The Last Picture Shows, by Allen M. Widem

“THE DECISION by Loews Theaters, New York, to shut down the College Theater in downtown New Haven for the umpteenth time while determining the movie theater’s future, points up the markedly winnowing away of what was once a firmly entrenched element in Connecticut entertainment — downtown motion picture theaters.

With the closing of the College — its beginnings, as the then Hyperion Theater, go back to the late 19th century — downtown New Haven has only one motion picture theater playing conventional Hollywood product, the RKO Stanley Warner Roger Sherman Theater, once flagship of the Warner Bros. New England Zone. Other operational theaters are the Sampson & Spodick Crown and the Spodick Bros. College St. Cinema, both showing adult, X‐rated attractions.

A generation ago, downtown New Haven boasted half a dozen movie theaters — Loew’s Poli, Bijou and College, Paramount, Roger Sherman, Crown. Urban renewal, attrition and, equally important, the population exodus to suburbia resulting in massive new theater construction in surrounding towns meant finis for all but the College, Roger Sherman and Crown. The College St. Cinema, a latter‐day emergence, was part of RKO‐Stanley Warner before becoming an independent.

The situation in New Haven is not unique. Similar developments have occurred in every major municipality across Connecticut — Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury, New Britain and others. The fast‐expanding Redstone Theaters of Boston operate Showcase Cinemas I‐II‐III‐IV‐V in Orange and East Hartford. The General Cinema Corporation, also of Boston, operates cinema complexes — none as large as the Redstone to date in Connecticut — in Naugatuck, Newington.

The SBC Management Corporation, a third Boston concern very much active in Connecticut exhibition, developed a four‐auditorium complex in the Brainard Industrial Park, Hartford, several miles from the downtown business district as well as a like‐sized complex in an Enfield shopping mall.

UA Theaters of New York has tripleauditorium complexes in the Manchester Shopping Parkade, Westfarms Shopping Mall, West Hartford/ Farmington, among other Connecticut locations.

In sizable city after sizable city — by Connecticut comparison—the outlying movie theaters outnumber those remaining in town. Downtown New London has nary a lighted theater marquee. The number of theaters in the immediate suburbs, however, is at an all‐time high.

And, for good measures, Sampson & Spodick Theaters of New Haven are preparing plans for a four‐auditorium complex in the Waterford Shopping Mall, just outside New London proper.

A generation ago, the then‐Loews Poli New England Theaters Inc.; Warner Bros. Theaters; and Paramount Theaters dominated in‐town exhibition across Connecticut. The dozen‐plus Loews theaters are no more, the Warner‐turned‐RKO / Stanley Warner roster continues to drop, and Paramount has since phased out its Connecticut operations.

Twentieth Century‐Fox’s ‘Star Wars,’ which has already proved to be the 1977 attendance‐draw equivalent of Universal’s ‘Jaws’ of several years ago, has brought out astonishingly large crowds across the state, with optimistic predictions of extended engagements in key city after key city market well into fall.

The bulk of these bookings, it must be emphasized, are in movie theaters well beyond the downtown business district. The emergence of interstate, super‐sophisticated highways has brought suburbia vast mobility; driving a few extra miles to another town for a movie night out is custom now.

As of this writing, downtown Hartford, which once flourished with massive movie palaces — Loews Poli (3,200 seats); Harris Bros. State (4,200 seats), the latter used for combination vaudeville‐motion picture programs — and smaller theaters (Allyn, 1,900; E.M. Loew’s, 1,500; Strand, 1,300; Parsons, 1,200; Daly, 1,800; Regal, 900; Princess, 800; Crown, 500, Loews Palace, 1,200) has nary an operational theater. There has been sporadic talk since demolishment of the Strand several years ago of replacement physical plants, but talk has not led to any construction.

Ten miles to the southwest of Hartford, New Britain has one fully‐operational theater, the Palace, and this an adult, X‐rated outlet at that. Gone are the Warner Bros. Strand, Capitol and Embassy, P.S. McMahon State; Glackin & LeWitt Arch St. But just beyond the city limits is a proliferation of small, independent‐run theaters, many built within the last decade.

Where once Loews Theaters had four cinemas in Bridgeport the company is no longer represented in the Park City. Paramount Theaters dropped out of long‐time ties in Norwalk.

