Saturday, May 4, 2013

May the fourth be with you

Life has been far too busy to allow time to post on my blog. I've had several things I've been meaning to get around to, but since I'm retired now... (heh, heh).

Today, May the 4th, is Star Wars Day. It's been celebrated for a few years now. It should really be bad pun day as a tribute to its origins. Needless to say, I was (and still am) a Star Wars fan, as attested by the little round graphic over in the right hand column of my blog page. That is actually a scan of the wearable button that was given out on the very first day of the Star Wars engagement at Loews Astor Plaza Theatre in New York City. They ran out of buttons during the matinees - I managed to get one of the last ones.

I also have the original 1977 Star Wars movie poster, an original Empire Strikes Back "Gone With the Wind" style poster, the Star Wars reissue poster with "coming soon : Revenge of the Jedi" in a banner in the lower right hand corner, the original Variety color insert for "Revenge of the Jedi", etc. (Lucas later decided that "Revenge" wasn't a Jedi concept, so the title was changed.)

It was Wednesday May the 25th, 1977. At the time, I was running the Bookmasters store at 33rd and 7th Avenue, across the street from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. It was a very large store, and I had hired a friend from my days at Doubleday, Harold Biddle, to run the children's books and remainders departments. That morning, I'd read the review of Star Wars in the New York Times. I decided I had to see it right away as I would hear too much about it otherwise, and never go. Harold and I left work a little early and went off to the 4pm or so late matinee.

Loews Astor Plaza, which opened in 1974, was one of the last of the large screen movie theatres. It was deep underground at the site where the Astor Hotel and Theatre had been. There was an long escalator ride down to the auditorium, which was under the already underground Minskoff Theatre (where I would be fortunate enough to attend performances of "Sweeny Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street a few years later). There were 1,440 some seats, and the screen was said to be as long as a football field. When the movie started, there was a "story so far" kind of scroll as though it were an old Saturday matinee serial. To the best of my memory, the text did not start with "Episode 4: A New Hope". Somewhere I have an (ahem) "private" Betamax video tape of that vintage. When I get my Betamax working again I shall dig it out just to check and see if my memory is correct. The Astor Plaza movie theatre closed some years ago and was converted into a concert venue.

In one of those odd little synchronicities of events, "Pippin", whose advertising
poster can be seen next to the Loews marquee, is currently back on Broadway.
At any rate, the 'story so far' scrolled by, and then a spaceship or two flew around, and then there was this incredible rumbling (the theatre had the sensurround sound system designed for the movie Earthquake - then again, it could have been the rumble of the subway line which was very close by the auditorium). As the rumbling continued a starship began to appear on screen - and it kept going - and going - and going. It was huge! I literally found myself bouncing up and down in my seat. I had ceased to be a 26 year old bookstore manager, and become a kid again. The magic of the movies.

This will probably get me into trouble, but I even like the "special" editions Lucas prepared for the original trilogy's re-release on the original Star Wars (now Episode 4) 20th anniversary in 1997, and which are the official DVD's. Of course, I have the original trilogy on laser disk which are unaltered - and in which Han properly shoots first.

Within a year or two, I'd be out of the book business and in movie distribution. One of the stories I eventually heard was that at the time of the first movie, 20th Century Fox had no confidence in Mr. Lucas' little over budget production. They thought the big hit was going to be a different movie they released that month, "The Other Side of Midnight". In the Boston market, "Star Wars" was relegated to lesser theatres in the suburbs. Allegedly, many distributors were told that if they didn't agree to book Star Wars to follow "Midnight", they wouldn't get either film. This was against the old Columbia consent decree which prohibited 'block booking' - i.e. it was illegal. There were lawsuits over it, there were lawsuits in Boston trying to get Star Wars into the big in town houses. "Midnight" grossed a little over 18 million dollars. "Star Wars" spawned several industries from special effects companies (Industrial Light and Magic), to sound processing, toy tie-ins, and etc. ad infinitum - which have grossed billions.

Over the last few years, as my life hit personal and financial skids, I found myself having to move several times. So, back in 2007, in order not to lose track of my precious first day matinee button, I attached it to a Mickey Mouse Sorcerer's Apprentice doll I had picked up somewhere along the way. As it turns out, that was rather prophetic. I hope the series fares well.

A couple of years ago, when I signed up for Facebook, there was a questionnaire which Facebookers are asked to fill out (one can leave most things blank). One question asked my religious views. I put, "Learn about the Force - and may the Force be with you".

 Oh, one last thing, Thank You for everything Mr. Lucas - but Han shoots first.


Austan said...

Haha!! Great memories...

Ricola said...

I also attended STAR WARS on the first day!

We were in Hollywood and left work early (about ten of us), and there were thankfully two in our department who had no desire to see STAR WARS, and they stayed and answered the phones!

We watched at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, seeing the second matinee of the day. I'm happy to announce that the Chinese Theatre is still there, and still a theatre, although the block attached and surrounding it is now the huge Hollywood & Highland center where the Oscars are held each year in the Kodak-now-Dolby Theatre next door to the Chinese.

You remember correctly, by the way; there was no "Episode IV" at the beginning of that long scroll. LOL

And thanks, I had never heard about the RETURN/REVENGE title switch!

sdt (a.k.a. stevil) said...

Austan - did you go see it on the initial release? If I remember correctly, it played three different theatres in NYC.

sdt (a.k.a. stevil) said...

Ricola - Ah, another first day-er. It must have been fun to see at Grauman's, or whatever it is called now. I'd guess it had a pretty big screen? I didn't know that the Hollywood & Highland Center was built next door. I was only in LA once, and it was a very brief visit. I remember getting a pizza near a friend's apartment in Venice Beach - it was around 1980 or so - the pizza could have been whole wheat if I'd wanted, and had pineapple on it - crazy Californians, I thought. All I wanted was a regular slice of pizza...

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