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Archive for the ‘Quirky’ Category

I recently heard Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, and whenever I hear that song I immediately think of Vincent Price. In what seems to be a lifetime ago now, I booked Vincent Price for an appearance when I managed the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro, NC in the early 1980’s. It was an “evening with” sort of program, where he spoke to the audience for about 45 minutes and then fielded questions from the audience for another 30 – 45 minutes. 

So whenever I hear “Thriller” my mind wanders back to that day and a moment that occurred shortly after he left the stage, a moment that I recognized instantly as one that I would always remember. 

Vincent Price had agreed to attend a meet and greet with some members and friends of the Carolina after his show.  We had such a great turn out that night and so many of our folks wanted the chance to shake hands and chat with the master of the macabre.  I was just as excited as the audience, as one of my most distinct childhood movie memories involved being scared out of my mind watching “The Tingler”.

His talk was wonderful.  I mostly remember standing in a spot in the Theatre where I could watch the reactions of the audience, and the entire room was enthralled with his wit and charisma.  His talk was wide-ranging and engaging as he spoke about his life and career. During the Q &A, I remember he was asked about his cookbook, and he spoke about his passion for food and cooking (his favorite thing to cook was anything to do with chicken, because he said it was so versatile.) 

The final few questions were of course about “Thriller”, which was almost new then, and he talked about how much fun it was to contribute to that.  He finished the talk by reciting the “Thriller” poem, and when he said the line “Creatures crawl in search of blood, to terrorize y’all’s neighborhood”, he said it with a particular relish that made his words seem to drip down the walls of that grand old southern theater. And he enjoyed putting extra emphasis on “y’all’s” since we were in North Carolina. 

After his stage appearance, out of courtesy I gave him a few minutes to relax in the star dressing room before I came to take him over to the reception.  After about five minutes I went up to his dressing room and noticed that the door was open.  Being respectful, I approached somewhat slowly and when I got into the door frame I saw that he was sitting in a straight chair, leaning over with his elbows on his knees, smoking a cigarette.  He was clearly lost in thought, staring at the floor. 

I realized that he wasn’t aware that I was even there, so I lightly knocked on the open door and cleared my throat.  His body jerked slightly with a start, then he quickly gathered himself, smiled and said “Hello, John, how did I do?”   Although I’m sure I told him he did a great job on stage, I really don’t remember what I said, because the only thing going through my mind was:   I . . .  just . . . scared . . .  Vincent Price!  Yesss!

I considered it payback for “The Tingler”.

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We awoke this morning to the sad news that Hollywood legend Tony Curtis passed away over night.  It’s safe to say that he was one of the great iconic actors of his day, and he enjoyed his work and his celebrity immensely.  We had the pleasure of hosting Tony Curtis here at Tampa Theatre in 1996 when we screened “Some Like it Hot” as part of a series of films from the National Film Registry.  

Tony Curtis on stage at Tampa Theatre (1996), with daughter Alex and twin granddaughters Dido and Elizabeth

Some Like It Hot” still sits atop most polls and surveys as the #1 most enjoyable comedy ever.  Whenever we’ve shown it, we’ve always enjoyed great crowds – most of whom have already seen the film several times.  In that regard its like “Casablanca”  . . .  there always seems to be an audience eager to see it in a great setting.  

My remembrances of my brief day with Tony Curtis always bring a smile to my face.  About a month before his appearance at Tampa Theatre, my phone rang at my desk.  I picked it up and on the other end of the line was Tony Curtis who with great gusto said “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny!!  This is Tony, Tony, Tony!”.  Now, I’ve personally dealt with celebrities from time to time (from Ben Vereen to Vincent Price), but I can tell you I became a babbling idiot on the phone during that first phone call.  I mean, it was Tony Curtis on the other end of the line talking to me like I was an old friend. 

Over the next few weeks leading up to the event I got more phone calls from him, as did staff member Tara Schroeder who was handling all of the press relations for his visit.   Her phone would ring, and she would hear “Tara, Tara, Tara!!  This is Tony, Tony, Tony!”   He became personally involved in making sure his appearance worked for us, and we really looked forward to hosting him in person.

On the day of the event, we wanted Tony Curtis and his family members travelling with him to arrive at the Theatre in style.  We made arrangements for a friend who had a Rolls Royce to pick him up from his downtown hotel and bring him to the red carpet in front of the Theatre.   Tara and I waited with anticipation with a throng of fans in front of the Theatre for his arrival.  We became excited when we saw the Rolls pulling up Franklin Street.  The Rolls got to the front of the Theatre and, aghast, I realized that no one but the driver was inside.  He had a look of shock on his face.   

Thinking the driver either got lost or had lost Tony Curtis, I ran over to him and asked “Where is he?!!!??!”  He replied that Tony had a few more people than expected and he didn’t want to take separate cars, so he called for a cab. 

Tony Curtis arriving at Tampa Theatre in a cab, not a Rolls.

