Rock Springs, WY
1955

Scott (gotankgo) said...

The Sword and the Stone - early 1970s reissue - somewhere in northern Indiana

Lester said...

The Sword and the Stone, in the very early 1960's. At the Marius Theater. Mom, your Aunt Norene, worked in that theater when she was a teenager.

Patrick said...

I'm not sure if my first movie was Snow White or Cinderella, but I know it was at the Lincoln Theater in Damariscotta, Maine, and that we brought our own popcorn with multicolored kernels. The theater's still very much with us, mixing movies with stage shows.

http://commondatastorage.googleapis.com/static.panoramio.com/photos/original/37575311.jpg

Vanwall said...

"O'Gill and the Little People", I saw in the now defunct Kiva Theater in Scottsdale. I remember more about the movies I saw in the later Kachina Theater in Scottsdale, it had 3-Strip Cinerama for a short while. Wow stuff! Downtown Scottsdale had the Portofino Theater a few years later, and when we were dropped off for a matinee at the Kiva we'd skulk over to the Portofino down the way, which showed "adult" and European films and try to sneak in, (once only was I successful) and then go hang around the original Pink Pony restaurant, the oldest in Scottsdale, to ogle the girls, who were usually on the arm of a ballplayer in town for Spring Training.

JRL said...

"For the Love of Benji" at the Grand Theatre, 1978 (I think), Williston, ND. Absolutely terrifying. Later, when I worked at a video store, I picked up the movie's box, turned it around, and saw the still shocking image of a cold-hearted villain aiming a pistol at a little girl who's probably screaming for Benji. But I still wanted to go back to the cinema and was fascinated by the curtains that opened and closed.

Bryce Wilson said...

I have two very distinct memories of watching films as a toddler.

The first is just kind of a flash (and the reason why I don't think its cheating to include the second) but I can remember vividly the wall of flame that the theater screen turned into during the forest fire in Bambi. Its the only bit I can remember, but damn.

The second one I can remember is watching the opening of Bride Of Frankenstein. I've written about the expirience before, but in the opening scene when the father of the daughter killed through in the first drops through the floor of the windmill into the cave below. Karloff's hand reaches out from behind a low stone wall. And that was it. I turned and ran into my room and hid under my bed.

But it was too late, I was a horror fan, and cinephile for life.

Bryce Wilson said...

Oh and Bambi was at the glorious Fremont Theater here in SLO.

http://cinematreasures.org/theater/2302/

Greg said...

The Poseidon Adventure at the Ultravision in West Ashley outside of Charleston, SC. God, I loved that movie! Four years later I would see Jaws at the same theatre and officially have my budding cinephile mind blown.

BTW, my mother tells me about taking me to see Fantasia early on but I don't remember ever seeing it in a theatre. She loves telling people that none of the dinosaurs, demons or destructive gods in the varied vignettes bothered me one bit but Mickey and the brooms? She says I was terrified for Mickey and wanted to make sure he was going to be okay.

dgb said...

Well, if my calculations are correct Disney pictures outdo the rest of world cinema by 8-5. (Thank you, Uncle Walt.) Like 8 other responders, my first movie was Disney, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which my parents didn't want to take me to see (I was 5) because the giant squid would be too scary. Needless to say, I gobbled it up like a box of Junior Mints. Now I have to wonder how responsible Walt Disney is for creating generations of movie lovers.

budo said...

The first movie I remember-memory fades-was "Tom Thumb". I was probably about 6 years old. I'm sure the film was a clunker-even for a kids flick-but I have to admit that the theme song is still bouncing around in my head more than 50 yrs later. This was at The Peerless theater in Brooklyn,late 50's. Soon to come where "Francis and The Talking Mule" w/ Donald O'Connor followed by The Three Stooges traveling to the moon,as I recall. I'm pretty sure THAT was fictional!

mister muleboy said...

Dennis: I, too, was born in 1960.

I somehow missed Gay Purr-ee. . . .

My first film was Under the Yum-Yum Tree, starring Jack Lemmon. I don't know at what theater, but I know that it was at a drive-in in or near Kansas City, Missouri.

Yeah -- my folks were the kind to drag their three- or -four-year-old boy to a "sex romp" comedy.*

I recently rented it from Netflix, and found myself unable (at least that night) to slog my way through it.

I am amazed to read on IMDB that it was nominated for two Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy and Best Motion Picture Actor (Jack Lemmon) - Musical/Comedy.
Jack Lemmon.

Wow.






