That small feature was showing in my living room, but down the street, in our real 2,672-seat movie palace, the St. George Theatre, which I was involved in operating, In Search of Noah’s Ark was playing to scant audiences. This forgettable “documentary” purported to demonstrate that fragments of Noah’s Ark had been found on Mt. Ararat. We should have been happy — we’d gotten a “four-wall” deal — a religiously-affiliated entity had rented the theater for a flat fee for ten days, giving us, beyond brief visits to the theater to sell popcorn and decorate the candy stand with pine boughs, an opportunity to rest from our theater labors of the spring, summer and fall.
But there is no rest for young entrepreneurs. The flat fee was way too flat: we needed a Christmas miracle to make the rent and pay the big distributors, Warner, Columbia and the gang. While I quaffed eggnog — delivered by a milkman we didn’t owe that much money too — yet — and cookies — paid for with cadged money from the theater’s candy stand — I wondered how we were going to survive at all.
To divert us from these dismal thoughts, on Monday, December 27, between showings of the Noah’s Ark movie, the grand and sporadically-used stage of our palace sprang briefly to life, with a series of offerings tailored to take the chill off an unheated auditorium. For better or for worse, the whole she-bang had been intended as children’s holiday entertainment. Ronald McDonald made a surprise appearance in his red and gold clown uniform, followed by an amateur stage version of The Wizard of Oz.
Bringing up the rear, but really the best thing going, were the illusions and heroic feats of Houdini-style escape performed by Irv Laurice IV, a sixteen-year-old local magician. I don’t honestly remember much about this live stage interlude (I was too busy warming my hands in the popcorn machine) but despite the cold, Laurice got everybody’s attention. (Didn’t we all want to escape?) He slithered out of an astonishing array of manacles, padlocks, ropes and chains, then finished off with magical tricks, some involving a serene pair of trained white doves, which soared into the fly loft of the theater in a way that convinced me I must be dreaming. The few souls who were present that day were captivated, as I was. (Irv was captivated in a more literal sense, of course).
Irv was actually the son of a friend of mine. He was obviously talented, though I assumed the magician thing was a passing adolescent phase. After the theater, I lost track of him entirely, but guess what? Irv Laurice has actually spent his life escaping: “...from a straight jacket, handcuffs and prison leg-irons, while chained and padlocked from neck to groin, and hanging only by a burning rope over a spiked viper pit filled with poisonous snakes and scorpions.” According to his official fan site, ABC News observed that he had “uncanny ability.” Fox News, CNN, Leno — he’s been up there. And don’t forget he got his start at the home-town movie palace!
I hope those doves had a long and flight-filled life.