When “The War of the Worlds” played in Albany

[nggallery id=17254]Haven’t done the ‘When It Played in Albany” feature in a while, so this is a good time to restart.

I’m going back to 75 years ago, when the Mercury Theater of the Air created a dramatic rendition of H.G. Wells’ classic War of the Worlds as a radio drama.  Over those three-quarters of a decade, War of the Worlds became both an audiophonic triumph and a classic study of mass hysteria and paranoia.

If you’ve never heard the original radio broadcast, here’s what happened.  On Sunday October 30, 1938, the Mercury Theater of the Air retold the legendary science fiction story, using radio broadcasts and simulated news reports.

Of course, the more important feature… as far as this current blog post goes… is, “When War of the Worlds was on the air, what else was being broadcast in Albany?  And for that matter, what was playing in the movie theaters at that time?”

Let’s go back in time.  It’s 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 30, 1938.


We do know that War of the Worlds aired locally on Albany’s CBS radio affiliate WOKO (1430 AM), while WGY (790 AM), an NBC “Red Network” affiliate at the time, aired the Chase and Sanborn Hour starting at 8:00 p.m.  The third network station in the area, WABY (1370 AM), an NBC “Blue Network” affiliate, aired a couple of musical interludes – a half-hour show called Out of the West, followed by a half-hour of chamber music from the Library of Congress.  Yawn.  Note: The AM frequencies listed are correct for their time period; these stations moved up the dial in 1942 as part of a nationwide radio frequency realignment.


The Chase and Sanborn Hour, at that time the most popular program on radio (35 million people tuned in each week, as opposed to 4 million for Mercury Theater), featured Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy that Saturday night, along with host Don Ameche and guests Madeleine Carroll, Nelson Eddy, Dorothy Lamour and Judy Canova.  Nice lineup for that time period.  In fact, if you want to hear that particular episode, click here.

Meanwhile, at that same time, Mercury Theater on the Air broadcast their hour-long recreation of War of the Worlds, and you can hear the entire hour-long drama transcription by clicking here.

The story is told that after Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy performed their first sketch of the night, the show went into a Nelson Eddy musical interlude.  By that time, many listeners who were NOT Nelson Eddy fans decided to change the channel – and stumbled upon live news reports of Martians tearing apart New Jersey and marching toward New York City.  And because Mercury Theater of the Air was an unsponsored show (the “Mercury” didn’t mean that the show was sponsored by the car company), there were no commercial breaks for cigarettes or shampoo or floor wax to convince listeners that they weren’t hearing a live attack from outer space.

Of course, as the night progressed, so too did the hysteria around the invasion from Mars.  There are stories of people ready to take up arms and drive to New Jersey to combat the Martians.  There were also stories of people ready to give up on life, thinking that all hope is lost and that the Martians would enslave the population of Earth.

In the Capital District, there were some examples of hysteria as well.  In the October 31, 1938 edition of the Times Union, a report is transcribed verbatim here:

Albanians last night shared the widespread hysteria caused by the radio broadcast describing a mythical invasion of this continent by “Men From Mars.”  Police headquarters received many calls from radio listeners and 200 persons telephoned The Times-Union to obtain further details.  One woman thoroughly convinced that an actual invasion was taking place even placed the transmitter of her telephone to the radio so the reported [sic] could hear “what was going on.”


Of course, the story became front page news.  A couple of days later, however, the Capital District returned to normalcy.  There were no signs of Martians marching up State Street.  Nobody saw any spaceships hovering over the General Electric factory.  And if there were any little green men going into Frear’s Troy Cash Bazaar, they were most likely looking for a sale.

