Sunday, December 31, 2006
Friday, December 29, 2006
Just a note: thanks for the positive comments, private and otherwise. Please feel free to leave some public comments, too, though. I love generating discussion afterwards!
Having had been a theater usher for a few years myself, dealing with theater goers has been second nature to me. I know what to do and not to do with certain customers (and how far you can stretch the rules with certain ones). Therefore, it is always curious, and even humorous at times, to me when I see a "vintage" list of rules as set by any theater proprietor. While many of the rules I would agree with as generalities, quite often, I find that these lists are made by managers with no concept of public relations, and some points are childishly naive.
Case in point, this 30-point guide made by Nat Wolfe, Warner Ohio zone manager, and Dick Wright, his assistant, in 1949. This "Service Manual" became WB's official training guide for new service employees. Riddled with typos and spelling errors, I know that this one was the real thing. I've cleaned up most of them, but left a couple of the foolish ones in. The following is from BoxOffice, July 16, 1949:
1. Be diplomatic when referring to guests and use the terms, "Gentlemen," "Lady" or "Child."
2. When wishing to attract a guest's attention, never summon but step directly up to the guest and say, "I beg your pardon, sir."
3. Assist guests in every way possible. Be especially courteous [to] ladies, children and elderly people. Crippled people should be extended every possible courtesy.
4. Never give guests any orders. Communicate your desires in the form of a request. Accompany the acceptance of your request by, "I thank you, sir."
5. If asked your opinion of the performance, answer: "The comments are very favorable, sir," or "I think you will enjoy it."
6. You must keep your hands off the guests.
7. If a patron asks you the time and you do not have a watch with you, answer: "Just a moment, sir, and I will get the time for you."
8. Always do your utmost to answer a guest's question. Go to your manager if necessary. Unusual service gains distinction for your theatre and for yourself.
9. Never leave your post unless given permission by the man in charge.
10. When referring to one of the organization always use title and name of his position.
11. You are warned not to carry on conversation unless it is in the line of duty. In cases of necessity, be brief.
12. In answering questions, take time enough to look directly at your guest and reply in a manner that is direct to the question asked.
13. Friends and former employees, are to be treated by you as a guest. Excuse yourself from them and see them after working hours.
14. If you make the mistake of letting some guests into your aisle ahead of others, who have been waiting longer and then later complain, answer, "I am very sorry, it was my mistake. I will be sure to give you the next seats available." And be sure to do it. A promise broken is a very bad advertisement.
15. Use your flashlight to aid guests and don't rush them as the change from the outside light to the darkened auditorium is very confusing. Be patient. Remember, you are accustomed to the darkness and they are not.
16. If you are directing to another aisle and a person desires a seat in your aisle, never say, "Seats are available in aisle four, please," but "I am sorry sir, this aisle is filled at present, but you will find seats in aisle four."
17. Guests wishing to find better seats down front should be assisted at all times. Discourage setting down front when musical numbers are on. Say, "Would you mind waiting until the musical number has finished, please?"
18. If you cannot seat a party together, try at your first opportunity to do so. This is a mark of distinguished service and is greatly appreciated by a guest. Treat each individual guest as a friend you have not seen in a long time.
19. If you are requested by a guest to ask another guest to move so that he will be able to seat his party together-- you will say, "I am very sorry, we do not make it a practice to ask guests to move, you may do so if you wish."
20. Be careful not to glace yourself at anytime so as to obstruct a guest's view longer than is necessary.
21. Do not walk up or down the foyers unless it is absolutely necessary. Things in the auditorium are to be quiet at all times. Avoid any unnecessary confusion.
22. Do not say "sh-sh" to anyone. If a patron is creating unnecessary noise, say, "I beg your pardon, sir, you are annoying those around you," and then leave immediately. If the patron persists in making noise, call an executive at once.
23. Do not wait for an answer in this case, it might lead to an argument, and this is to be avoided at all times.
24. Mothers with crying children should be treated with the utmost courtesy and care. If the child continues to cry after you have spoken to the mother, say, "I am very sorry, Ma'am, but I must ask you to take the little one to the rest room."
25. PETTING COUPLES [hubba hubba!]: Do not disturb unless the conduct is such that it is attracting the attention of those around them. If their conduct is noticeable, do not hesitate, but say, "It will be necessary for me to call one of the management if your attitude does not change at once." Call the manager if they persist.
