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Monday, January 16, 2006





The Beatles Come To Town!


Ran into my old boyhood chum Mike Ferree last week after a customarily frugal oatmeal breakfast, and remembered the day he and I went to the Liberty to see A Hard Day’s Night way back in August of 1964. I can’t honestly say it was a seminal event for me, although I enjoyed the Beatles a lot, and like every kid in town, was anxious to see their first feature-length movie. My only complaint lay in the fact that our beloved Liberty elected to hold it over that week, thus bumping Evil of Frankenstein to an undetermined "later date". My apprehension over the possibility of missing the Hammer thriller (forever!) clouded somewhat my pleasure at seeing those irrepressible Liverpool mop-tops. Unlike the incidents reported in these trade magazine accounts, we did not encounter a hysterical teenage femme audience when we went to see A Hard Day's Night. The Liberty’s stern and watchful management would not permit it. Decorum would be maintained even in the face of a Beatles invasion. Perhaps the local girls recalled, as I did, the infamous day when a number of boys (I was fortunately not among them) were ejected from the Liberty after an overly enthusiastic response to the almost unbearable on-screen excitement of King Kong vs. Godzilla.


I love the way this marquee shot perfectly captures the spirit of that summer phenomenon. There’s such openness in their smiling faces as these girls pose excitedly for the camera. I'm not sure if an accommodating exhibitor furnished those neat little placards two of them are holding up, but so what if he did? This may have been the last Summer that teen-agers would dress so neatly to attend the movies, and not to worry, they’ll all enjoy the show in comfort as they’re "cooled by refrigeration" within. Air-conditioning is so taken for granted now that we sometimes forget what a novelty it once was, even as late as 1964, when most homes did not have it (mine certainly didn’t). That marquee reveals another transition not so apparent at the time --- the beginning of Elvis Presley’s displacement by the cheeky British foursome. Fun In Acapulco is the co-feature, but we all know what these girls have come to see. It’s worth noting here that A Hard Day’s Night did a socko $5.7 million in domestic rentals, while Fun In Acapulco got by on $2.5, a figure that was a little below average for a Paramount Elvis at the time, and nowhere near what could be realized in the stunning profits from the very modestly budgeted Beatles show.


Audience turnover was a real concern as these trade articles and ads demonstrate. A lot of these kids were happy to remain in the auditorium all day, especially with that nice air-conditioning, but there was no profit in that, so harried exhibitors had to go in and flush them out of the darkness after each show. The severity of the problem is indicated by the "intermissions" notice on the theatre ad shown here, where kids are warned in advance that the house will be cleared between shows. The idea of a uniformed guard to protect the display
is a clever bally, and I don’t doubt the necessity of it, since those 8X10 glossies do make an attractive target for poachers, especially since they don’t appear to be behind glass, and thus readily accessible. I had a friend in school who’d once made a clean snatch of several Dr. No lobbies from his local theatre, with no one ever the wiser.

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