And the movies that were playing that night in the Albany area that Sunday night?  They included:

  • tuwar3The Palace Theater had a double feature of Room Service with the Marx Brothers, followed by Gail Patrick and Lloyd Nolan in King of Alcatraz.  Also at the Palace: dedication ceremonies for Christian Brothers Academy.
  • The Hall Theater had two smash hits as well; the second big week for the film You Can’t Take It With You, and the action romance thriller The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
  • Both the Albany and the Colonial offered the Mickey Rooney – Judy Garland film Love Finds Andy Hardy.  The Albany paired that film with Don Ameche’s Gateway, while the Colonial offered Lady in the Morgue, starring Preston Foster.
  • The Royal offered several B-films from 2pm to 11pm, including Victor Moore in This Marriage Business, Charles Quigley in Game That Kills, Charles Starrett in Law of the Plains, as well as the film Jim Hanvey – Detective, a Republic B-western called Call the Mesquiteers, and a Dick Tracy serial.  Adults 15 cents, children 10 cents.
  • The Ritz Theater offered two big first-run hits – Garden of the Moon with Pat O’Brien, and Penrod’s Double Trouble with Billy and Bobby Mauch.
  • The Grand presented Jane Withers and Arthur Treacher in Always in Trouble, paired with the Florence Rice / Dennis O’Keefe romance Vacation From Love.
  • Want to see what’s at the Strand?  They offered the exciting war film Men With Wings, starring Fred MacMurray and Ray Milland.
  • The Madison, one of Albany’s uptown second-run theaters, provided Too Hot to Handle with Clark Gable and Myrna Loy, along with Safety in Numbers with the Jones Family.
  • Over at the Leland, you could see Tyrone Power in Alexander’s Ragtime Band, along with James Gleason in Higgins Family and a Lone Ranger serial.
  • And finally, over at the Eagle, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Ginger Rogers are Having a Wonderful Time, while Michael Whalen and Lynn Bari offer Speed to Burn.

And there you have it.  Theater-goers may have completely missed the original hysteria because they chose to watch a Fred MacMurray film or an Andy Hardy flick.

Me? I probably would have preferred putting my headphones on and listening to Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds concept album.

But that’s just me.

And that’s what was playing in Albany the night War of the Worlds aired on WOKO on that Halloween Eve.


When “Dirty Dancing” First Played in Albany

Every time the Times Union promotes a movie night under the stars – and this one is coming up this Tuesday downtown in Albany – I remember that films – in this case, Dirty Dancing – once appeared on motion picture screens around the Capital District.  And that at the time, you saw the films on the big screen and maybe waited six months later for them to appear on VHS videotapes.  Ah, those were the days.

So today, I decided to take a walk though the microfilms and see, first of all, where the Patrick Swayze-Jennifer Grey movie played in our area, what other films may have appeared on the Capital Region multiplexes and drive-ins, and if a theater wasn’t showing Dirty Dancing, what were they showing instead?

Dirty Dancing made its debut on August 21, 1987.  In the indoor movie palaces, it screened at the Hoyts Cinema 12 in Crossgates Mall – back when the theater was adjacent to Caldor.  You remember Caldor, don’t you?  And for that matter, do you recall when the lion’s share of movie screens were under the Australian Hoyts aegis?

The film was also at the Mohawk Mall Cinema, the UA Hellman 1-2, the Cinema 6 at Pyramid Mall in Saratoga Springs, and the Hoyts Cinema 1-6 in Clifton Country Mall.  That’s almsot 25 years ago, and most of those theaters are either long gone or relocated.

Dirty Dancing also appeared at several drive-ins, including the UA Tri-City in Menands, and the Super 50 Twin Drive-In in Ballston Spa.

Now obviously most of these theaters were multi-screen, so let’s see what was playing at that same time, shall we?

Over at the Hellman – which used to exist on Washington Avenue Extension, and is now the site of a medical building – while Dirty Dancing appeared on one screen, the other screen showed Ally Sheedy in the comedy Maid to Order.

The Clifton Country Mall Cinema 6 provided Dirty Dancing with Timothy Dalton’s first of two appearances as James Bond, in the film The Living Daylights.  CCM also showed Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez in Stakeout, the romantic comedy Can’t Buy Me Love, the erotic thriller No Way Out, and the comedy Summer School.  There were also some showings of the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the theater, as that film was wrapping up its national re-release.

