Early in 1973, I had switched from being a doorman at the single screen theater, the Cinerama, to a job as assistant manager for the UA Cinema 150 and 70 down on Sixth and Blanchard. It was unlike any theater I had worked in up to that time. Yes, I had toiled in twin cinemas before, but the UA was different.
It was a twin theater that was twin everything. Each theater had its own projection booth, and its own concession stand with their own stock rooms. They did share one box office between them. You entered through the box office area, paid for your tickets, and either went right to the Cinema 150 or left to Cinema 70.
The lobby of the 150 was striking. It was lit by chandeliers and the white floors made it brighter. The walls were decorated with white wall paper that was imprinted with a red brocade pattern (this feature always reminded me of an ice cream parlor). Stairs led up from the lobby to the auditorium filled with rocking chair loges. Whereas the ceiling over the 70 was normal, that over the 150 was a high dome structure.
There was something just a bit eerie about walking in this auditorium. You could sense the whole structure move slightly under your tread as you walked up the aisle, for underneath it was all wood construction.
Mr. William Shonk was the manager of the UA (and also the regional manager for the UA circuit). He was a reserved individual, who approached everything with a calm and collected demeanor. He was all business in his relationships, though on certain occasions a wry sense of humor showed through the cracks of his reserve.
Around the time Mr. Shonk hired me, Sounder graced the screen on the 70 side and was doing a bit of business due to its four Oscar nominations. We had quite a few school groups coming in to see it. On the 150 side Harold and Maude shared a bill with Travels with My Aunt.
I wasn’t much older than the rest of the staff, the box office cashiers, the concession workers, and the ushers – most memorably – Karl, Wendy, Billie, and Fabio. (Add Wendy’s boyfriend Pat and you could not find a crazier bunch of cinephiles).
Given the responsibility to manage workers roughly the same age, was perhaps not the best situation, especially when we had time on our hands and the boss wasn’t around. The one instance along this line that I recall occurred just after putting a matinee show in. Concessions were restocked, the lobby was swept clean and empty of customers, (they were all in their seats, with eyes on the show, and not on us). Our breaks were upcoming for which we would each pour ourselves a small drink and use a similar cup for some popcorn (if you wanted candy or ice cream you had to pay for it). But since it was not yet break time, what else could we do?
That’s when curious minds enquired away. I must have been returning a stack of cups to their case, having misjudged how many were needed to refill the dispensers. That’s when I asked myself – “What would happen to this paper cup, if it were filled within a half inch from the top and set on fire?” Would it continue to burn when it reached the level of the liquid? Or would it continue to consume the outside of the cup where it had a dry surface and oxygen? Why don’t we experiment?
So, we did. We made sure to conduct it in a clear area behind the door to the stock room well away from anything else flammable. We took a small cup, filled it with some water, and set the lip on fire. It caught easily and made a neat ring of flame around the top. And as you may have guessed it extinguished itself when the cup burned down to the level of the water. And we learned another little fact – the wax on the cup had melted and spread across the surface of the water holding it in place.
Although this was an interesting bit of information, I have yet to employ the knowledge gained in any useful way.