Managing a Movie Theater in 1977

America Theatre MarqueeBack in 2007, when I was struggling through the original draft of NSLA, NSFA, I posted a plea for information about working in a historic theater in 1977 on the Cinema Treasures website. I received lots of assistance in response to my post. (Read my original post and all responses here.)

The hilarious “70’s Flashback” comment by AlAlvarez was an incredible inspiration that sent me running back to my manuscript full of ideas. I laugh out loud every single time I read it. So I’m going to share an abridged version here in case anyone else thinks what Al wrote is as interesting and entertaining as I do.

In the mid seventies, if you were working for a theatre chain, it was all about cutting costs and not reinvesting in theatres. It was mostly about managing an unstable audience and staff in a crumbling building. Here are some memories…as a manager around 1977 that may spark your imagination:

  • No cleaning between shows as there was only one usher budgeted at a time.
  • The cleaners quit every time we showed THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW at midnight.
  • An x-rated musical version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND stunned the crowd.
  • A seriously misinformed local cop threatens to close the theatre for letting kids in alone to watch PG films.
  • Due to the way movies were booked, Streisand’s A STAR IS BORN continues to play forever even after holding-over was unwarranted. Staff sings along to the empty seats.
  • The midnight show of THE LOLLIPOP GIRLS IN HARD CANDY in 3D turned out to be hard-core p*rn in 3D! With the little red and blue glasses to boot. The local college students pack the place.
  • At this beautiful theatre that once showed SINGING IN THE RAIN, a double feature of TORSO and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
  • The odor of pot smoke permeates the auditorium so strongly at the midnight show that the senior citizen matinée audience the following day comes out stoned.
  • In spite all the movies above, the locals get upset at the dirty language in SLAP SHOT and the posters for NASTY HABITS.
  • A rat has moved in under the popcorn machine and runs out to fetch whenever popcorn is dropped on the floor behind the stand. The staff have named him BEN.
  • BLACK SUNDAY is coming!
  • BLACK SUNDAY is coming!
  • BLACK SUNDAY is coming!
  • BLACK SUNDAY is coming!
  • Two weeks later – BLACK SUNDAY is gone!
  • The promiscuous stoner girl working behind the stand has been forced to quit by her mother. It turns out she is only 14 years old and working with false I.D.
  • ANNIE HALL opens and the audience watches quietly but buys no popcorn.
  • Our film buyer refuses to book Bob Marley’s reggae film THE HARDER THEY COME as a midnight show because she insists it is gay p*rn.
  • The midnight show of MIDNIGHT COWBOY comes in labeled wrong and the reels play in the wrong order with opening credits in the middle of the film. No one complains.
  • An usher finds a heart, a liver and part of a lung on the auditorium floor after the movie. Police are called and discover they are plastic replicas left behind by a local medical student.
  • A stoned-out midnight crowd falls asleep during Monty Python’s JABBERWOCKY. We have to go around waking them up after the film and sending them home.
  • The drive-in will get THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, A BRIDGE TOO FAR and THE DEEP this summer and we’re stuck with THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT and some kiddie sci-fi flick called STAR WARS.
  • New “Light in the dark footballs” (a flashlight shaped like a football) on sale at the concession stand. You can now play football at night!
  • A new ending for EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC on week two upsets a couple who actually came back to see it again. Tumbleweeds practically roll by during the second week.
  • SENSURROUND installed for ROLLERCOASTER makes STAR WARS unwatchable in the other screen. Head office couldn’t care less.
  • The first five rows are closed in twin one due to a ceiling leak that dates back to the sixties.
  • A midnight showing of a film about VOLUNTEER JAM featuring the Charlie Daniels Band goes wrong when the good ol’ boys find themselves waiting in the lobby with men in high heels and fishnet stockings. Future showings are segregated with ROCKY HORROR people in the lobby and redneck rockers outside until the movie starts.
  • The Jolly Rancher candy bags on display do not have sell by dates but I can trace them on the inventory to 1972 without a new delivery.
  • The thin walls from the bad twinning effort make it possible to relive the light sabre battle during boring parts of NEW YORK, NEW YORK.
  • A man is caught m@sturbating during a showing HERBIE GOES TO MONTE CARLO.
  • Police start monitoring the theatre roof with binoculars looking for drug dealing in the parking lot.
  • Negotiations go badly when the projection union demands a large increase per hour. The resulting contract forces the closing of weekday matinees and the resignation of the chief projectionists who no longer has a full-time job as a result.
  • A three-way fight breaks out in the lobby when three men in drag all insist on playing the main FRANKENFURTER role in front at ROCKY HORROR. I am summoned to make the all-important decision.
  • A seventeen year old usher finds a bag full of “fat naked girls” p*rn magazines in the auditorium. He delays turning them in for hours. A gentleman in a suit comes in to claim them in the evening.
  • The first showing in Twin One has sound problems. Someone stole the speakers from behind the screen.
  • The projectionist puts on reel of soft core midnight movie GUMS instead of Walt Disney’s THE RESCUERS for the first matinée of the day.
  • Six staff members fail to show up Saturday night, some calling in sick. Peter Frampton was live in concert that night.
  • Rattling in the seats of Twin Two during the movie turns out to be a crab from the nearby swamp that somehow got inside.
  • What on earth could a KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE really be about?
  • A man has a tantrum in the lobby when an undercover policeman takes his quaaludes away and flushes them down the toilet. Back-up cops are stunned by the now lacking evidence.
  • An upset woman starts screaming when her toddler comes up from between the rows with a used condom in his hand.
  • STAR WARS is back and people are starting to bring their own light sabres into the screen and we have to start confiscating them until after the movie due to complaints.
  • The midnight show fills up prematurely when someone removes the exit door hinges and lets the crowd in for free.
  • The Jujy Fruits stick to the box and need to be slammed against the counter daily to loosen them up so people refrain from doing so during the film.
  • LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR appears to be a seminal film that will become a classic with a timeless disco soundtrack and a social commentary on unfocused lives and promiscuity. SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER appears to be kid stuff that will soon be forgotten.
  • VALENTINO is coming!
  • VALENTINO is coming!
  • VALENTINO is coming!
  • VALENTINO is gone! STAR WARS is back.

Thank you AlAlvarez! You are a gentleman and a cinema treasure in your own right!

Theatre Doorsphoto credit: Heritage Vancouver via photopin cc & Pete Zarria via photopin cc

2 thoughts on “Managing a Movie Theater in 1977

  1. I remember those theater days! The gummys in theaters these days also seem to be shelf dated to 1972; no improvement over the classic Jolly Rancher! Say, I haven’t visited your blog for awhile but weren’t you writing a fiction book about old theaters and Star Wars? Was looking forward to that one.

    • Hi sciencewriter3! Thanks for stopping back! Yes, the novel will be available online later this week at Barnes & Noble and Amazon…or you can preorder a signed copy from Deeds Publishing…or, if you are in the Atlanta area, you could come to one of my book signing events (listed on the Schedule page)

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