Our local paper was The Staten Island Advance, whose movie page was vital if we wanted anybody at all to show up, buy popcorn and hunker down in our vast cavern of an auditorium. But our relationship with the Advance (commonly referred to on these shores as the “ADD-vance”), was tenuous, at best. The previous operator of the theater had left in the dead of night, owing the paper several hundred dollars; so we often found that our carefully–worded ads, paid for and submitted in plenty of time, appeared on some other page of the paper, far from the listings of other theaters, or were dropped altogether.
To make matters worse, in that pre-branding age, we knew nothing about the importance of visual consistency, so varied our advertising header from a 1930‘s-style script St. George Theatre to DECO block lettering, and back again. In fact, I think there might have been four or five header variations I tried on from week to week, like cheap party dresses. Each day’s movie times appeared within the ad, along with an offering of free popcorn for the observant patron who clipped the ad and handed it under the bars of the box office window, or, alternatively, presented a torn ticket stub at Chubby’s restaurant on Central Avenue (Casa Barone) for the dinner movie special: $4.79 for a mediocre hamburger following a third-run movie. Hardly anyone took advantage of these amazing opportunities, but we ran the offerings for several months anyhow, until it occurred to us that we were losing money paying for the extra column inch required to offer the bonanzas.
In addition to the Advance, we were entitled to list what we were showing, for free, in The New York Times “Movie Clock.” In this way, “the gray lady” acknowledged, begrudgingly, that Staten Island was indeed a borough of New York City — implicitly well behind New Jersey. It was a free service, but the text had to be submitted ten days before publication in the Weekend section. Desperate as we were, we seldom knew what we’d be showing until a few days before the film canisters arrived, so our times were hardly ever posted in the Times.
Post-millennium speed-of-light technology has made this tale an advertising anachronism. On May 15, 2015, The New York Times, imperiled as all newspapers are, announced the cessation of “Movie Clock.” But the clock itself, with its 1976 full-page and hundreds of listings, had already undergone at least one metamorphosis. In 1914, something called “Notes Written on the Screen” had preceded it, listing just four NYC theaters: the Casino, the Knickerbocker, the Strand and the Vitagraph.
The whole of the movie palace era was contained in those years, from 1914 to 1976. Palaces rose, fell to various wrecker’s balls, were transformed into warehouses and churches. A few were refurbished or preserved, surviving, finally, their obsolescence. Now “Movie Clock” itself is gone, and the Times, like some impossibly ornate palace of newsprint, lingers on into its own twilight.
FLASHBACK FORTY YEARS:
Wednesday, July 21, 1976
Godzilla vs. Megalon filled the screen
at The St. George Theatre. "All Seats,
All Times, $1.50, Children 90 cents."
Clip this ad and receive FREE popcorn!
Check out our Dinner Movie Special —
Dinner at Casa Barone, Movie at
The St. George, both for only $4.79!