The Cinema 12 in Crossgates Mall had a ton of films on their screens.  In addition to Dirty Dancing, The Living Daylights, Summer School, Can’t Buy Me Love, Stakeout and No Way Out, it was also showing RoboCop, Full Metal Jacket, Masters of the Universe, Monster Squad, La Bamba, Born in East L.A., Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and the Fat Boys’ comedy Disorderlies.  That’s 14 films in a 12-screen theater.  Think about that when you see nine films at the 18-screen Crossgates Mall theater today.

Over at Pyramid Mall in Saratoga Springs, you could watch Dirty Dancing, along with Stakeout, No Way Out, The Living Daylights and Can’t Buy Me Love – the theater also was showing The Lost Boys, Monster Squad and Masters of the Universe. Later that year, Pyramid Mall was rebranded as Saratoga Mall, and the theater slowly became a second-run house.  By 1999, the Mall – and its movie theaters – were demolished.

Over at the Mohawk Mall theater in Schenectady – yes, at one time Mohawk Mall had a theater of its own, Dirty Dancing was joined by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Living Daylights, Stakeout, No Way Out, Monster Squad, Born in East L.A., Can’t Buy Me Love – and the exclusive showing of Care Bears: Adventures in Wonderland.

The Tri-City 1-2 Drive-In in Menands twinned Dirty Dancing with the film …about last night; while on the drive-in’s second screen one could watch a double feature of Born in East L.A. and The Secret of My Success.

And at the Super 50 Twin Drive-In in Ballston Spa, Dirty Dancing was joined with Footloose.  I’m sure there was a lot of dancing in the drive-in that night.  Or you could watch Can’t Buy Me Love and Down & Out in Beverly Hills on the Super 50’s other screen.

So if Dirty Dancing wasn’t at a certain theater… what were they showing instead?

The Cine 10 in Northway Mall didn’t have Dirty Dancing; they instead provided their patrons with No Way Out, Summer School, Born in East L.A., Masters of the Universe, Can’t Buy Me Love, The Lost Boys, Monster Squad, Disorderlies, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Untouchables and The Witches of Eastwick.

The UA Center 1-2 over at Colonie Center was still showing Stakeout and The Living Daylights, as well as midnight movie showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Pink Floyd: The Wall.

The UA Plaza 1-2 was now a 99-cent theater, so for a dollar a ticket (and a penny left over), one could watch Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd in Dragnet, or Elisabeth Shue in Adventures in BabysittingAdventures in Babysitting was also the big attraction at the Cinema 7 theater in Latham.

At that time, Proctors’ Theater in Schenectady were also showing movies, and they were offering an exclusive showing of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  And at the Scotia Cinema, one could see the film Full Metal Jacket for $2 at night, or $1.50 for matinee shows.

At the other drive-ins, the Hudson River Drive-In presented The Lost Boys with the first Lethal Weapon movie.  At the Malta Drive-In, one could start the night with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, then watch Song Of The South and finish the triple feature with Flight of the Navigator.  The Jericho Drive-In had a double bill of La Bamba and the Steve Martin comedy Roxanne.

In 1987, the Spectrum was a 3-screen theater, and your choices at the art theater were My Life as a Dog, A Man In Love and The Good Father.

And for the raincoat crowd, the Aust Drive-In in Glens Falls had its own version of “dirty dancing” – as it presented the films Midnite Heat and Sexcapades, starting at 9pm.  Sorry, no recaps of these films for you in this blog.  Use your imagination.

1930’s Movie Handouts from the Madison Theater

My buddy Jay Pregent is going to lose his mind when he sees these.

Jay and I go back a long ways, we were both part of the “Open Mike” crew that would do Wednesday night comedy routines at The Comedy Works.  A few years ago, Jay was part of a group that purchased Albany’s Pine Hills movie palace, the Madison Theater, and since then has done everything he can to restore and renovate the building.  He’s also a fellow camera aficionado, Pentax cameras are his weapon of choice.

Last Saturday, among the many errands I undertook was a trip to the Washington County Fairgrounds, where there was an antique / flea market supersale.  You know – Chuck has a new place, Chuck is building a new life, Chuck’s gotta dd some new decor.

