Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Get TOUGH!

I've been meaning to get back to the blog with some original articles, but just haven't had the time! However, I'm now getting back to writing and hopefully within the next few weeks will have some interesting articles to share with you, my readers. This week, I've selected a vintage article, this one having been written for BoxOffice Magazine on July 17, 1954. My comments are after the article.

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A VETERAN EXHIBITOR WHO, ALTHOUGH HE LIKES KIDS, SAYS

'GET TOUGH'

The Only Policy That Will Stop Misbehaving Teenagers

WASHINGTON, IND. - A. J. Kalberer, manager for Switow Theatres here, started in the show, business back in Lafayette, Ind., in 1912 when he was just 12 years old as a "super" in the old Opera House there, running errands for the actors and stagehands. He hawked candy in the third balcony and later became an usher at the glorious sum of $1.25 a week-six nights.

Later in his career he was a Fox Film Corp. exploitation man, a manager for the Quimby-Marcus circuit at Fort Wayne until 1927, and then was with the Fourth Avenue Amusement Co. of Louisville and Indianapolis until 1938. Since then he has managed the Switow interests here, which at one time consisted of three theatres. Now there is only one indoor theatre, the Indiana and the East 50th Drive-In.


Besides being an excellent exploitation man who can get the last ounce out of a picture, Kal loves kids. He has two grandchildren and a membership of 1,000 in his Saturday matinee Kiddie Klub. He knows most of them by name. Kal uses his Roy Rogers Rider club as a means not only of giving special attention to the kiddies, but also to impress upon them the importance of good behavior while attending the theatre. He has this to say about it:

"At present I have a Kiddie Club which is over five years old. More than 1,000 boys and girls are members. We have their names, addresses and birthdays. They get birthday cards and a free ticket to the show when it rolls around. We have a half-hour party every Saturday from 1:00 to 1:30. They pay regular children's admission prices and afterwards stay for the regular show. We have games, contests and giveaways and also a heart-to-heart talk about proper conduct and the respect of others. All of these rules are also on their membership cards. We remind them about these rules every Saturday.


And it has added up to having an orderly house most of the time when these youngsters attend the show. As a result we do not have any children under 12 years of age on the barred list."


Asked to expand his method of licking the vandalism problem in theatres, Manager Kalberer says:


"In the 16 years I have been resident manager of the Switow theatres in Washington, I have learned, the hard way, that there is only one policy that will prevent bad deportment by teenagers in movie theatres, both indoor and outdoor houses. GET TOUGH . . .


"It is a bitter pill to take, being a so-and-so to some of your patrons and I, personally, have had many sleepless nights worrying and wondering if I was right. However, time has told its own story and I now have little or no trouble.


"If you want to have any semblance of order during the presentation of your programs and reduce the volume of physical damage to theatre property, you, the manager, must have the same contempt for these ruffians as they have for you and your property. These rowdies are in the minority and once you personally weed them out, not for one or two weeks but for months, they will come back on your own terms ladies and gentlemen.


"To achieve and maintain good order takes lots of extra work and requires constant vigilance by the manager-not ushers-or deputized officers and the like. And there will be some heartaches along with the headaches.


"A walk in the rest rooms during breaks, during previews or at any time groups of girls or boys enter; (cashiers and concession girls have been trained to check the rooms). Spotting groups of teen-agers certain days or nights who usually like to take up several rows in the same location and then standing or sitting near them giving them no quarter about boisterousness; giggling or other unnecessary talking or noise; constant surveillance at all times and ejecting those who will not cooperate, or who “smart off”; refund admissions only when parents come to the theatre and personally ask for it; checking seats, immediately after questionable teen-agers leave so you can tell who did what and go after them—all of these things let those who bend their efforts towards destruction and annoyance know that you will accept no foolishness.


"We have had several parents make the youngsters pay out of his or her weekly allowance the cost of recovering cut seats. This helped spread the word around and almost entirely stopped seat cutting. Throwing candy, boxes and such at each other and at the screen has been eliminated by this same process as well as ejecting the first offenders without a warning.


