If you grew up any time in the latter half of the twentieth century, you remember this one-minute piece of animation well: four food items, a candy bar or box of chewing gum, a large box of popcorn, a small box of the same, and, bringing up the rear, a soda in a paper cup. They’re all singing and walking leftwards, in a companionable way. A six-frame, one-minute teaser designed to induce movie theater audiences to head for the snack-stand, this cartoon has a long history; it’s actually listed as a “film” in Wikipedia. I think that’s stretching the category of “Films Set in a Movie Theater,” but never mind.
Though “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” has been riffed off many times, featuring such substitute characters as a hotdog that Homer Simpson decapitates with one bite, the classic original was directed by one Dave Fleisher for Filmack, way back in 1957. That would be about right; fifty-seven was the year I found myself entitled to unlimited popcorn, candy and Coke at the Mt. Lookout Theatre, a Deco treasure of a place near where I grew up, in Cincinnati. I was nine, and, lucky me, my sister worked concession at the theater, when she wasn’t sitting in the chrome-embellished ticket booth outside. Either way, I didn’t have to pay a thing for my popcorn, so Fleisher’s walking food characters sent me instantly for refills. It was the year of The Incredible Shrinking Man; after all those trips to the lobby, I was hardly shrinking.
Nineteen years later, all grown up, or so I believed, and living in New York, I signed on to a project my husband had undertaken, running a 2,672-seat movie palace, the St. George Theatre in Staten Island. Of course we ran “Let’s All Go to the Lobby,” especially when we featured an INTERMISSION — that single word in gold on a blue background, another “snipe.”
What’s a snipe, you ask? Well basically it’s advertising intended for the big screen in which the theater may choose to promote: food, itself, a local business, an event or whatever. Long before "Let’s All Go..." became iconic, Filmack, the larger of two companies that made its name selling snipes, featured simpler animated snacks, as well as season’s greetings, stylized note cards welcoming patrons to a particular theater, rules and regs, such as SMOKING IN THE LEFT FRONT SECTION ONLY (or these days, TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE). Snipes that feature local advertisers appeared most often at drive-ins.
Since most snipes involve some kind of animation, cartoonists short of cash, including, apparently, a young Walt Disney himself, have been known to turn their design attentions to snipe creation for a quick buck. That’s what Dave Fleisher was up to when he made popcorn and soda take a walk.
I myself once inadvertently designed a snipe, for the Oakley Drive-In in Cincinnati. My father had set himself up in business as the owner of a used car dealership, Hallerman-Reeker (Mr. Reeker was, briefly, his partner). In 7th grade at the time, and supporting aspirations as an artist, I found myself tapped to design a single-frame ad for the dealership,
2635 Vine Street
Speaking of the St. George, while it existed under our management, we ran trailers, and the occasional snipe, having inherited a drawerful of one-minute films: STARTS WEDNESDAY, STARTS FRIDAY, COMING SOON, INTERMISSION and what have you. Of course, there was always “Let’s All Go To the Lobby,” which we hardly needed to show. Though we lost money hand-over-fist at the box office (who could fill 2,672 seats for one movie by 1976?), our concession per capita was enormous, tied with the big Broadway houses in Manhattan, causing us to joke that closing the auditorium and opening a cafe might have been, well, a wiser business model.
Meanwhile, let’s all go to the lobbies of our imaginations, and snack on memories of theaters we’ve known. I don’t know about you, but when I watch a movie on the bedroom screen, and I see people standing or sitting close together, I want to warn them about keeping a safe distance. It’s a kind of pathology, but it will end, and then we’ll all go out and sit down together in the dark. It’s in our DNA.
1. Dave Fleisher had a very interesting and difficult life. Although Wikipedia cautions that the above link lacks citations, Fleisher’s life story is well worth reading. Nice guy, rose pretty high and, though he didn’t quite finish last, he needed his commission from the walking food minute.
2. I’ve searched all over for the origins of the word, “snipe” in a theatrical context. If anybody knows, I’d love to know...