As I strolled through the various booths and dealers and shops, examining nearly every table and thinking – “I can’t afford this” or “This would look absolutely garish in my new place” – I came across what looked like a series of old movie advertisements.  I glanced at them – nothing major – and then I noticed that the advertisements were of a local nature.  And that caught my attention.

Apparently during the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Madison Theater produced a series of handouts to promote their upcoming movie schedules.  I don’t know where these were distributed; I don’t know if they were in the movie theater itself or provided to various businesses as a free handout.

Each four-page handout – essentially an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet folded in half – contained advertisements for upcoming movies, as well as advertising that the Madison was “comfortably cool” – a very important point to consider in Albany’s sweltering summers.  By the 1940’s and 1950’s, the handout also contained advertisements for films at the Strand and at the Ritz, the other Albany-based Warner Bros. theaters.

So you want to see these advertisements?

Of course you do!

This first one was for the week of July 21, 1935.  And what a lineup it promoted – films like No More Ladies, featuring Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery – and The Girl From 10th Avenue, a Bette Davis thriller.  You could also see a short film, The Flying Mouse – and yes, that “flying mouse” was the first appearance of Mighty Mouse himself.

Our next handbill is from March 19, 1939.  As was customary at the time, the Madison offered a lineup of children’s films on Saturdays, with the shows starting at 1pm.  It was “Happy Hour Entertainment,” as this handbill touts.

Here we are, it’s November 22, 1937, and the Madison’s manager, A. LaFlamme, promises “the perfect programs suitable for every member of your family” for Thanksgiving.  Look, it’s Loretta Young in Ramona, backed with Jean Artur and Joel McCrea in Adventure in Manhattan.  And matinee prices were 15c for adults, 10c for kids; while evening showings – as well as weekend and holiday showings – were 25c for adults and 15c for the kiddies.

And finally, it’s Christmas time at the Madison, and the theater billed as “The House of Big Hits!” promises all-day and all-night movies, running from 2pm to 11:15 pm throughout the 1938 holiday season – showing everything from Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon in The Cowboy and the Lady, to a film called Straight, Place and Show with the Ritz Brothers and Ethel Merman, to Judy Garland in Listen Darling – all with Walt Disney cartoons and MGM shorts!

You can click on any of these images and see them in larger detail in your browser.

Finding these treasures of Albany’s past is extremely fun.  And as for the original handbills, I’m putting them in the mail and shipping them to Jay, c/o the Madison Theater, and I hope he can find a space or four on the Madison’s walls to display these pieces of the theater’s past.

Did the Beatles appear in Albany movie theaters BEFORE “A Hard Day’s Night”? Yes they did…

Okay, let’s get something square right now. The Beatles made four theatrical motion pictures during their time together.  There was A Hard Day’s Night, there was Help!, there was Yellow Submarine and there was Let It Be.  They also made Magical Mystery Tour, but that was for British television.

And as far as anyone’s concerned, those are the only motion pictures the Beatles ever made during their short time together.

But what if I told you … there was one more motion picture appearance?

No this is not April first.

And I say… take a look at this video clip.

Wow.  You dig, Chick?  I dig, Chuck.

So what might have happened here?  According to the Pop History Dig website, the Beatles were popular enough in their initial American appearance to garner – if not a full-fledged filmed motion picture – at least a quickie weekend of closed-circuit motion picture simulcasts of their first American concert, which was held on February 11, 1964 in Washington, D.C.

So someone – apparently this company called National General Corporation – set up a closed-circuit broadcast over the weekend of March 14th-15th, 1964, where this footage could be shown on the big screen.  Closed circuit broadcasts on movie screens were popular in the 1960’s, but were mostly used for boxing matches – the Washington Avenue Armory used to show Muhammad Ali’s closed-circuit prizefights, for example.

But this was the first time a rock concert was ever transmitted via the closed-circuit route, and the promoters of the film added some Los Angeles concert footage from the Beach Boys – and another batch of concert footage from Lesley Gore – to augment the Beatles’ performance.

Well now… if there was a closed-circuit Beatles concert performance on the weekend of March 14-15, 1964, then there’s only one question left for this blog to answer…

If this closed-circuit show played in Albany… what theater hosted it?

