There was at that time, in our community and many other towns and cities in the United States, a sisterhood of theaters, most with single screens. In Staten Island, there were around eight, including our local Paramount Theatre, the only other palace on the island, a high chrome Art Deco wonder, with suggestions of the Chrysler Building in its facade.
In the summer of 1976, the Paramount was the kind of tramp we were, bumping along, fighting us for the same sorry trickle of customers. Rivals, sisters, it was one and the same thing. One warm summer night earlier in the year, an usher from the Paramount had showed up with two fifty-dollar bills begging for “...singles and quarters, man...we’re out.” Change to a small business of any kind, especially on the weekend, is never given lightly — especially in those days, when banks closed at three on Friday for the weekend. We crossed our fingers that we had enough change to make it to Monday, and gave him a heavy sack of rolled coin.
Now we were out of popcorn, another — almost equally vital — kind of currency. A brief call to the Paramount’s manager, and a staffer was on his way to pick up all the “pre-pop” we wanted.
“Pre-pop," I muttered. “...oh well, beggars can’t be choosers.” We were concession snobs, queens and kings of fresh popped corn with real butter, Kosher hotdogs on homemade rolls. If Michelin had awarded stars to theater concession stands, we’d have had at least four. Still, we were grateful.
Within 30 minutes, our messenger returned to the lobby with four enormous clear plastic bags of commercial pre-pop. I began to shovel the stuff into the warmer, while Paullie melted Odell’s (clarified) butter to top it off. Whew! — back in business. There was no scent of popped corn on the air, but the audience was probably too stoned to notice.
The following morning a truck rolled up with ten five-pound tins of kernels. We knew right away we had to repay the favor. It took over four hours, but we popped enough corn to refill each of the clear plastic bags, and that very afternoon drove them down the road to the Paramount, where they were (no pun intended) warmly received.
Neither of our palaces would make it to 1978 showing movies, but for a night or a week, we were both still in business.
After the fact:
What became of The Paramount?
Like the St. George, it still stands, a testament to luck and low real estate values in the north shore of Staten Island. The Paramount endured the usual twists and turns of post-movie theater transformation: The Paramount Nightclub, a rock concert hall (featuring The Ramones, Squeeze even the B-52’s), becoming at last a storage facility for a local sporting goods store that occupied, eventually, all the storefronts in that block. This last may have not been such a harsh fate. Basketballs and hockey sticks are benign cargo, and the sporting goods mogul, Steckman’s, had to keep the theater’s roof repaired to ensure that his stock stayed dry. Unluckier shuttered palaces — Loew’s Kings, for example — suffered terrible damage from unrepaired roofs.
As for the sisterhood of movie houses that once gave Staten Islanders a choice of unique places to see movies, “Stay tuned,” as we used to say back in the television day, for blog posts that shine a sometimes surprising light into darkened theater corners both here and elsewhere.