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Friday, November 07, 2014

Would You Do Business With J. Lewis?

Do You Suppose Jerry Still Keeps This Little JLC Model
 Somewhere In His House?

Invest With Jerry and Be A Sad Clown!

Love The "Serious and Thoughtful" Art of JL
The venture was perhaps noble, but doomed, Jerry Lewis forming a consortium to sell theatre franchises bearing his name and logo likeness. The idea from September 1969 inception was to build "pushbutton" movie housing that few as two could operate, one to take tickets, the other seeing to projection and concessions (try it sometime --- it don't work). Participants would "invest" a minimum sum ($10-15,000 cash) and carry a note for balance (up to $50K) with Lewis interests. It was a quickest/surest way to go broke as 70's dawned on crackerbox cinemas already the infestation of shopping centers and malls. I don't recall a Jerry Lewis Cinema in North Carolina, though there's evidence Raleigh and Mt. Airy each had one. Threshold problem for all was Lewis edict that none show "R" movies. That shut out most of what people wanted to see in the late 60's and through 70's. Jerry's snoot at entrance doors didn't help either. Folks thought he'd be the show too, a by-then equivalent of small-pox. JLC's would be called "mini-theatres," most built on twin terms and seating from 250 to 350 in auditoria. Projecting equipment was for a most part reconditioned, 6000 foot reels saving trips from popcorn to booth every twenty minutes. Trouble was, if one of those reels dropped on your foot, it was Goodbye Foot, an hour's worth of 35mm like lifting up a safe. The ads, one of which shown here, was of Get Rich Quick persuasion ("a dynamic, bold concept"). A lot of starry-eyed Joes sunk all they saved in Jerry's black hole. Few had experience in exhibition and none should have ventured into this. What many counted on and never got was the "IN-DEPTH TRAINING PROGRAM by EXPERTS," as assured by flyers. At a peak, there were nearly 200 Jerry Lewis Cinemas. They'd last about like disco lasted. By 1980, the scheme was bankrupt, kaput. Some of shells remain as auto part stores or Kinko-type copying joints. Bringing up the debacle probably wouldn't be a good idea if you ever met Jerry. He'd at the least go whole-Buddy Love on you.

14 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

A Jerry Lewis Cinema opened three miles from my house in Avon, Connecticut a year or so after I was off to college (in Minnesota!) I had misspent my youth finagling rides to movie theaters 20, 30, 40 miles away (no bus service in the 'burbs where I lived!) so the news of a movie house so close to my original home base was bittersweet at best. Why couldn't this have happened when I was a movie mad 13 year old? In retrospect, of course, I'd never trade those carefully orchestrated safaris to downtown double feature grindhouses for any quick bike ride to that g rated crackerbox. Did eventually catch a few shows at the Jerry Lewis before it folded in the 70's. Their family-entertainment-only policy did mean occasional oldies on the big screen. Saw two Marx Brothers double features and that MGM horror package, MASK OF FU MANCHU, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE and F. March's DR. JEKYLL. Pretty cool!

11:25 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Perhaps he was ahead of his time, now that digital projection is becoming the norm. Pushing a button is a lot easier than changing a reel every 20 minutes.

There was a JL theatre on the outskirts of town when I grew up. Somehow, I knew the idea wouldn't last long. The only thing I ever saw there was a re-release of "The Great Dictator" the same year Chaplin won his honorary Oscar.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

There was a Trans-Lux twin in Charlotte, N.C. Could it have originally been a Jerry house?

3:18 PM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Jerry showed up on the Tonight Show with his scale model. Carson openly laughed at him.

5:24 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon checks out projection rooms then and now:


John, LOVED your comment about the reality of having to deal with an entire feature film on one reel using old-style projectors (i.e., not the later ones which managed to project film from a gigantic 'cake' of film laid on its SIDE, as I personally observed reeling away through a peek-a-boo window into the proudly-automated projection booth (and by inference, booths, plural) at the local Mann's Theaters in Agoura Hills here, some time ago, as today of course the films are all projected via some kind of interface with hard drives (as I understand it) that are furnished to the theaters; though they may also be downloaded, for all the hell I know. Also, the Mann's have gone the way of all things (flesh and everything else), and are currently owned and operated by Edwards Cinemas in Southern Cal. My reference point of course is to the thrilling aspect of a local Jerry Lewis Cinema. I had to laugh too at your comment that in 1970 or so the association with Lewis was tantamount to connecting these with small pox! Yeah, his mojo had pretty much permanently deserted him. And, it's a shame in some ways, because some of his movies have elements of value, even all these years later, but to me they were always compromised with ineptitude, misjudged sentiment and/or overstated "humor". AND YET, some of that stuff IS damned funny...depending. And never did "depending" have a more important role to play in a sentence.

