The Best Ree-maining Seats

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The follow-the-bouncing-ball spirit of earlier audiences had given way to a try-and-make-me-laugh philosophy. The Vitaphone literally blew theater orchestras right out of the pit—for good. There was a chill settling over the loges that didn’t come from the air conditioning, and as live talent disappeared from the stages, going to the movies became a lonely experience though every seat might be filled. Theater operators turned from showmanship to candy butchering. There was popcorn in paradise.

The Golden Age of the movie palace is but a tarnished—if fragrant—memory. The Roxy has been leveled—fallow ground where nothing but an office building will grow. A few of the grand old relicts have had their faces lifted by uninspired architects whose idea of theatrical cosmetic surgery is to blanket every vestige of ornament, from proscenium to projection booth, in miles of neutral-colored nylon. In New York the graceful French curve of the Paramount’s marquee has been supplanted by a frosted glass trapezoid with plastic letters; an escalator now runs right up the middle of the Capitol’s white-marble lobby stairs. The Chicago Theater’s French Moroccan lower promenade has been transformed into a créole midway with imitation brick wainscoting, fake New Orleans ironwork, and a kitchen-linoleum floor. Out in Hollywood the foliated gold interior of the Pantages now resembles a yard-goods department.

Movie attendance is no longer a matter of habit, no longer a weekly event for all the family, who knew that even if the picture was a bore, it would never last more than an hour and a quarter. And then there would be the overture, the newsreel, the lavish stage presentation, the two-reel comedy, the travelogue, the organlogue, and the prologue to settle back and enjoy.

Still, going to the movies hasn’t lost all its appeal. Last year saw a pickup in theater attendance as families—tired of sitting in living rooms munching TeeVeeSnax while other people did their laughing and applauding for them—began to turn from the tiny screen back to the big, big one.

In many cases the remodelings and refurbishings have paid off as theater managers learned to lure back some of the lost audience with the promise of different surroundings. Even a few new theaters are appearing. They may be smaller than the gardens of the Sun King, and there’s not a rising orchestra pit in the whole lot, but they are being built once again.

And if new stars should twinkle over new balconies once more, perhaps the voice of the Head Usher may again be heard in the land, chanting, “For the best ree-maining seats, take the Grand Staircase to the Left.”