One quick trip to the Albany Public Library, a dive into the Times Union microfilms, and I had my answer.

Palace Theater advertisement, March 12, 1964.

As you can see on the left of this blog post, the Beatles’ closed-circuit concert played at the Palace Theater on March 14th and 15th.  There were two shows on March 14th, at 12:00 noon and 2:30 p.m., while the Sunday telecast took place at 2:30 p.m. only.  Tickets cost $2, and there were no reserved seats – get there while you can, essentially.

The Palace was also showing the Stanley Kubrick classic Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  This was part of a double feature with the film Night  Encounter, advertised as “Secret Agents in a Nightmare Rendezvous of Love!”  Oh, and there was free evening and Sunday parking for the Palace shows if you left your car at the Grand, the Minit-Man or the Bro-Clin parking lots.

Over at the Strand, advertised as “New York State’s Most Beautiful Theatre,” there was a double feature on the big screen – Bob Hope starring in the film A Global Affair, while the second feature starred Anthony Newley as a bookmaker trying to stay ahead of organized crime in The Small World of Sammy Lee.

Meanwhile, the Ritz – which for some reason was advertising itself as the “New Ritz” – had a comedy double feature, both starring Jack Lemmon.  You could watch him with Shirley MacLaine in Irma La Douce, and then stick around and see him and Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot.

If your tastes were more geared toward mature films, the Leland Theater promised “Two Such Sensational Shockers, Never Before On One Screen!”  The films? A West German imprint called For Love and Others, twinned with the late 50’s French film Girls of the Night.

Uptown, the Madison offered the Steve McQueen / Natalie Wood film Love with the Proper Stranger, on a double bill with the Dean Martin farce Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed. Over the weekend, the Madison offered a collection of children’s cartoons, as well as a screening of the Tom Poston fantasy-comedy film Zotz!

Traveling further uptown brought you to the Hellman Theater, which had an exclusive showing of the film Tom Jones.  And kids, this has nothing to do with the Welsh singer. Go get you a copy of a book by Henry Fielding and improve your mind.

Meanwhile, the Delaware was showing its third and final week of Elia Kazan’s film America America, the story of Kazan’s uncle and how he survived in Turkey as a Grecian minority.

Oh, and the Cinema Art Theater in Troy was in business in 1964; they had a double feature of Lord of the Flies and David and Lisa, which would make way next week for the film All the Way Home.

Temperatures were warming up for the Capital District’s drive-ins; you could enjoy a quadruple-feature horrorfest at the Turnpike Drive-In; arrive early and watch the Vincent Price-Debra Paget classic Haunted Palace, then stick around to see Barry Sullivan in Pyro: The Thing Without a Face, followed by Return of Dracula and, finally, Four for the Morgue.

Meanwhile, the Hollywood Drive-in promised a triple feature – start with the Susan Hayward film Stolen Hours, followed by Rock Hudson in Spiral Road, and have Jerry Lewis in Rock-A-Bye Baby as your capper.  And if you clipped the newspaper ad and brought it with you to the drive-in, you received a free car heater to use for the night.  Nice.

And at the RPI Fieldhouse?  Naturally – Ice Capades.

So that’s what was playing in Albany when the Beatles first appeared on the Capital District’s movie screens.  Wow.

When “A Christmas Story” First Played in Albany

The Times Union blogging meet-up tonight – a viewing of “A Christmas Story,” with a post-movie get-together across the street at the Albany Brown Derby – should be a lot of fun.  I’ve seen the list of bloggers and readers who will attend the event, and I think it will be a great time.

Now I could just post that and say, hey enjoy the event, hope to see you there.

Yeah, I could do that.

And you know dang well that if it’s coming out of my blog page, you’re going to get something more than just an invitation.  That’s just me.

See, on November 18, 1983, “A Christmas Story” made its Capital District debut at various area theaters.  It appeared on two of the United Artists-branded movie palaces – the UA Center 1-2 at Colonie Center, and the UA Plaza 1-2 at Rotterdam Mall.  And did you know that matinee prices at those theaters were just two dollars a show?  Wow…

Since both theaters were twin-screens, patrons had a choice of watching “A Christmas Story” or Michael Keaton in “Mr. Mom” at the UA Plaza 1-2; if you didn’t want to see “A Christmas Story” at the UA Center 1-2, you could watch Chevy Chase in “Deal of the Century” on the other screen.

