At the St. George Theatre, the 2672-seat movie palace I had a part in operating back in 1976, we didn’t exactly have an identifiable ghost. Nonetheless certain people were reluctant to go alone backstage, including and especially an usher whose name was Leroy. Part of his job was to raise and lower the house lights, which could only be done by climbing the stairs to the stage and going into the flickering dark to access the lighting board, on the wall behind our giant curved grape-soda-stained screen. Just being backstage was spooky enough: through the movie screen you could see the audience, but not the movie itself. To further complicate things, if you stand behind a movie screen, the audience can’t see you.
Leroy didn’t want any part of it. Being a ghost in his own right — the unseen figure behind the screen — probably terrified him almost as much as the possibility of encountering some spectre or another from the seven-story fly loft, with its heavy-hanging chains of curtains.
Was it during Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Exorcist? — Dean dispatched Leroy backstage, to be ready with the house lights, in preparation for the credits to roll. Suzy, a first-rate tease, overheard the reluctantly accepted order and couldn’t resist. She tailed Leroy down the right-side aisle and up the stage steps, keeping a detective’s distance. No breathing to give her away, a light step on the stage boards.
“Leroy....Leeeeeeroy!” Seconds before the movie’s end, she stepped from the shadows. The bright orange beam of her flashlight below her chin made her face float from the darkness. Leroy’s scream — perfectly audible to the audience — and the sound of his running feet backstage gave some patrons pause. It was Suzy who actually raised the house lights, and Dean who assured them, “It was for dramatic effect!”
Who knows if by that time Leroy had encountered Shakespeare’s The Tempest at Curtis High School, where he was a freshman, but Prospero’s famous lines have just the right chill in them:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind....
It’s the end of the play (within-the-play) — or is it the movie? If flesh and blood actors disappear, cinematic spirits seem to actually melt as the house lights go on. What is it all but an insubstantial pageant, as you rise from your seat and head up the aisle, popcorn cup in hand? And the “great globe” is--what else? — a double entendre, Shakespeare’s way of doffing his cap to that famous theater he was part owner of, whose original ghosts probably hang out backstage at the new theater by that same name, built on the same spot.
As for the St. George Theatre, still standing, not a movie house anymore but a working live theater, it’s Leroy, his feet beating a path down the steps, stage left, who haunts the place for me.
FLASHBACK FORTY YEARS:
Wednesday, June 23, 1976
A double feature, the classic
Texas Chainsaw Massacre and
Torso filled the screen at
The St. George Theatre.
"All Seats, All Times, $1.50,
Children 90 cents."
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popcorn! Check out our Dinner Movie Special — Dinner at
Casa Barone, Movie at
The St. George, both for only $4.79!