7:22 PM  
Blogger b piper said...

I realize the post is about the Jerry Lewis cinemas and not the man himself but I can't resist an observation. All of the comics I loved as a kid --- the Stooges, The Marx brothers, A & C, even the Bowery Boys --- I can still enjoy today, except for Jerry Lewis. Loved him then, can't stomach him now. Years ago I was watching TV with my niece, who must have been around six or seven at the time, and as we surfed thru channels Lewis' mugging face popped up and she made me stop. I groaned but being the doting uncle acquiesced. She watched the entire movie (I think it was THE LADIES MAN) in total fascination but never laughed once. Never even cracked a smile. It was like she was a budding anthropologist studying some bizarre yet fascinating lost tribe. That might say something about old Jer, although I'm damned if I know what.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Those flat disks that allowed the whole film to be projected were/are dust magnets. After a couple of weeks the picture looked terrible.

8:57 PM  
Blogger JIM COBB said...

I remember a couple of these...one in Suffolk, Va and another near Petersburg. The screens were tiny and projection after the equipment began to age was not so great... I remember somewhat hazy images after the first couple of years. I think though they abandoned or ignored the R rated ban as I can remember seeing M*A*S*H there and other films of that type. The 70's was decidedly a mixed bag in terms of exhibition. The downtown theaters were dead or dying, the awful AMC multiplexes were taking over. Some chains like Neighborhood in Richmond did a good job and actually built some decent suburban cinemas. And the short lived Ultravision theaters were impressive when new. I guess the best thing about the period was the rise of the repertory houses like the Naro in Norfolk and the Biograph in Richmond.

10:30 PM  
Blogger scott said...

There was one in our town, next to the Farrell's Ice cream parlour. I remember seeing MASH and American Grafitti there. MASH was a double feature, but my friend and I walked out on the other movie. Can't remember what the title was but it was about a guy who was in demolition derbys.

I remember Lewis visited the theater one day and ate at the Farrell's. That was a pretty big deal.

11:51 PM  
Blogger Dr. Mark said...

I live in Lancaster, Ohio. We've always had an "urban legend" the we were set to get a Jerry Lewis Cinema. But it never happened. Instead, we got a KINGS DEPARTMENT STORE. Now, I never knew it as a Jerry Lewis Cinema, but visually, THE GRACELAND THEATER- once on North High Street in Columbus Ohio (North of Lancaster)- started life as a JL Theater- right down to the montage wall of Hollywood faces and pix. GRACELAND was instrumental in the early days of first THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW midnight showings. Showed there for a decade or better! I saw it there a dozen times. Also in Columbus, THE YORK PLAZA (On Livingston Ave) was a single screen (JL?) theater designed just like GRACELAND (With the Hollwood Montage wall)- but it was just a single screen. Were there ever single screen JL theaters? GRACELAND and YORK were both $1.00 theaters in their day. I saw lotsa funky retro matinee showings at either such as: FORBIDDEN PLANET, NORTH BY NORTHWEST and THE LONG LONG TRAILER. (1980s)

12:54 AM  
Blogger mndean said...

It sounds like Scott lived where I did, and if so, they definitely showed R films at that theater. I remember seeing The Long Goodbye there and without an adult. Most theaters around me didn't enforce the R policy of requiring an adult. That or my brother passed for one.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

There was a JL cinema near me growing up in NH, and they must have abandoned the "no R" policy as well, because I remember seeing "Looking For Mr. Goodbar" there, and earlier Hitchcock's dismal "Family Plot."

And as to the man himself, I once had the good fortune to do a stage play with the late, great Lynn Redgrave. At one point I was directed to cross upstage of Lynn for a particular speech. I recall saying to her, "I'm afraid if I go that far I'm going to upstage you," to which she replied, deadpan, "You can't frighten me -- I worked with Jerry Lewis."

5:53 PM  
Blogger tom moore said...

There was a Jerry Lewis theater in Greensboro, NC, in a strip shopping center at the corner of Holden Road and High Point Road. I don't recall how long it lasted. By the late 70s, the theater was one of two in Greensboro showing porno movies.

11:16 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Phil Smoot supplies an update re Jerry Lewis Cinemas in NC:


The theater at Holden and High Point Road in Greensboro was a Trans-Lux
Theater
(as Eddy Daniel, the former manager who closed the theater, is a friend
of mine)
and it was not a Jerry Lewis Theater.
The last movie that played played there was The Eiger Sanction.

There was a Jerry Lewis Theater in Siler City, NC.


-Phil Smoot

5:59 PM  

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