Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘John Bell’

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”.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

This morning I sat through a state Arts Council grant panel review for Media Arts organizations.  The grant review process is now conducted by teleconference, which is great because it saves thousands of dollars in travel expenses for arts organizations statewide.  It used to be that we’d all have to haul our tired carcasses to Tallahassee, which is a fine town but is not exactly conveniently located.

This state grant program funds those cultural organizations whose primary mission is to advance film production and exhibition in Florida.   We’ve applied for many years and have always seemed to fare well.  The panelists are experts in the field who take the time to read and analyze each application, then score them.  The scores from all of the panelists are totaled and then averaged.  This morning we were pleased when Tampa Theatre’s application received the highest score overall!

Now, all of this may not matter because the legislature is wrestling with budget cuts.   There’s the possibility that the program which funds these grants may not be funded at all.  Yes, times are tough, especially for governments at all levels, but the arts are a proven, smart investment.  We also believe Tampa Theatre is one of Tampa’s most creative economic engines and deserves local and state support.

If you take just three minutes now and click on this link where you can send a quick and easy message to your legislator.  Doing so will help restore funding for the Theatre’s artistic and educational programs, but it may also help hundreds of other local arts organizations all around the state.

Read Full Post »