STARTS WEDNESDAY was available in a variety of styles and fonts. A small hand-painted sign read SUNDAY THROUGH TUESDAY. Another sign, dating back to the 50‘s — when cast members of the Metropolitan Opera had graced the theater’s stage — offered the remarkable bargain of FOUR OPERAS FOR THREE DOLLARS.
Propped in the corner of the room, a cardboard display poster advertised Ben Hur. I was twenty-seven when I found this poster. Gazing at it instantly erased sixteen of those years. In 1959, when Ben Hur played the Capitol Theater in downtown Cincinnati, I’d been eleven. Two hundred camels, twenty-five hundred horses, and ten thousand extras in Ultra Panavision: Ben Hur and other epics such as The Ten Commandments and Around the World in Eighty Days, were family events. They had to be taken in on a Sunday — that was the only day big enough — with multiple buttered popcorns, followed by sandwiches and chocolate marshmallow sundaes at Mill’s on Fourth Street.
Here was the chariot race poster just as I remembered it, with its twenty-story monolithic stone letters that spelled out:
— as if the letters were, themselves, architectural constructs. And there was bare-chested Charlton Heston whipping four mad-eyed white stallions around some illustrator’s idea of an ancient Roman race track. At nine, I’d thought the idea of making the poster’s title seem like a building, like part of the coliseum itself, really cool. Sadly, I’d grown up, and to my adult eyes, it all seemed so trite and over-blown, like a Fredericks of Hollywood catalogue.
The theater we were trying to save, on whose mezzanine I’d found this relic, was itself way beyond Rococo, with outsized gilded statues, bullfight scenes and tiled fountains. But I ignored all that: you do when you’re in love.