Zefferelli at the Jewel Box

zefferrelli-at-the-jewel-box

It shouldn’t be surprising that I used to dream about my work. Probably every one does. But these dreams were the weirdest when it came to my job at Saffle’s Theater Service over on John Street in Seattle. In some respects they were like walking through an Ingmar Bergman movie.

In this particular recurring dream, the streets were empty, and I was wandering them alone. I moved in the silence, not a single person anywhere, and no vehicles either, just buildings and trees and other such landmarks. I would follow the familiar boulevard towards my workplace. But I stopped a block short, and took another street on a vector away from my goal. And then another turn brought me up a hill and over to Second Avenue. I felt awake and conscious – all was recognizable to me because it was the landscape across which I circulated for my job. And there was a deadline somehow involved in the logic of the dream, yet not binding, as time itself was slowed down.

My movements always came to an end over on a little section of Second Avenue between Bell and Wall Streets.  There all the film distributor offices were huddled together in one little section that was called “Film Row.” And there also was the focus of the “fun” part of the job, the screening rooms.

There were two main venues on film row, where the screenings for new films were scheduled. Fox was the only distributor to have their own in-house screening room. I have absolutely no recollection of this screening room (my boss must have covered the few offerings there). I have been told that it was tiny and uncomfortable, and every seat had a bad view of the screen.

The other venue was a different story. The Jewel Box was a gem. (The choice of name was a genuflection to that old favorite choice for a theater name. If you’ve seen those old theaters with the name Bijou above the marquee, you’re were looking at something akin to the same thing – ‘bijou’ is French for jewel). It was built in 1927 by B. F. Shearer as a showcase for his theater equipment company.

With only sixty seats one might say it was the size of a shoe box, (compared to the theaters of that day – not now), but it was comfortable. One center aisle divided two seating areas. At the front there were individual theater seats, but as you moved to the back there were a series of booths – bench seats with their own long tables upon which you could place your meals, ordered up from the Rendezvous restaurant next door (a side door of the theater led straight into it). One might call the arrangement with the booths an early example of stadium seating, for each pair of them had their own riser.

The summer of 1976, I spent a lot of time at the Jewel Box viewing films. Here are a few titles:

In May- Food of the Gods (AIP) Marjoe Gortner

             – Ode to Billy Joe (WB) Robby Benson

             – Eat My Dust! (Parnell) Ron Howard

              – Drive In (Col) a film made with Texas state tax incentives for the (what else) the drive in market

In June – The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (AIP) Lee Marvin

              – Special Delivery (AIP) Bo Svenson and Cybill Shepherd

               – The Outlaw Josey Wales (WB) Clint Eastwood

               – Survive (Par) about the 1972 plane crash in the Andes Mtns and cannibalism

                – Obsession (Col) Brian de Palma pulls a Hitchcock with Cliff Robertson and Genvieve Bujold

In July  – St Ives (WB) Charles Bronson

              – Squirm (AIP) man-eating worms

              – Gumball Rally (WB) Michael Sarrazin

              – Futureworld (AIP) sequel to Westworld

In August  – Moving Violation (Fox) Stephen McHattie and Kay Lenz

                – The Shootist (Par) John Wayne

                – Car Wash (UN) Richard Pryor

                – Winds of Autumn (Film Brokers) Jack Elam

                – Drum (UA) Warren Oates, Ken Norton

[These movie “dreams” may have impacted somehow my “dreamlife.”]

One night we had the Jewel Box all to ourselves or rather all to our families, mine and my wife’s. And some few choice friends. I had arranged to rent it for my wife’s birthday party. (We all had dinner at the Spaghetti Factory before coming to the Jewel Box).

But what would renting a theater be without a movie? So I arranged for that too. I contacted Joe Vigil, my Paramount rep (and friend) down in San Francisco and ordered up a film title by one of my wife’s favorite directors, Franco Zefferelli. You may be familiar with his Shakespeare films “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Along with our snacks and cake we sat down to watch “Brother Sun Sister Moon.” The film tells the story of the life of St Francis of Assisi.

I believe for a time this director’s films may have eclipsed Gone with the Wind as her favorite.

Hitchcock and Me

Hitchcock and Me

I had to do some research to nail down the time period that I was at the Cinerama theater. As I mentioned in a former post, the theater changed hands some time during my tenure there. I was able to run down the date that this occurred by checking with the Seattle Times newspaper website. On August 15, 1972, the Cinerama was taken over by the Sterling Recreation Organization.

