Down in the Canyons of Seattle

Down in the Canyons of Seattle

We were canyon dwellers in Seattle, and spent the majority of our time in the one canyon called Fifth Avenue. Out where our apartment was located the canyon was a little more open, but as we trudged off to work the canyon walls grew steeper and the shadows lengthened. My wife’s place of work came first on the trek up the arroyo. She cashiered at the Coliseum theater, a gleaming white Roman-like structure at the corner of Fifth and Pike. (Bruce Lee was mixing it up with Chuck Norris in “Return of the Dragon”). My theater was farther up the avenue past our opposition, SRO’s Music Box theater, at this juncture running the first run hit, “Chinatown”, the Jack Nicholson starrer, directed by Roman Polanski.

[Aside – though I was gone from the UA Cinema, I remained in contact with the cinephile’s there. Pat and Wendy, Karl, Stephen and Billie caught the film at the Music Box, too. We all liked it. Except Billie. For some strange reason she took umbrage to the red and green Lucky Strike cigarette packages, an Art Director’s touch that lent an additional layer of authenticity for the rest of us.]

On the first day I walked under the marquee, it was lettered with the title “Uptown Saturday Night,” a comedy starring Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier. Oddly, it was double billed with “The Getaway” (the Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw version, directed by Sam Peckinpah and written by Walter Hill).

I have a lot of memories linked to the entrance of the Fifth Avenue theater. At break times I relieved the cashier in the octagonal box office, which sat smack dab in the center of the entrance. I took tickets at the ornate doors behind and in line with the box office. I changed the posters in the large shadow box frames lining the sides of the entrance. And I watched one building come down, and another go up.

By the time we changed our bill of fare (two thrillers – “The Black Windmill,” directed by Don Siegel; doubled with “The Day of the Jackal,” directed by Fred Zinneman) some big changes were underway across the street. The Fifth Avenue sat across from the White Henry Stuart Building. Both were within that section of Seattle known as the Metropolitan Tract. This valuable acreage of real estate is owned by the University of Washington, having been the former campus of the school (prior to 1895). The decision had been made to demolish the White Henry Stuart building in order to put up a newer and bigger structure. Now as the wrecking balls moved into place and began battering away at the canyon wall in front of us, we were introduced little by little to views of the setting sun on Puget Sound. The pounding continued throughout our run of “Airport 75” (directed by Jack Smight), and the pile drivers added their tune somewhere along the line to our Christmas film, “The Front Page” (directed by Billy Wilder, assisted by Howard Kazanjian). By the time John Cassavetes’ film “Woman Under the Influence”  moved in, we were treated to the spectacle of a non-ending convoy of cement trucks adding their contents to the continuous pour that resulted in that “golf-tee” like structure that is the base of the Rainier Tower. And two huge cranes worked in tandem as the new building sprouted up forty stories.

At one of these change of billings, I was almost seriously wounded by a falling plate glass window. No, it did not wing in from across the street. I was changing posters in that afore mentioned shadow box frame. The posters were enclosed behind two huge pieces of sliding plate glass. A cylindrical lock slid on and off a bayonet-type piece of metal that was attached to the plate glass that slid behind the other. I had just unlocked and removed the lock, and was gripping the plate glass in front to slide it open when that glass cracked in half. All the weight of the upper portion of the window came down on top of my right thumb, glanced off, and crashed back into the box frame, instead of falling towards me and chopping me off at the ankles.

The incident gave me pause to reflect. I had the smallest of wounds on the knuckle of my thumb, a mere quarter inch long (and a tiny scar that lasted a decade or so). It left me with a deep sense of gratitude. A thankfulness for God’s protection from injury. Something I will always remember.

The Night of the Shrinking Man and the Fifty Foot Woman

The Night of the Shrinking Man and the Fifty Foot Woman

My girl friend and I usually had a weekly date to meet after work on Friday nights over at her family’s house. We sat on their couch and tuned in the Creature Feature – the late night scary movie. In between the ads for a local car dealer we got to see the likes of:

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Them (them as opposed to us humans – the them being giant ants)

The Blob (inside of which was rumored to be Steve McQueen)

The Attack of the Crab Monsters (by the Sultan of Schlock – Roger Corman).

And many, many more…

For some reason (possibly due to their availability) none of the classic monster movies were broadcast. No Dracula, no Frankenstein, no Werewolf movies. On second thought perhaps it was because they were so much older than these titles – the 1930s versus the 1950s – the concern on the programmer’s part possibly being for more contemporary fare.

Sometimes long nights ensued as the fare put us both to sleep. Cue the Everly Brothers – Wake Up Little Susie, Wake Up.

We were excited to learn that one of our upcoming Friday nights could be spent at one of our favorite places. The Harvard Exit had a calendar program that they printed and made available in their lobby. And scheduled for a midnight show on Halloween was the double bill – The Incredible Shrinking Man and The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman.

We bought our tickets and joined the midnight throng filling the seats for the sci-fi/horror fest. My friend from college Dave went with us. Dave with his scientific bent could be a bit of a Debbie Downer. He would speak right up when something occurred that was impossible – like explosions in outer space for instance, (that epic rant came out of a viewing of Silent Running). I don’t remember any gaffs pointed out by him in these two pictures. Trust me, had there been, he would have been all over them gleefully. But then again these flicks were more in the fantasy line and were not tied down to any hard science.

I wonder now if there was not a tongue in cheek ideology behind the pairing. This time was the era of the rise of feminism. If I was into conspiracy theory, I could posit that it was a manifesto of sorts, signifying the diminution of men and the elevation of women over them.