Significantly, because of the influx of film‐minded New Yorkers to the immediate Stamford area in recent years, that city’s film theater situation has not been as adversely affected as, for example, Hartford and New Haven.

The emergence of multiple auditorium complexes in outlying sections of cities such as Hartford and in suburbia itself (Hartford and New Haven) are a hopeful sign.

The success of such facilities point to similar concentrations in central city locations, giving the promise of continued strong attendance for major attractions and assurance of greater input as far as in‐town residential construction is concerned for the state’s largest cities.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, “The Last Picture Shows,” by Allen M. Widem, September 4, 1977. (top) Image courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, “In New Haven, Art’s Just Around the Corner,” by Jennifer Dunning, photo by Ken Leffal, Friday, September 23, 1977

“By the mid-1970s the Roger Sherman RKO and the College Theater were the last of New Haven’s downtown picture palaces. Both of them began to cater to audiences that were younger, mostly black, and usually male. Blaxploitation films, reggae documentaries , violent science fiction works, and pornography — these movies were common fare for the College in particular. Big Al remembers when the College played its last film, Evil Knievel, in 1977. Big Al could not bear to attend…”
-Excerpt courtesy of The New Journal, Volume 29, Number 4, “When the City Was a Silver Screen,” by Richard Kim, February 14, 1997

“Everybody’s a skeptic nowadays, including him, claims Marjoe Gortner, the evangelist who gave it up to become an actor. He fears that Jimmy Carter will have to sacrifice some religious beliefs while President.

‘He’ll have to OK some CIA spying and assassinations that aren’t taught in the Bible,’ said Marjoe. We told him that Jimmy didn’t have to do any such thing and to put such terrible thoughts out of his head.

Marjoe hopes he reconciles some day with the evangelist father. Recently, he applied for a ‘Marjoe’ license plate. He says, ‘The name ‘Marjoe’ had already been taken — by my father.’

He’s flying around the country getting backing to produce a movie based on the Broadway show, ‘When Ya Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?’ And he’s just getting over filming ‘Viva Knievel’ with Evel Knievel.

‘Evel is not at all humble,’ said Marjoe. ‘In fact, he’s outrageous. He comes to work in a helicopter, wearing a crown and a velvet cape carrying a bottle of Wild Turkey whisky. He’s had so many broken bones, he was stunt-doubled in some scenes. That was Evel Knievel. A guy like Gene Kelly comes to work quietly — knowing his lines.'”
-Excerpt courtesy of, The Times (Munster, Indiana), Tuesday, January 18, 1977

Evel Not Good In New Movie

“Evel Knievel apparently didn’t care for the way George Hamilton portrayed him in the movie ‘Evel Knievel’ six years ago. In any event, the daredevil motorcyclist plays himself in ‘Viva Knievel.’ Jumping over an open-topped cage of lions and tigers and what sports announcer Frank Gifford so colorfully describes as ‘150 feet of blazing, burning fire.’

The various ways of merchandising the Knievel legend do not include a comic strip. If they did, it might well have been the inspiration for this extravagantly silly movie that appears to have been made for Saturday morning TV.

The plot, borne on the wings of such cliches as ‘Let’s get this show on the road’ and ‘It’s time to go for broke,’ has Knievel defeating an attempt on his life by criminal figures who want to install a curly haired drug addict (Marjoe Gortner) as world number one daredevil motorcyclist.

Knievel’s may be the least auspicious screen debut since Ingrid Boulting in ‘The Last Tycoon.’ In short, he is not Mohammad Ali. But is is difficult to judge in a movie where everyone is simply terrible.

Among the victims of Gordon Douglas’ direction and the unintentionally funny screenplay are Gene Kelly as Knievel’s boozy old sidekick, Lauren Hutton as a photographer (‘My assignment is to shoot you in case this is your last jump.’) And Leslie Nielson as the arch enemy.

