Blazing Saddles, Taxi Driver, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie, The Man Who Would Be King, The Exorcist: the films we booked had one thing in common. They’d all been around at least a year, in most cases two. And even if we’d had the advance money to put down on a first-run feature, we’d have lost out in a bidding war to the new strip-mall theaters offering a choice of two or even three screens. There was precious little new film to be had in 1976 and ’77, certainly not enough to fill 2,672 seats all at once.
Still, every Wednesday was a new chance at success, our movie booking fantasies reinforced by the heady notion that if we could just sell out a live show once or twice we’d break even for the whole year! Just across the harbor in Manhattan, impresarios like Sid Bernstein were making a living booking rock bands in auditoriums not half so elegant as the St. George’s, with its gilded statuary and brocade house curtain. There were five of us in the “management” team, all breathless and in our twenties, with the kind of energy that dared the odds. The St. George was a magic cave, and we believed in magic.
1. Speaking of our projectors, Bob Endres, a good friend and a visiting projectionist in the seventies, recalls, "The lamps you had when I was there were made by Ashcraft. I’m reasonably sure the projector “mech heads” (the actual projector itself) were made by Century. In the photo the big unit on the projector base is the Ashcraft lamphouse, and the unit directly in front of it is a Century “mech” or picture head. Below it is the Century sound head, although at the St. George you had an RCA sound system so the sound heads were probably RCA. If Abbott Theatre Supply in Manhattan was your equipment and booth supplier that would make sense since they sold Ashcraft and Century and RCA exclusively in this area.
2. Paul Plonski, these days an aeronautical engineer, but in 1976 a St. George Theatre staffer, recalls:
When you mention, ‘The usher on matinee duty lugged the film reels in heavy hexagonal cans, two at a time, up to the booth,’ I was one of those ushers. I remember picking up those hexagonal cans in the lobby of the theater ... not quite in the lobby ... but in front of the ticket booth on the main entrance. There were probably four or more cans on a given day. Grabbing on to two of them, I found, to my surprise, they were much heavier than eye might perceive. My memories take me into the main lobby, the palms of my hands burning from the narrow metal grips of the handles, taking a short break and proceeding up to the mezzanine level. Once there, another short break, then up to the balcony. On the balcony, there was a magnificent view of the theater ... amazing ... totally amazing to be looking down on the theater below and its magnificent beauty, the orchestra pit, the historical stage, the chandelier above, how powerful it felt to be looking down from above on a theater with such a rich entertainment history. The journey continued, upwards, ascending through the balcony, until I was at the very last seat, again looking down at the stage floor below, how small everything looked. Turning about, a narrow door, very narrow, so narrow most patrons would not realize its existence. I squeaked through the narrow door, with two film cans, one in each hand, a set of stairs, steeper and narrower than the stairs leading to the semi-nonexistent door itself. The film cans would bounce off the sides of the walls as I ascended to the projectionist booth above. At last, arriving at the technical perch of the theater, it seemed as though I were atop of the world. There were little openings looking down upon the theater below, once again making everything below look so small. It never lost its magnificence ... it still has not, every week new cans... Starts Wednesday!!! —Paulie