The Hollywood Theater, Detroit MI
Taken from an article in the Detroit News of Sunday March 17, 1963.
ONCE DETROIT'S costliest and most luxurious neighborhood movie theater, the Hollywood, located on Fort at Ferdinand, is biting the dust.
And a lonely monument to a vanished movie era, its huge sign unlighted since the theater closed five years ago, will soon be rubble.
The theater cost almost $2 million to build in 1927. It has not operated since 1958, and the property, which includes stores all vacant during the same period-and a huge parking lot has been up for sale with no takers since that time.
Out of the rumble and roar of demolition comes memories of the gaudiest and dizziest days the motion picture industry has ever known.
SYMBOL- Long a Detroit landmark, this Hollywood Theater sign once spelled "luxury" for movie fans at the theater on Fort at Ferdinand.
BOOM IN BLOOM
Even the most mediocre movie attracted a crowd. The movie boom was in full bloom. Detroit led the way.
Most of the big stars of show business made return visits to the Hollywood. Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Eva Tanguay, Rae Samuels, Jim and Mary Jordan (later to become "Fibber McGee and Molly" of radio fame), Sophie Tucker and Morton Downey headlined shows there.
In the three-year period from 1925 to 1928, the majority of Detroit's downtown and big neighborhood theaters were opened.
The Michigan Theater with 4,038 seats, the Palms (then the State) with 3,000 seats and the Riviera with 2,800 seats all wee opened in 1925.
The Hollywood, finished Spanish-style in a tan shade of terra cotta with a red-tiled roof was opened by Detroit theater chain operators Ben and Lou Cohen in 1927.
It had a seating capacity of close to 4,000. The same year the FOX Theater downtown unfolded its oriental splendors to eager Detroit moviegoers.
Part of the ambitious and tragic dream of movie tycoon William Fox, who was later to serve a prison term for conspiracy to obstruct justice and defraud the government, the FOX became Detroit's most lavish movie house.
Its 5,500 seats made it the second largest theater in the United States. The same year, construction got under way on the Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit to Windsor.
A year later, the United Artists Theater with 2,070 seats and the Fischer with 2,975 made more intimate and luxurious moviegoing available to Detroiters.
The Fisher has since been completely rebuilt interiorly and converted and is now one of the country's most beautiful legitimate theaters.
FAMOUS CHANDELIER- Theater men Clarence Apgar, Fred Sourbeck and Bobby Clarke gaze at the famous chandelier in the theater's lobby. It already has vanished.
RECALLS MANY 'FIRSTS'
In the short span of three years 23,000 movie theater seats were added to Detroit's already large total in the downtown and midcity areas.
One who remembers these lush days vividly is veteran movieman Tom McGuire, former managing director of the Hollywood Theater and general manger of the eight-theater circuit for the Cohens.
McGuire is now regional advertising and publicity manager for the Allied Film Exchange of Detroit.
He recalls with pride the many "firsts" established by the Hollywood Theater in the motion picture exhibition field.
MEMMORIES IN A MONUMENT- In the Hollywood's auditorium, Sourbeck and Apgar remember he motion picture industry's gaudiest days. The "monument" soon will be rubble.
COULD PARK FREE
It was the first neighborhood theater to provide free parking for its patrons. A lot at the rear of the theater could accommodate 700 cars. As the need grew, additional space adjacent to the theater property was lead for 800 cars.
The theater was the first to install a "Cry Room", where mothers could take fretful smallfry and still see and hear the movie, stage show and organ, separated from the audience by a glass wall; the sound coming over a public address system.
Here, baby formulas could be warmed, and even provided, if necessary. In charge of this and other special services at the Hollywood was a white-haired attendant.
She was Mrs. Mary Ellen Sage, mother of Bob Sage, a popular prizefighter of the era who later became a Detroit Common Pleas judge, and died violently by his own hand after killing two of his business associates.
Another first for a neighborhood theater was the huge $75,000 Barton organ, played by the dean of Detroit organists, the late Bobby Clarke.
A first of a different sort and one that was to become a legend was the presence on the stage and in the orchestra pit of the gifted Sammy Dibert, who accompanied the vaudeville acts that comprised the stage shows and went on to greater fame as the popular orchestra leader.
Several members of Dibert's band became famous on their own. Dibert died recently while en route to his band job at a local night club.
NOSTALGIA AT THE ORGAN- The late Bobby Clarke is shown during a nostalgic visit he paid to the $75,000 Barton organ he played on the Hollywood's opening day in 1927. It was once Detroit's costliest neighborhood movie house.
Perhaps the most unusual experience McGuire encountered during his tenure as the Hollywood Theater exploiter had to do with the feverish excitement that attended the switch of the Ford Motor Co. from the famous Model A to its first eight-cylinder car, the V-8.
The year was 1932, and theater business everywhere was in a downward spiral.
Several weeks before the new V-8 was to be publicly revealed, McGuire, on the lookout for an exploitation stunt to bolster the faltering box office, was approached by a young man who told him he knew how to get pictures of the new Ford v-8, then being tested secretly on isolated roads in the downriver area.
TOOK A CHANCE
McGuire decided to take a chance. He gave the eager photographer money to outfit his jalopy with concealed movie cameras equipped with special lenses.
After weeks of disappointment, the photographer showed up with his film. When edited, there were 40 minutes of film on six models of the Ford V-8.
McGuire telegraphed various newsreel companies and received excited offers to pay handsomely for the films, especially for exclusive rights.
"The Cohen brothers and I had second thoughts on selling the film while awaiting developments," McGuire said. "Many of our customers were employed by the Ford company."
"We began to wonder what the release of our films would do to the expensive publicity campaign the company had planned. We didn't want to hurt Ford or ourselves."
"The next day I called Harry Bennett, then a power at the Ford Motor Co. He refused to believe that we had the film, but he discussed the matter with Edsel Ford, and they sent one of Bennett's assistants over to the Film Exchange to see what we had.
"He saw 15 minutes of the film then called Bennett who said he would match the top offer we had received. He was amazed and still disbelieving when we told him he could have the films and that we didn't want any money for them.
"Bennett said he wanted everything," McGuire recalls. "Not only the edited film but the bits and scraps of the film that fell to the cutting room floor during editing.
"We gave him the film, swept the floor and turned the scrap over to him in boxes."
"Later I had another brainstorm," McGuire said.
"There was a tremendous interest in the V-8. Everybody wanted to see it."
"I asked Bennett for the return favor he had promised and, with Edsel Ford's permission, we exhibited the new Ford day and date with its first showing at he Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York."
"We set the car up in the lobby of the Hollywood, and it attracted tremendous crowds. The police had to be called to keep order," McGuire said.
RAFFLE OFF CAR
"Even Edsel showed up for the display. His eyes gleamed with pleasure at the excitement and enthusiasm the new car created."
"He then gave us permission to raffle off the car and supplied us another to take care of the overflow customers the following night."
"The dip into the car business proved a bonanza for the Hollywood. But it didn't last," McGuire reflected sadly.
Requiescat In Pace