Archive for Sunday, November 7, 2004

Loews theaters celebrate centennial

November 7, 2004

Advertisement

— Elvis Presley was once fired as an usher at a Loews movie theater for punching out another usher, the story goes. By the time he returned years later, his face graced the silver screen.

Barbra Streisand is believed to have seen her first movies at a Loews theater in Brooklyn.

And in recent years, actor Matt Damon was a Loews usher.

Those are some of the tales livening up the centennial of one of the world's oldest movie theater chains, started by Marcus Loew, born to poor Jewish immigrants on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

On Nov. 14, 1904, he co-founded the company that opened the first theaters in Cincinnati and New York, and now runs 198 theaters with 2,193 screens in the United States, Mexico, Spain and South Korea.

On Wednesday, the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens is launching its celebration of the Loews centennial with an exhibit. And Manhattan's Jewish Museum is hosting a panel including actor Elliot Gould in a Nov. 18 discussion of movies and media, inspired by its exhibit last year titled "Entertaining America: Jews, Movies, and Broadcasting."

"Jews were a persecuted minority, and they were pushed to accomplish in order to survive," says Gould, 66, a native New Yorker whose grandparents were Jewish immigrants.

"With God directing -- or maybe Marcus Loew -- Jews in America developed a culture, whether it was in movies, writing, law or science," says Gould, speaking by telephone from his Los Angeles home.

Loew, born in 1870, started hawking oranges and newspapers at the age of 6, sleeping in the streets to be first when customers awoke.

He turned penny arcades in Cincinnati and New York into America's first movie theaters, and quickly became a theater mogul. But he never forgot his childhood struggles, building one new theater on the site of his childhood tenement, which he had torn down.

By the 1920s, Loew-run theaters warmed up spectators with ballerinas, singers and vaudeville performers, plus newsreels -- before the organ- or orchestra-accompanied silent film. He engineered a series of business mergers that resulted in the creation of the MGM studios, headed by Louis B. Mayer.

The centennial display at the Moving Image museum tracks the evolution of movie houses through archival film footage of premieres, vintage photos and other objects from film history.

In one Elvis photo, "The King" returns to the Loews State Theatre in Memphis where he worked as an usher in 1952.

According to theater lore, he was fired after five weeks on the job. He apparently punched a fellow usher who, prompted by jealousy, had told the manager Elvis was getting free candy from a young woman at the concession stand who was fond of the handsome singer.

Having watched America's love affair with the movies over the decades, Gould said the biggest change was that "the popcorn costs more."

But for one day, Tuesday, Loews is rolling back popcorn prices nationwide -- to $1 for a medium size.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.