‘Viva Knievel’ (106 minutes) is a Warner Brothers picture rated PG. -David Dugas.”
-Excerpt courtesy of, The Bridgeport Post (Bridgeport, Connecticut), Sunday, August 7, 1977

Loews College Theatre Shuttered

“NEW HAVEN — Loews College, long one of downtown New Haven’s prime first-runs, was shut down July 16. Arthur Rapport, vice-president for real estate, said that a decision had yet to be made on what would be done with the cinema.”
-Excerpt courtesy of, BoxOffice magazine, August 8, 1977

Ho-Hum! ‘Star Wars’ Still New Haven’s Top Picture

“NEW HAVEN — Twentieth Century-Fox’ ‘Star Wars,’ with a strong 550, third week, continued to outpace everything else in town. AIP’s ‘The People That Time Forgot’ (double-bill), downtown RKO-Stanley Warner, Roger Sherman and Bowl Drive-In, zipped along at 300; NWP’s ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ Milford and North Haven Drive-Ins (also double-bill), registered 285.”
-Excerpt courtesy of, BoxOffice magazine, August 8, 1977

In New Haven, Art’s Just Around the Corner, by Jennifer Dunning

“There’s a real element of serendipity in a new, free art show in New Haven: turn a corner, and then a crank, and you get a celebration of a city.

Nine metal boxes wilt be found starting today on lampposts and bus signs all over town offering a month‐long peep show that combines three‐dimensional pop art and poetry. And unlike the peep shows that are anathema to New York City, all of New Haven’s show is engaging and none of it salacious.

The Greeks called such boxes zoetropes or phenakistikons. To its creators, this environmental art show is simply poetry‐box sculpture. Adventurous passers‐by who pause to look into the peep holes are rewarded with a sometimes zany, sometimes dreamlike revolving streetscape.

Using bits of found objects like paper plates, children’s toys, combs, plastic flowers and bicycle parts, Robert Taplin, a 26‐year‐old artist, has created a kaleidoscopic pop‐art view of the city.

A Tour of New Haven

Mixed with the visual effects poetry by Daniel Wolff, a 26‐year‐old writer. It tells the story of an obsessive search for a lost love through the streets of New Haven. ‘She was everyplace,’ the message reads on a rising mirror‐sliver of a moon at one downtown bus stop.

More than just a piece of public art, the sculptures provide a tour of New Haven. Starting at City Hall and ending up at the waterfront, the shows are placed at sites throughout the city so that while each show may be seen alone, by following all nine through the town the viewer sees nine very different areas of New Haven.

Each scene is a representation of the street where it stands. ‘This is the place,’ the poem’s refrain reads. ‘It happened here.’

Mr. Taplin and Mr. Wolff have long been interested in the idea of public art. ‘People don’t have to worry about street sculptures as works of art or make the conscious decision involved in going to a museum,’ Mr. Wolff said. ‘And it’s all meant to be touched.’

‘We both like New Haven a lot. It’s a wonderfully evocative city that has not neatened itself up. It maintains evidence of its history. We had the notion that a lot has happened and will happen here.’

Friends warned them that the sculptures might be vandalized, but neither Mr. Taplin nor Mr. Wolff is worried. ‘People say that nothing on the street lasts,’ Mr. Wolff said. ‘Our theory is that if it is commemorative of the neighborhood and is fun, people will not destroy street sculpture.’

‘And it’s all junk,’ Mr. Taplin added. The casings, which were suggested by the metal‐work surrounding ‘Don’t Walk’ street signs and old telephone booths, are made of pieces of backyard junk like abandoned hibachi grills and furnace blowers, as well as hardware store tote boxes.

‘I like the qualities of some of these pieces, the rust and all that,’ the artist said. ‘And,’ Mr. Wolff added, ‘they look like the street itself.’

Scenario for Project

The sculptor and the poet, who were high school friends, had drifted apart in recent years, Mr. Taplin to create environmental wind sculptures in his New Haven factory studio and Mr. Wolff to finish a book of poetry in Mamaroneck, N.Y., his hometown. The two decided it would be fun to work on a project together again and Mr. Wolff came up with a scenario.

The nine poetry‐box sculptures began to take shape a year and a half ago, when the two men were awarded a grant of $1,000 from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. The project also has the blessing of Frank Logue, New Haven’s art‐conscious Mayor. ‘Please don’t call them peep shows, though,’ he said worriedly.

On Oct. 20 the boxes will vanish from the streets as. suddenly as they appeared. Do the two plan to create ‘peep shows’ for other cities? Mr. Wolff reports that a trial run of the show was a great success on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, but both men say they look forward to a respite from the work.

‘The trouble with this,’ Mr. Wolff said wistfully, shaking his head, ‘is that it’s addictive.'”
-Excerpt courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, “In New Haven, Art’s Just Around the Corner,” by Jennifer Dunning, September 23, 1977

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