26. INTOXICATED PERSONS [*hiccup!*] "If you will come with me there is a friend in the lobby who would like to speak with you." This statement cannot offend and being in a suggestive tone will be apt to be carried into effect. In the case of a vicious person, you may have to resort to an extreme method of removing the person from the theatre, and do not hesitate to do this with the approval of the manager.
27. MORONS OR DEGENERATES: Call the management at once.
28. Do not step backwards or forwards without first looking int he direction in which you are stepping.
29. If a guest reports a lost article to you, do your best to locate same, and if not found, refer the guest to party in charge of the floor.
30. If a patron incurs and has an injury, do the following: (a) Go at once and offer first aid; (b) Render any assistance possible: (c) Immediately call the manager if the case is severe; (d) Secure all available information concerning the accident as follows: name, address, age, weight, height, glasses, at least one witness, exact location and reason. Examine conditions of spot where accident occurred, to ascertain if the fault was the theatre's or not. Be careful not to make any mistake of mentioning the extent of the theatre's liability. Do not make any statement regarding the accident to anyone but the manager. At times, it will be possible for your theatre to get a signed statement from the party releasing the theatre of any liability. Be sure and get accident reports for public and employees.
Photo: M. Nat Wolf, managing director at the Hippodrome Theatre in Cleveland, is shown discussing he service guide for ushers with two members of the staff. (BOXOFFICE PHOTO)
I've sure they were listening attentively...
Sunday, December 24, 2006
I was thinking of what exactly I wanted to post as a present to you all for Christmas. Originally, I thought I'd put up the usual silly photos of celebrities doing Christmas-y things, but that's being done elsewhere, so here's something unique for you (and to those who didn't make Friday night's show-- you know who you are!): The Central Theater's official yearly Christmas reel, including...
*Generic color snipe with Jack Collins reading from "A Christmas Carol" (early '60s).
*Dick Powell and the cast and crew of Zane Gray Theatre (including Aaron Spelling) wishing us a Merry Christmas (late '50s). Sorry for the quality on this, it was a low-contrast print.
*Snipe for Murray the K's Peppermint Twist Christmas Party, including Joey Dee and the Starlighters, US Bonds, Timi Yuro, Bobby Lewis, The Isley Brothers, Jan & Dean, The Belmonts, The Vibrations, The Crystals, The Chantels, and upcoming shows for Johnny Mathis, Bobby Vee and Dion at the 14th St. Academy of Music in NYC (1961).
*Happy New Year 1958 bash for the kiddies snipe-- with funny hats and noisemakers, too!
*Bob Hope, Jayne Mansfield, Jerry Colonna and others look on in a Buick Commercial from Bob's show (late '50s)
*Two geeks run around in the snow in uptown NYC around early 1960s (122nd St. and Broadway, Juliard). I guess this was trims for some educational short.
So there you have it-- Merry Christmas everyone! See you this Friday!
Friday, December 22, 2006
Who doesn't remember that classic Filmack jingle? But who remembers who Filmack was? Or who knew that that particular snipe was animated by Dave Fleischer, of Popeye fame? This post is dedicated to those concession stand items of yesteryear that are gone now-- for better or for worse-- and the circumstances surrounding them. Read on, dear visitor...
Our story begins in 1946. It's the year after the Second World War has ended, and a little invention known as the Television is slowly creeping its way into households. At the same time, it's causing sales to slowly creep out of other public locals, namely movie theaters. And while more and more Americans tuned in, more and more Exhibitors rushed in ways to win audiences back. This process hits its peak in 1953, when movie studios take note, and incorporate new methods of film-making: widescreen, better color, stereophonic sound, and 3-D.
At the same time, food distributors took advantage of the situation by promising salvation through concessions. Reading the ads placed in Exhibitor magazines such as Motion Picture Herald and BoxOffice, one could easily see how a theater owner might think he'd make a cool million in the first week off of concession stands alone. Distributors offered them everything, save for the moon! "600 per cent profits in the first week!" was the slogan for one. Even if it was 600% in the first week, I'm sure it was 50% the next.
Going through these magazines is like stepping into a little time machine made out of paper. They've got everything-- the dirt on the studios, the new releases, what productions were in the works, what you could do with your theater, and most importantly, how the picture was doing across the country.