The other UA theaters in the area had popular films of the day – the UA Hellman 1-2 on Washington Avenue Extension offered Sean Connery in “Never Say Never Again,” as well as the NASA flight drama “The Right Stuff.”  The UA Towne 1-2 in Latham had Tommy Lee Jones in “Nate and Hayes,” as well as “Amityville 3-D.”

Oh, and I should mention that the UA Center 1-2, on Friday and Saturday nights, offered “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and the Led Zeppelin concert  film “The Song Remains the Same” as midnight movies.

Up the street from the UA Center 1-2, the Fox Colonie 1-2 on Wolf Road had an exclusive engagement of the film “A Night in Heaven.”  Yeah, I don’t remember much about that film, but it did spawn the Bryan Adams hit “Heaven.”  So we can curse thank the film for that, at least.  The other screen at the Fox Colonie gave us “The Osterman Weekend.”

“A Christmas Story” was also playing at Cinema 4 in Amsterdam, and if you clipped the advertisement out of the newspaper, you could get $1.00 off the ticket price of seeing either “A Christmas Story,” “Amityville 3-D,” “A Night in Heaven” or “The Big Chill.,” all of which were viewable that weekend.

You could also watch “A Christmas Story” at Pyramid Mall, as the Saratoga 6 cinema had that film – as well as “Deal of the Century,” “Amityville 3-D,” “Nate and Hayes,” “A Night in Heaven” and “The Big Chill.”

“The Big Chill” and “Nate and Hayes” were on the screens at the Cine  1-2-3-4-5-6 in Northway Mall, as were “Stephen King’s Dead Zone,” “Amityville 3-D,” “The Golden Seal,” “Fanny and Alexander,” “Educating Rita” and “Richard Pryor Here and Now.”  That’s right, eight films in a six-screen cinema.  And the film “Terms of Endearment” was scheduled to premiere at Cine 1-2-3-4-5-6 one week later.  Think about that when you go to Crossgates and you see seven films in what is advertised as an 18-screen cinema.

The Scotia Cinema not only presented “Mr. Mom” on their screen, they also offered the film for $1.50 for afternoon and evening showings – and, since this was the weekend before Thanksgiving, several lucky patrons won 15-pound turkeys before each screening.

If you went to the Spectrum, you could watch the Australian film “Lonely Hearts,” which was entering its final week of engagement at the Delaware Avenue single-screen cinema.  Two shows a night at the Spectrum, closed on Mondays.  That place has come a long way since then…

Attending Cinema 7 in Latham gave you a chance to see Timothy Hutton in the film “Daniel,” the story of the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

And if you wanted some live entertainment, there was a touring performance of “Sesame Street Live” at the RPI Fieldhouse that weekend.  And if you went to your local Price Chopper, you could snag a coupon for $1.00 off the ticket price to attend the event.

So there you have it.  That’s what was playing in the Capital District – both “A Christmas Story” and other films – the weekend of November 18, 1983.

And I’ll see you tonight at the blogging event at the Palace!!

A long, long time ago, in a cinema far, far away…

Well, actually it was last Friday night, so we can’t really say “long, long time ago.”

I was playing Trivial Pursuit: Star Wars Edition.  It was me versus a couple of RPI kids (essentially two on one, or as I like to call it, a “trivia fair fight.”).  Some fair fight.  They beat me six wedges to two.  The force is strong with those padawans.

But in playing the Trivial Pursuit game, it reminded me of the time I first saw a Star Wars film, and where I was in my life.  And when I say “saw,” I mean in an actual motion picture theater, complete with popcorn and coming attractions and the like.

