Certain films had scenes which were fun for an usher to check out again and again. Not only to just enjoy the vibe, but also to observe the reaction of the audience to what for them was a brand new experience. I liked to slip into the back of the theater when Airport was winding down to its conclusion, when George Kennedy, as his character Joe Patroni adverted disaster by driving a stranded 707 out of harm’s way. He succeeds despite dire warnings that structural damage to the plane was imminent. The young man in the cockpit with him exclaims, “The instruction book said that was impossible.” To which Patroni replied, “That’s one nice thing about the 707. It can do everything but read.”
This remark brought the audience, in many cases, to their feet. Some even danced in place, a little victory jig. For you see, many of them worked for the biggest employer in Renton.
Historically speaking, Renton Washington had always been a transportation hub. The railroad tracks around town gave you a clue that it was once a railroad crossroads. Now, in the seventies, the railroad connection lived on in Paccar – a manufacturer of railcars, trucks, and a supplier for parts for the even bigger company Boeing. Boeing’s Renton plant was turning out (they would argue, and the dancers agreed) the best commercial airliners in the world. All three models were churned out on their assembly lines – the 707s, the 727s, and the latest the 737s.
It is for this reason that Art Silber, the GCC West Coast film buyer, was keen for this Universal release, based on the Arthur Hailey bestseller. He wanted to acquire it for the Renton Cinemas. And he did better than just getting one “leg” of a wide release in the Seattle area. He put up a guarantee of twenty-five thousand dollars for an exclusive run and got it.
And it seemed like the entire population of Seattle, near and far, tried to get into the theater its first weekend. (Don’t tell anyone, but my dad pulled the last show of Anne of the Thousand Days, playing in the other auditorium, and ran Airport on both sides. All to accomodate all those people standing in the line wrapped around the building). Airport remained at the Renton Cinema for the next 20 weeks.
Boeing also looms large personally, with many family members who have been or currently are on their rolls. My brother (the racer) is a machinist there, in fact the lead in the prototype department. My sister’s husband for many years was involved in their “blackbox” projects. Two of my wife’s brothers have each been there over thirty years; and her dad, when there, had headed up their audio/visual department (aside – Jeff Probst, host of Survivior at one time worked for him).
Somehow I missed being swept up into the Boeing conglomerate. But then again it’s just like the saying goes, “There’s no business like show business.”