In my opinion, BoxOffice was the best of these magazines at the time, and clearly they knew how to keep their reader's interest. Each issue was about 80 pages thick, sometimes 100 if you had a special issue with a section known as "The Modern Theatre." It was here that some of the strangest and most fascinating items were advertised, as they were all brand new, practically untested. Furthermore, BoxOffice gave you the pictures you wanted, too-- what the items looked like, how it worked, and those ever-important shots of new theaters that had just been remodeled or built.
I think our first item is possibly the most bizarre of the bunch-- who would possibly dream up such a strange invention as chili in a cone? Well, the Rutherford Food Corp. did, according to this advertisement.
Even more entertaining than the idea of a chili cone a la ice cream is the extravagant claims that its cracker cone will "keep crisp four times longer than it takes even the slowest person to eat it." The salty cracker cone, as the put it, to me seems like it would be of the taco shell variety, probably made of some sort of corn meal that had been deep fried into that shape-- covered in salt, of course.
The chili, which was made by-- surprise!-- the Rutherford Food Corp., measured in at an exact 104 ounces (they're very specific about this), but of course, you have to buy that as well as all of the accouterments to store it. I'm also still confused about the 66% gross, though... I assume they mean that at the prices that they sold them for, the exhibitor got 66% OF the gross. But how did it perform? How many were sold?
One can't help but imagine some Midwestern theater in the middle of nowhere selling these things. No doubt some poor clod bought one to his ultimate dismay, as I can just picture the thing crumbling and spilling chili into his lap. I imagine cleanup was a major issue with this item, not to mention that chili smells quite potent. Sitting next to someone eating these things was probably very unpleasant, with odors and sounds of crunching cracker taking priority over the film at hand.
In doing a little research, I found reference to a Rutherford Food Corp. in Kansas City, MO-- in 1947, that company was not paying overtime for its employees, and a major lawsuit was filed. Apparently, if this was the same company, the chili makers were paying their employees in beans...
The next item is pretty neat. Who doesn't like milkshakes? What server doesn't like speed? And what Exhibitor doesn't like PROFITS? That's what the Port Morris Machine & Tool Co. seem to promise, with a guarantee that their shake machine will produce a 16 oz., 27° F shake in 20 seconds.
It's machinery like this that you don't see in theaters anymore-- sleek, deco, stainless steel body, glass windows to see the shake process at work. I wonder how big the actual thing was... those machines always looked much bigger in the photos than in person. I'd imagine this machine was probably fairly large-- six, or even seven feet tall, but in reality, it was probably three or four.
The item below is still produced, but less common in movie theaters. Jujyfruits (and their miniature counterpart, Jujubes), for a long time were a staple of theater concessions. Why they've disappeared in recent days remains a mystery to me, but the lack of Hersey products in general may have something to do with it. Perhaps it's just a regional occurrence.
The original distributor, Heide, had (has?) been in business since 1869, and Jujyfruits have been around since 1920, when they first hit the market, and eventually, made their way into movie theaters. Little known are the origins of the strange shapes they're molded in, but according to several source, they come in the form of Pineapples, Tomatoes, Raspberries, Grape Bundles, Asparagus, Bananas, and Pea Pods. Strange as this combination is, Jujyfruits had been a winning choice in theaters for years because of their transparent quality that makes choosing which Jujy to eat easier.
I like the subtle slip of TV Guide's logo in the bottom advertisers listing. I'm sure Exhibitors didn't like being reminded of who they were up against, but at the same time must have been getting a kick that a magazine representing their competition was advertising product that they themselves carried.
One of my all-time favorite items while digging around movie theater catalogs was this one, seen on the right. Although I vaguely remember seeing one as a kid, I can't say that I distinctly remember ever seeing it in a theater, and past that, it never had anything but an orange drink being circulated in it. When I saw this in one of the Modern Theater catalogs, I fell in love with it again.
There's something magical looking about it, as if the fountain inside the plexi-glass dome was some sort of microcosmic world of its own. I've seen no less than five or six of these being offered up in the same issue, so it must have been very popular at the time. Even the company that produced it, Majestic Enterprises, Ltd., seemed to live up to their name, in this case.
This particular model is quite nice-- apparently it's illuminated inside with a pale orange light, too, which I imagine had its own special effect. Like the milkshake machine, though, it was much smaller in person than it looked here. Here, I'd imagine it was four or five feet tall, while in reality, it measured a mere 32 inches high. With six gallons of drink pouring through, it, though, I'm sure it was still an impressive sight.