I saw Star Wars (what is now known as Star Wars IV: A New Hope) in 1977 at what was then the Cine 1-2-3-4-5-6 behind Northway Mall.  I recall it was a Saturday showing and there was a line of people from the standalone theater building, almost back to the Montgomery Wards store in the mall.  It’s not like I wasn’t aware of Star Wars, I had already purchased the first three Marvel comic books that were a tie-in to the movie, so I had some sense of what the movie was about (in fact, the comic books had scenes in it that were supposed to be in the film – Luke’s first meeting with Biggs Darklighter on Tatooine, or Han Solo’s interaction with a human, English-speaking Jabba the Hutt – but those scenes were cut from the final film).  But man, was I blown away when I saw all that action on the big screen.  And I saw that film over and over again, maybe six or seven times in the next few months.

Although Star Wars originally hit movie screens on May 25, 1977, the Capital District didn’t get to see the film until it debuted at Cine 1-2-3-4-5-6 on June 22, 1977, in what was then billed as an exclusive engagement at the theater.  In addition to Star Wars, the Cine 1-2-3-4-5-6 was also showing Annie Hall, Rocky, Young Frankenstein and a Roy Scheider film called Sorcerer.  I think Star Wars was on two screens at the time, which would indeed explain why the place wasn’t called Cine 1-2-3-4-5.

So what was playing on the other Capital District screens at that time?

The UA Center 1-2 offered both screens for Jacqueline Bissett’s film The Deep.  Over at the UA Towne, one could watch the film Rollercoaster – and it was in Sensurround, to boot (“Sensurround” was a low bass audio track that gave the impression of vibration and movement in your seat – sort of like cranking up a subwoofer to a Nigel Tufnel “11”).  The UA Hellman and the UA Plaza 1-2 both showed A Bridge Too Far, while the Plaza’s second screen offered Annie Hall.

Another theater in the UA chain, the Riverview Drive-In at Rotterdam Junction, was about to premiere a double-feature of the Barbra Streisand-Kris Kristofferson flick A Star Is Born, twinned with the three-year-old buddy cop film Freebie and the Bean.

The Mohawk Mall three-screen theater promoted The Deep, Sorcerer and Exorcist II: The Heretic, while its sister theater, Cinema 7, offered the weeper The Other Side of MidnightExorcist II: The Heretic was also on view at the Fox Colonie Theater on Wolf Road.

The “terrorist at the Super Bowl” flick Black Sunday was playing on a twin bill at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady with The Last Tycoon.  That same twin-bill could be viewed at the Carman Drive-In and at the Latham Drive-In.

The other outdoor passion pits were in a Disney mood; Freaky Friday (Jodie Foster and Barbara Barrie switch bodies) and Gus (a field-goal-kicking mule) could entertain families at the Malta Drive-In, the Super 50 Drive-In and the Turnpike Drive-In.  The Turnpike offered a third film after the Disney flicks, A Man Called Horse.  Over at the Super 50, the third feature after the Disney films was Return of a Man Called Horse.  The Malta, however, offered their triple feature capper as The Horse With the Flying Tail, a Disney film that did not have any men called “horse” in it.

At the budget cinemas, the Clifton Park Cinema presented Young Frankenstein and Freebie and the Bean, both for $1.  Meanwhile, the Scotia Cinema had two cult films, King of Hearts and Harold and Maude.

I think, if I remember correctly, Star Wars played at the Cine 1-2-3-4-5-6 for nearly two years.  Unfortunately, what was once Cine 1-2-3-4-5-6 (and later increased its screenage to Cine 10) no longer exists; one can drive through what used to be its front lobby on one’s way to Lowe’s Home Improvement.

In my personal movie collection, I did at one time have the original Star Wars trilogy – Hope-Empire-Jedi – in a boxed VHS widescreen collection, this was before George Lucas did his “updates” on the film (in other words, Han shot first – you Jedis know what I’m talking about).

When the films came out on DVD, I purchased the widescreen editions – of course, these were the updated versions (Greedo shot first).  A couple of years ago, I did acquire the “classic” versions in a boxed set, so technically I have nine DVD’s encompassing six films. This is what I consider canon.  I know there are  cartoons from the Star Wars universe (Ewoks, Droids, Clone Wars animated, Clone Wars CGI), and if I look hard enough I’m sure I can find the Star Wars Holiday Special (so long as George Lucas hadn’t destroyed every copy by now).

