Occult or horror films always did well at the St. George. The Exorcist, then three years old, had played to a packed house for us earlier in the year, and Carrie, not to mention Texas Chainsaw Massacre, had pulled good numbers. "Boffo Socko," the term our booking agent was fond of using to describe a box office hit (see also “boff,” “boffola,” “whammo” and “socko” by itself) is “slanguage” invented by or at least swirling around the showbiz mag, Variety. We spoke this dialect with pride, even going so far as to name two of the four puppies we had found and adopted in spring “Boffo” and “Socko.”
By Labor Day, we’d been theater operators for exactly five months. Even though we’d lost money hand over fist the first two months, we’d begun to break even, so we thought we knew what we were doing. It seemed we always would be standing in the lobby tearing tickets, looking forward to another week. But the day after Labor Day, and the day after that and on and on, our lobby would, as it turned out, be, more often than not, still as the vestibule of a church, until winter kicked in, and it got very dark and very very cold.
In retrospect, it had been cheeky of us to show The Omen, an occult film featuring a malevolent child — ”the antichrist” — whose sign is 666 — on, of all things, the 6th of September. More than a few numerologists might be tempted to blame the sudden and precipitous decline in our box office sales that followed the day after Labor Day, on our choice of product. But that most ironically named American holiday, the day that ends the summer, was the real culprit: the beginning of every new business and school year, the end of the movie theater operator’s season, a fact we had yet to learn. Most of the movies we showed after Omen, films I hardly remember, turned out to be the opposite of “boffo socko.” To borrow another, more familiar, Variety-coined term, they were, plain and simple “flops.”
They were also “turkeys,” a term Variety doesn’t claim which, according to the Word Detective, “seems to date to the U.S. in the 1920s, when ‘turkey’ first appeared as show business slang for a movie or stage production that flopped (‘The boys at the studio have lined up another turkey for us…. I saw the present one the other day and didn’t care much for it,’ Groucho Marx, 1939). The logic behind ‘turkey’ in this sense is a bit mysterious, but it may have been a reference to the inept attempts at flight of a domesticated turkey.” That seems just right: none of those movies could fly! So it goes in (can you believe Variety gave us this word too?) “showbiz.”