While fried chicken might have been a little much for a simple movie theater, it was a natural for Drive-ins across the country. It was cheap, quick to make, and had a relatively long shelf life. Already an American favorite, making its way to theaters was not much of a stretch of the imagination.
Seen here are two patrons of the Altoona Drive-In, located in Altoona, PA (long torn down), eating some mighty fine southern fried chicken. The pre-cooked chicken (yum!), dubbed Chick-n-Basket, was an invention of Frozen Farm Products, Inc., and was apparently a big seller for them at the time.
In each serving was three pieces of chicken, and judging by the photo, probably some french fries, too. Some distributors reported 100-150 servings (36 servings in a case) sold every night. According to the article (BoxOffice, Oct. 2, 1954), "the suggested price per portion is one dollar, although drive-in prices vary from 80 cents to $1.25." Available from the same company were baskets (seen in photo) that were plastic, and cost $35 per 1,000 baskets.
Also available, according to this article, were display materials and snipes, in both color and sound, and sported a special jingle to the tune of "A Tisket, A Tasket!" I'd love to see one of those!
That brings me back to my initial topic-- Filmack. Established in 1918 by Irving Mack, Filmack was the main distributor of snipes and concession trailers. If there was anything that you needed to announce for your theater, Filmack was the place to go to to when you needed custom snipes.
Filmack sent out their monthly catalog, Inspiration, every month, announcing all of the various snipes they could print up for you, along with the print. To fill in space where they didn't have anything to put in their 10-14 page catalog, corny jokes were inserted without rhyme or reason. On top of that, Mack had his own article, Mackaroons, which was filled with more corny jokes/tidbits of wisdom, such as "it isn't what young girls know that bothers parents, it's how they find out!" One can only imagine a show breaking down, and having the manager stepping up on stage with his own stand-up act lifted entirely from Inspiration. I'm sure that went over well!
In 1953, Filmack hired animator Dave Fleischer, who had finished his tenure at Columbia after leaving he and his brother's animation studio and was at that time working at Universal as a special effects inventor. Their goal was a series of generic cartoon snipes that utilized color and catchy jingles, and could be used in any theater to generate interest in concession stand products.
Printed in Technicolor, a process that became cheaper in bulk quantity, snipes such as "Let's All Go to the Lobby" were a run-away success with Exhibitors as they made going to the lobby an amusing and memorable movie going habit. At $11.25 a snipe, they were not cheap, but they paid for themselves instantly in the increase in concession sales they generated. Seen above was a February of 1954 special-- buy both snipes for the low price of $20!
And here is the two page advertisement, just in time for the 4th of July for the lesser seen, but equally as catchy, trailer, set to the tune of "This is the Way We Wash Our Clothes!" Note the special mention of the Drive-In, which had begun to take off in just a few years previous.
Filmack is still in business (based out of Chicago) and you can still buy 35mm prints of these classic trailers at nominal prices here. You won't be getting Technicolor prints anymore, but their latest batch of low-fade Eastman prints are still quite stunning. In fact, "Let's All Go to the Lobby" was registered by the Library of Congress in 2000 as being "culturally significant," and added it to the National Film Registry. It is, as I know it, the only snipe to have ever been entered as such. Irving Mack is smiling, somewhere.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
If you're reading this post for the first time, chances are that I've invited you to this blog, or in browsing it months later, have decided to check back posts.
In any case, I'd like to welcome you to my blog, my own little space on the internet created particularly for my musings. The subjects I will cover in the future will be broad, but will stick primarily to a particular subject-- the movie-going experience. So little has been written about such a vast topic, and indeed it is a favorite of mine to talk about. Whereas it would be easy to bore you to death with my personal details, I'd rather share with you a fascinating piece of history and leave you with a smile on your face.
Continuing articles will contain in-depth information (with sources, when necessary) and rare, sometimes never-before-seen photographs and sound clips. Whether it be a movie review, some back story about a film, the movie palace experience, stories from the projection booth, etc., I promise that every article will be interesting, and either be filled with humorous or captivating anecdotes, as told to me by those who lived it.
Sit back and relax. Grab yourself a bucket of popcorn, perhaps. The tickets don't cost anything here, but you'll be getting just as much fun as those golden Saturday afternoon matinees.