Using this same site I was able to track down the films that were booked at the Cinerama and hopefully to trace back to the time I started. I am not quite one hundred per cent sure, but I think I began when Stanley Kramer’s film, Bless the Beasts and Children was playing there, which puts the date as sometime in November 1971. I don’t think many people are familiar with this film. Not many saw it when it was out. It was a “coming of age” story about a bunch of misfit boys out to save a herd of bison from slaughter.  It wasn’t long before a second feature, the sci-fi film Marooned was added to it to help out.

From then until the take over, I tore tickets for:

Ryan’s Daughter – by one of my favorite directors – David Lean

Sometimes a Great Notion – Paul Newman (starred and directed) which might have been a re-release as it opened originally in 1970

A Clockwork Orange – Kubrick – this carried an “X” rating for its violence and controversy

Silent Running – directed by Doug Trumbull (famous for the SFX on Kubrick’s 2001)

While Bruce Dern and his robots Huey, Dewey and Louis were trying to save the last of Earth’s plant life, another figure joined the lobby to promote an upcoming film. And I had my eye on him.

Alfred Hitchcock was a great showman as well as a legendary director. For his upcoming film he had had full size cutouts of his standing figure created for theater lobbies across America. There he stood with a finger pointed at whomever he was facing. And attached to the back of the figure was a small tape recorder that continually played a message from the Master of Suspense – all centered around neckties – to huckster for his latest film – Frenzy.

I prevailed upon Mr. McKnight to give me the cutout after the film completed its run. And he acceded to my request, but not until after the run was stretched a bit when Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me was added to boost the attendance.

When Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask” moved in, I moved Hitch out and gave him a ride home in my Roadrunner.

Upon arriving home, I propped Hitch up on the front step and rang the doorbell. When my Mom answered the door, she must have jumped a foot in the air, and three feet back. After she recovered her composure, she told me, “Let’s do it to Dad!”

So we did.

Josh Logan Director

Josh Logan Director

Howard Kazanjian called him Mr. Logan. And to Josh Logan, Howard was Howard.

Logan was not only a respected director, with lots of credits on stage and in film, he was also a writer and producer in both mediums. Josh used to talk to Howard about personal things – the difficulties in his life – stretching back to losing his father to suicide when but three years old.  Though, now happily married and with children of his own, he hinted to Howard that challenges and struggles dogged his steps.  (A couple years later Logan talked in public more freely about his bipolar disorder and the relief that lithium was bringing him).

Mr. Logan was 58 at that time, which was probably the median age of those who made up the crews at WB. The studio made the choice for first AD on Camelot.  It was a poor one – there were quite a few projects at the time that were tying up the best. Howard was given the second AD slot. With his get-up-and-go, can-do attitude, Logan came to depend very much upon Howard.

Howard was the only one from the crew (except for perhaps DP Dick Kline) that was invited out to the home Logan had rented in Beverly Hills. Howard came with his girl friend. When the butler, towel over his arm, answered the door, and greeted them each by name, a small mystery was cleared up. Josh when on set was always impeccably dressed in a dark suit and tie. And highly polished shoes. And this was despite what type of setting they toiled in. At times it was downright gritty. For instance, when working in the “snow” scene which I have noted before was actually salt – all the shine had worn off those shoes by the end of the day. The next morning when Logan arrived on set, the shoes were restored to their glossy glory. And here greeting them was the reason why they were always pristine.

There are sometimes uncomfortable chores handed out to ADs by their directors. Two weeks into shooting, preparations were being made for the “It’s May” scene that called for lots of extras. Howard was charged with arranging their auditions. It seemed that Logan interviewed every male extra in Hollywood. He would have Howard line them up for review en masse in the street – different groups – knights – street musicians – townspeople etc. Logan would walk the line like a general reviewing his troops. One group he wanted to have a second look at, and ordered Howard to assemble them again, but this time just in their underwear. Shades of Erich von Stroheim, but understandable when considering this group needed to look fit – no unseemly bulges in the tight leather jerkins or other close-fitting garments that these extras would be wearing for the lusty month of May number.

Logan had an office on the lot (the one currently occupied by Clint Eastwood and his Malpaso Company). His secretary administered things for him there. From this HQ, he would drive over to whatever set was scheduled for that day, (sometimes visiting a couple) and after a review with Howard and Kline, Logan would tell them what needed to be done, and return to his office until the preparations were complete. One afternoon when they called the secretary to relay a 10 minute warning, she informed them that Logan wasn’t in. The associate producer Joel Freeman called down to the studio gate, and the guard there confirmed that Logan had indeed driven off the lot. Logan had visited the set, but upon leaving there, he switched to auto pilot and drove home. Thereafter Joel left a standing order with the gate guards – that if it were only midday they weren’t to let Logan off the lot.

On tap for next week – Dick Kline DP, the next installment in the Adventures of Howard Kazanjian.