*The old man was kind enough to take me to see Beyond the Valley of the Dolls at age 13. Gahd bless the ol' man! ["A Bentley! A Bentley!!. . . .]

NateDredge said...

I can’t remember the name of the theater, I think it was a multi-plex of some kind in the South Jordan area of Utah near Salt Lake. It was 1985 and I saw a double feature of The Black Cauldron and Real Genius.

Robert Fiore said...

The earliest specific memory I have is Lady and the Tramp, and the only thing I specifically remember from it is the "We Are Siamese If You Please" number. That would have been the 1962 re-release when I was either four or five. Couldn't tell you what theater (might have been a drive-in). The first memory I have specifically connected to a movie theater was the Norwalk Theater in Norwalk, California, and it wasn't a memory of the movie I was seeing but of a poster for a movie for The Spirit is Willing, a William Castle opus starring Sid Caesar. For some reason (which I couldn't guess from looking at it now) I really wanted that poster. I remember going to kiddie matinees featuring Steve Reeves pictures at the La Mirada Theater in La Mirada, California. They had a promotion one time called the 50 Toy Giveaway, and my younger brother won a gun that shot little discs. Could have definitely poked an eye out with those; they stung.

Bemis said...

Gorillas in the Mist at the Showcase Cinemas in Lawrence, MA.

Bill C said...

My first moviegoing experience was THE MUPPET MOVIE at the Odeon in my hometown of Oshawa, ON. The Odeon was actually my least favourite of our four downtown theatres, but now that none of those exist I'd gladly have it back.

Aside: a critic who grew up in my hometown actually tried to acquire "his" seat at the Odeon when they tore the place up, but corporate obstinance precluded it. They preferred to destroy the exact number of chairs on their list than to give one away for sentimental reasons.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

It really is interesting to note just how many of these first films, particularly from my generation (b. 1960), were Disney films, yet Disney films rarely get mentioned, or are mentioned in conjunction with other presumably more important ones, when we start talking about most influential in terms of filmmakers or even in developing the tastes of filmgoers.

That said, my favorites here are the odd ones out-- DGB having his cinematic eyes opened by Underthe Yum Yum Tree, a movie I know only by its poster, and Bemis' Gorillas in the Mist. Andrew, you are WAAAAAAY younger than I thought you were!

Bill: You too! 1977 for your first movie? Wow, I am starting to really feel the crust on the outer layer this morning!

Re chairs, Clu Gulager has an honorary chair at the New Beverly-- plaque and everything-- and I know if he asked them for it they'd rip it out in an instant!

Bill C said...

@Dennis: '79, actually. Thank you for making me feel young after Bemis made me feel old!

Unknown said...

Dennis, the Shasta Drive-In was my Marius. Thank you for sharing the image with me! I read that it was built in 1950, less than a year before I was born. My Dad and Mom had 4 kids in a Rambler that practically lived there during the summer evenings. I used to 'will' that old 'Green Hornet" to turn right off of Wiard Street onto South Sixth, and then Left to the Shasta Drive-In by the Kingsley Air Force Base literally every time we went anywhere. I don't remember my first movie there, but I remember I was so taken with movies, as a little kid, I used to walk alone a long ways to the Tower Theatre with my 25 cents and Wonder Bread Wrapper in my clutches to get into the Matinees. My first memory is a shocker for a seven year old: a double bill of two Japanese Horror movies, one called the "H-Man" as in Hydrogen Bomb; the second called the Woman Eater, which was allegedly set in an African Jungle with a humongous Philodendron Plant who came alive to Native Drums. Both film premises were about dissolving people. I know I was lured there from a previous film's promotion for 'H-Man'; a 'Sponge-Bob' thingy that grew when you put it in water. Missing for hours, without anyone knowing where I was, I got grounded forever from Movies, and missed Sleeping Beauty. But my Mom, an elementary school teacher, always seemed to have a copy of 'Bambi' that she would show to her first graders prior to hunting season in Klamath Falls, (an act of high treason in that town) and she would let me watch it in her classroom after school while she graded papers. I also loved the National Geographic films I saw in grade school, and to this day want to ride the Orient Express to Victoria Falls in Africa. But I think it was one of the Cowboy and Indian Movies that I first saw at the Shasta. How else could you explain my insane love of Existential Westerns, to the point that I have given up my home on the McKenzie River and lived in a tent to write and produce one? There is truly nothing like one's first love, and may I be so bold as to say my Shasta still lives on in my heart, and anyetrib 15no matter how faded the earthly form, the love is eternal.