“As for obscene writing on toilet walls, this can be completely eliminated by constant watching and by having the porter touch up with patching plaster and paint any writing that may get by.


WAIT TO BEAT HIM UP


“Sure, they used to tear out the plumbing, fill the toilet stool water tanks with tissue and paper towels, drop whiskey bottles and trash in the stools and stop them up. Sure, we have had teenage gangs of 14 and 15 year old boys wait for us to beat us up. They didn’t however, for once you single out one of the gang, back him up and show him you are not afraid of his threats, the whole gang will eventually talk themselves out and call it off. If this doesn’t work, walk away and either contact the parents or local police. They pick them up and it is thrashed out at home or in the private room of the police station. You can’t do this, however, without taking some initial abuse in words, but in any case, I feel that my theatres have gained something in the cost of repairs and renewal savings.


“Of course, not all parents will agree with you that their Johnny or Jane is in the wrong and will upbraid you for accusing their minor of doing wrong. But they are in the minority and while it hurts, it soon comes to pass that these same parents have to get these boys and girls out of worse difficulties with the law.


DIFFICULT TO CONVINCE


“One instance that might be worth passing along happened here. A prominent bank president’s daughter who was about 15 years old, was the ring leader of the group of the like age girls who visited our movies regularly and constantly annoyed everyone around them. I knew this young lady, tried to be nice and explained what this conduct was doing to everyone trying to enjoy the movie. She failed to agree with us and continued her lark. We got tough and told her off. Naturally it was an insult and soon her Dad, a member of the same civic and fraternal clubs to which I belong, collared me. He bluntly told me that his daughter was a refined young lady and would not stoop to doing the things I accused her of. Before he had a good start, I pulled two passes out of my pocket, asked him as a favor to his daughter and to me, to used them the night his daughter and her girl friends were coming to the theatres—without her knowledge of course—and to sit about four or five rows back of them. This he did. The next day his daughter came with him to my office and apologized and promised she would be more considerate of others in the movies. Both he and his daughter are my best friends today. Of course, this also worked in the opposite direction in other instances. But on the whole, it helped. But it is a terrific job. And at times a very unpleasant one.


“We have a town of some 12,000 population. TV hurts like heck but I don’t believe it hurts half so much as disorderly conduct by the audience in keeping patrons from attending the movies more often. In the beginning it was necessary to bar from 20 to 30 teenagers from the theatre. In the space of a year we have cut this down to five or six. These will probably never be permitted in the theatre. The others, after a month or so of probation during which time they sign in and out and sit in sections designated for them, turn over a new leaf and become respectable movie patrons and are our friends again.


“Some movie managers will say ‘I can’t do this because I have competition in my town.’ My answer is, call a meeting of all the theatre managers in your town. If you are having difficulty along these lines, it’s a ten to one bet that your opposition is having it too. Draw up a working agreement whereby all theatres cooperate and bar the ‘bad eggs’ from all theatres. We here in Washington have competition too. Theatres in other towns within driving distance, where these barred ‘baddies’ go. But they don’t go for long, for soon these theatres, if properly operated, will cull them out.


“This GET TOUCH policy was not adopted willingly. Nor was it put into effect on the spur of the moment. I went through all the meetings with school officials, PTA groups, student councils and law enforcement agencies in our city. But after all their efforts, the situation grew worse instead of better. So, with their knowledge, I inaugurated the GET TOUGH idea. Most of the agencies are with me and have agreed that it works, despite the fact that it should not have been necessary.”



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Having some background in theatrical management, Mr. Kalberer's article interested me. At first, I was going to approach this article with a cynical mindset, but when I actually read it, I sympathized with him as I myself have found myself in many of those same situations. Unfortunately, these days the sort of thing he's talking about can land you a lawsuit for "profiling."

As for the Indiana Theater, it's still very much there, although it's been twinned. Here's a contemporary picture of the theater, which still has its marquee:

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/desk003/2258661305/sizes/o/

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