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Monday, December 28, 2009

Once Upon a 1931 Holiday Revel

Here’s another theatre ad that might have been tossed out seventy-eight years back. The 1931 holiday season was upon Toledo and this was their Paramount Theatre’s celebration for a long-ago week between Christmas and New Year’s. Most people’s idea of disposable newspaper is mine of gem reserves where live entertainers buttressed screen shows already chock to the brim with great stuff. Did patrons know how good they had it? It might have been worth enduring a Depression outside to get indoors to programs like this. The Paramount was near-new at the time, having grand opened in 1929 with Richard Dix in Redskin. There was room for 3400 patrons. I’ve never sat in a theatre that large, let alone one with half so many seats filled. You got into early shows for a quarter, just like I did to the Liberty until age twelve, but Colonel Forehand never gave shows like this. Sickening on the one hand is reality of Toledo’s largest theatre being torn down in 1965, but how could a modern (read decaying) urban center sustain such elegance with surrounding blocks gone to ruin? There are forums where old-timers speak of such. They remember glory days and waning ones when the Paramount ran Cinerama just up to rendezvous with the wrecking ball. Sooky was the screen attraction for this late December show. They called the five stage turns Holiday Revels. What I could find about Duci de Karekjarto indicates (1) he was a violinist who’d (2) done a Metrotone short in 1929 and would decades later play fiddle on a Donna Reed TV episode, and (3) die in 1961 at age sixty-one. Either I’m right on this or there were two Duci de Karekjartos and I’m addressing the wrong guy (his name is spelled with one letter difference between Paramount’s ad and everything else I found). Unlike movies that (sort of) survive, these performers did their thousands of stands before many times that in patrons and then vanished into history. Unless they got famous in movies or television, it was destination oblivion. I can picture Duci sitting at a bar with a scrapbook trying to convince tipplers he was once a Big Noise in Toledo and countless points elsewhere.

You could say Sooky survives, but again only sort of. I’ve never seen it. It was a follow-up on Skippy, and buried now just as deep. Universal is allegedly starting its own Archive program after the fashion of Warners. That could be where Sooky and Skippy make DVD landfall, for Universal owns both by virtue of pre-48 Paramounts vested in that company since the fifties. Reality suggests that I’ve got as much chance of owning these as Duci had of being recognized in that bar. But here’s the incredible part: Jackie Cooper is still autographing Sookys and Skippys (both 1931 … I said 1931) at celebrity fabs on the West Coast. Mickey Rooney’s there too, both in attendance at a show reported by The New York Times some weeks ago. The paper's correspondent was as incredulous as I might have been. These guys who began in silent movies are still hawking signatures in October 2009 at the Marriott in Burbank! Mickey once co-starred with Tom Mix and Jackie sat with Marie Dressler at the Academy Awards. I just have a hard time imagining these two, who worked together in The Devil Is A Sissy seventy-three years ago, seated a few feet from each other signing fan photos by the hundreds. Someday we’ll all be sorry not to have somehow got out to the Marriott to experience that.

Think about all the entertainers who made good (in terms of Hitting It Big), and numbers many times that who didn’t. The Gaudsmith Brothers must have felt they were doing all right for the thirty or so years I gather they performed. Chances are they ate, which was plenty enough in 1931. Theirs was called a "Poodle Act." Two brothers and an educated dog. The three jumped about on precision all fours. No telling how many pups came and went over decades of this trio. A lot of us watched animal routines on Ed Sullivan, but how many saw one live? The Gaudsmiths alone would have more than redeemed my quarter at the Paramount, though there was a sad story involving these two + the dog. What looked like a huge movie break had come when MGM brought them out in 1948 to do the Poodle Act for The Pirate, only to delete their scenes prior to release. Must have been the defining letdown of the Gaudsmith’s lives. Imagine doing your career routine, by then honed to perfection, telling everyone you're going to be in a big Hollywood musical, only to find it gone in theatres. I watched The Pirate in search of the Gaudsmiths (has anyone since the Gaudsmiths done that?). They were billed at the start, seen but fleetingly as the camera rushed to Gene Kelly, then not again. What glimpse I had was intriguing. Their poodle might have been a third Gaudsmith brother for all his acrobatic skill. Given MGM cutting room privileges, I might have yielded one less Kelly dance (or Judy song) and a finished cut of The Pirate with spotlight cast brightest on these forgotten troupers.

One name off the Holiday Revels we do know is Ted Mack (minus His Boys). Ted was host of the so-called Original Amateur Hour, which lasted a couple of centuries on radio and television. He started out bandleading in support of acts like Duci’s and the Gaudsmiths. The latter probably bragged years later about how they knew Ted when he was nobody. The Paramount’s organist was Stan Malotte. He’d be gone within weeks to take up a twenty-five year residency at the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham where he was among most beloved local personages. Stan was so good that people came to lousy films just to see what he had to offer by way of prologue. I wish I’d grown up in thrall of a theatre organist at the Liberty. All we had was a scratched record of Star Dust they spun with daily curtain. Must have been hypnotic for patrons in Toledo … and Birmingham. I read of Stan playing for jammed Alabama kiddie houses during the 1930’s. Their Saturday morning Mickey Mouse Club was the largest in the world --- 10,000 members. Malotte later relocated to the Fox in Atlanta and died in 1972. He should be as well known as movie stars his organ preceded, and indeed, in Birmingham and Atlanta, they probably regarded him better. On topic of the Mouse, he was part of the Paramount’s holiday bill too, with Mickey’s Orphans. I always like seeing how prominently cartoons were advertised back then. Finally, there is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for New Year’s Eve and touted as the Exclusive Ohio Preview Showing. I do know the Fredric March classic had its New York opening the same December 31 night, and now I’m wondering how many other theatres around the country were in on that year’s end preview.


Anonymous John Seal said...

I've spent many evenings at the 3400-seat Oakland Paramount, but I think the only time I've been there as part of a full house was about 7 or 8 years ago when they screened the (then newly restored) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It was an overwhelming experience, both in terms of the film and the awesome night out.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous KING OF JAZZ said...

Wonderful, poignant, insightful column.

7:35 PM  
Blogger Joel Bocko said...

John, I'm soliciting bloggers' choices for their own strongest posts for a year-end round-up on my own blog. Here's the relevant link:

Hope you'll jump in!

Among others, I quite enjoyed "Going When Movies Mattered Most" but I also missed out on a lot with my own sporadic blog-reading this year, so hopefully you can point me in the right direction!

Keep up the good work & happy new year,

Joel (MovieMan0283)

12:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, I know I'm a little late to this post but I thought that this would be worthy of note: Duci, the violinist, was a good friend of Bela Lugosi and played for Bela many times, the last of which was a tribute at Bela's funeral, as noted in Greg Mank's new Lugosi/ Karloff book! Mike Mazzone

7:25 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Mike, I had read Greg Mank's book, but had forgotten all about that Duci/Lugosi connection! Thanks very much for passing the info along.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The photo listed as the interior of the Toledo Paramount is actually a photo of the New York Times Square Paramount. Toledo’s Paramount was an atmospheric design.

4:08 PM  

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