About that time, a beat up station wagon taxi pulled around the corner, screeching tires with smoke billowing out the tail pipe.  The taxi’s back end looked like it needed suspension work because it appeared overloaded and dragging.  The taxi skidded to a stop, the door opened, and Tony and six others came pouring out of the cab.  The crowd roared its approval, and my heart rate returned to something resembling normal. 

Over the course of the evening, he could not have been more gracious.  He mingled with the crowd, signed every autograph asked of him, posed with guests for picture after picture.  Once he stepped on stage to introduce the film and again afterwards for a Q & A, he became every bit of “Tony Curtis, the movie star” and the crowd couldn’t get enough of him.  Off stage with me, Tara and the Tampa Theatre crowd, he was simply “Tony”, a guy who seemed to enjoy making friends everywhere he went. 

We had him for just a day, but it was enough for us to appreciate his spirit and how much joy he found in living his life large.

All of us at Tampa Theatre extend our heartfelt condolences to his family. 

Tony, Tony, Tony:  Bravo, Bravo, Bravo.

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Swing by the Tampa Museum of Art tonight to see art inspired by Rosa Rio – and lots of other cool art at this month’s Art after Dark shingig, “Cause an Effect.”  About 20 local artists were invited to create a piece for the show based on a local cause or charity of their choosing.  TMA selected local artist Daniel Mrgan who chose Tampa Theatre. 

“Since Tampa Theatre has always been one of my favorite places in the world,” said Daniel, “an almost perfect little oasis for quenching my cinematic thirst, my choice of a cause was a no-brainer – I would love to create a piece that will celebrate Tampa Theatre in some way.”

Until recently, the effervescent Rosa accompanied our silent films at the Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ.  I’m going to see her tomorrow and she’s sure to get a kick out of seeing photos of Daniel’s artwork.  By the way, Rosa has been a little under the weather, but recovering.  If you’d like to send her a get well card or email, send to: Tara Schroeder, Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin Street, Tampa, FL 33602 or tara@tampatheatre.org.

Tampa Museum of Art
Art after Dark – Saturday, April 16, 8-11pm
Free for members; $10 non-members

See you tonight!  I’m wearing a goofy t-shirt with a photo of a Tampa Theatre statue photoshopped with running shorts and shoes.  (Yep, there’s a story.)

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Put your speedo away, Brian.  Alas, the orchestra pit swimming pool project was only a frivolous April Fool’s Day fantasy.   Thanks to everyone who played along.  Lest you thought the orchestra pit was also dubious, the proof is in these then and now pictures.  In the early days, the Tampa Theatre Symphony Orchestra or an organist at our Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ would accompany the silents or, after sound pictures arrived, provide pre-show entertainment.  Much later the pit was covered to accommodate live performances and now is a storage space.  The hole in the stage does have a cover which is very heavy.  One day while covering it, I stumbled and fell into the pit.  My injuries weren’t a picnic, but I did have fun describing the accident on my workman’s comp paperwork — which I heard cracked up the claims processors.

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As unique experiences go, watching movies beneath the Tampa’s twinkling stars and billowing clouds is an E-ticket ride. (btw – was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride an E-ticket?  Does anyone besides me remember E-tickets and Mr. Toad?)   But I digress.  For our new Cinema & Splash Summer Classics Series, we’re transforming the orchestra pit into a swimming pool so you can swim under the stars while watching classic movies on the big screen.  And no worries about about soggy popcorn with our specially-designed floats with water resistant concessions holders.   And here’s the best part: you won’t even need your sunblock! Check back tomorrow when I’ll announce the Cinema & Splash Summer Classics Series schedule.

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My Dad, Rosa and me after "Nosferatu" a few years ago. Rosa (who has a great sense of humor) had big fun making her grand entrance in a coffin (after all, it was a vampire film at Halloween). The crowd squealed with laughter and I even heard someone yell from the balcony, "You go, girl!"

She’s doing just fine, thank you.  We’ve gotten a fair amount of inquiries about Tampa Theatre silent film organist Rosa Rio.  Recently, she decided to retire (at a youthful 107 years old!) so she won’t perform for any more silent films – but if she’s here, will likely pop up on stage to say hello and play a song or two.  Rosa is delighted that she has helped to cultivate enthusiasm and large audiences for silent films here at Tampa Theatre (and so are we!).  And we’re also thrilled that she wants to remain in the loop by working with us on titles and consulting with her theater organ colleagues/friends on musical scores that will be performed at our Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ.  One of her students, Cliff Shaffer, performed here in December.  And Steven Ball will accompany the restored Metropolis on August 29 at the end of the Summer Classic Movie Series.  Steven is an organ professor at the University of Michigan and performs at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.  He was just down here visiting with Rosa last month.  Rosa said she accompanied Metropolis when it premiered in 1927 and was happy to hear about its restoration with the missing footage.   

At the moment, Rosa is recovering quite nicely from a minor medical procedure and should be up and about very soon.  She’s been enjoying cards and notes from family and friends.  If you’d like send Rosa a card or note, please mail to Rosa Rio, Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin Street, Tampa, FL 33602 (no flowers, please).  Or email to tara@tampatheatre.org (please put Rosa in the subject line.)  Click here to read more about this amazing artist and national treasure.

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