So let me throw this out to you.

  • What was the first movie in the Star Wars franchise that you saw in a theater?  Which theater was it?
  • Of the six Star Wars movies, which one is your personal favorite?  And by the same token, which film just doesn’t work for you?

This should make for a good Monday topic.  Go.  And… may the blog post be with you.

When “To Kill a Mockingbird” played in Albany

As I look forward to participating in “Mockingbird Marathon: To Kill a Saturday,” the public reading / fundraiser of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” on November 6, 2010, I think back to when the 1962 Academy Award-winning film of the same name played in Albany.

And so, on a chilly Saturday morning, I had two choices.

Go down to watch the Central Warehouse building burn and smolder, and possibly inhale some toxic fumes – a sweet distillation of asbestos and ammonia and chlorine and bird droppings and God knows what, all incinerated with smoke and fire.

As much as that sounds tempting…

I chose instead to visit the Albany Public Library and pour through old newspaper microfilm archives, hoping to find not only the date when “To Kill a Mockingbird” premiered in Albany, but what theater had the honor of hosting the film.

Before I went to the library, I checked the Internet Movie Database to confirm that “To Kill a Mockingbird” made its screen debut on December 25, 1962.  However, the film did not premiere in Albany in 1962; it actually took two months – until Wednesday, February 20, 1963 – for Albany theatergoers to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the Capital District.

Advertisement for "To Kill a Mockingbird," 2/20/62, Albany Times Union.

The film premiered at the Strand Theater, advertised as “New York State’s Most Beautiful Theater.”  If you’re looking for the Strand Theater today, its original physical address was 110 North Pearl Street.  I say “was.”  That address is now a parking lot adjacent to several downtown brew pubs.

For opening night, you could watch the film at 1:50, 5:35 or 9:20; “To Kill a Mockingbird” was paired as a double feature with the compilation “30 Years of Fun,” a collection of silent film comedies.

So if “To Kill a Mockingbird” was playing at the Strand… the next question is… what was playing at Albany’s other motion picture palaces and passion pits?

Over at the Ritz, William Holden and Trevor Howard appeared in “The Rage of the Lion,” which was part of a double feature with the French-Italian film “A Bomb for a Dictator.”

The Hellman, on Washington Avenue Extension, was completing their exclusive run of the “cast of thousands” film “The Longest Day.”

The Delaware – well, we call it the Spectrum today – was winding down their engagement of the film “Kill or Cure,” starring Terry-Thomas and Eric Sykes.  In addition to the ad for the film, the Delaware was proud to announce that there was free parking for all patrons of their films.

The Palace offered the breathtaking Hawai’ian drama “Diamond Head,” featuring Charlton Heston and Yvette Mimieux.  In addition to “Diamond Head,” they also showed the documentary featurette “The Wonders of Israel.” For the kids, the Palace would offer “a special Washington’s Birthday morning show” of “Tarzan and the Lost Safari,” along with a Three Stooges comedy and assorted short cartoons.  50 cents for children, adults 75 cents.

At the Madison, the film “Gypsy,” starring Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood and Karl Malden, was ending a successful run.

The Turnpike Drive-In announced they would open on the 21st, with an Elvis Presley double-feature of “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Kid Galahad.”  The Turnpike offered, for opening night, free orchids, free key chains, and free gifts for the little kids – as well as in-car heaters so you could enjoy an Elvis Presley double feature in late February in upstate New York.

At the Leland, one could watch the premiere of the 1961 film exploitation film “West End Jungle,” a film that was actually banned in England because of its semi-shocking display of the prostitution trade.  “West End Jungle” was coupled in a double feature with the 1958 low-budget film “Wild Women of Wongo.”  Yes, I know there’s a song called “Wild Women of Wongo,” as performed by the Tubes.  Not sure I’d enjoy either version, mind you.

So anyways, now that you know what played in Albany on February 20, 1963, I hope you all can attend the Mockingbird Marathon on November 6, 2010 at Townsend Park Bakery, and let’s raise a lot of dough – pun intended – for Literacy NY of the Greater Capital Region!