Fox Theater, 1940 (or 1954)

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Reader Bob House directed me to the website What Was There, which presents vintage photos of cities, lets you scroll over them for a larger view and also connects them with Google Street View so you can see what the same scene looks like today. Only a handful of Inland Empire photos are there so far, but one was a gem: this picture of the Pomona Fox Theater with “Gone With the Wind” on the marquee.

The photo, from the L.A. Public Library archives, is said to date to 1940, which would be the original run of the movie. “Continuous shows daily from 1 p.m.,” the marquee declares. At four hours, “GWTW” is so long there were likely only two more screenings per day, at 5 and 9.

Reader Bill Ruh (see the comments section) says the car looks like a 1950 Studebaker to him, meaning the photo is likelier from the 1954 theatrical re-release.

One reason this photo (which I’d never seen before) jumped out at me was that Ann Rutherford, who played Scarlett O’Hara’s younger sister Carreen, died Monday at age 94.

Two firsts for the movie occurred at other theaters in the Fox chain. Its first public screening took place on Sept. 9, 1939 at the Fox in Riverside, and it premiered on Dec. 15, 1939 at the Fox in Atlanta, Ga.

Incidentally, the adjacent business in the above photo appears to be Seaboard Finance Co., with “loans” the likely word in the window.

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  • Bill Ruh

    David:

    I believe that I have found the year of the Fox Theatre photo which appears in your article. I would date the photo as 1954. I base this on a fact that Gone With Wind was re-released in 1954. If indeed the car in the photo was a 1950 Studebaker and the film was re-released in 1954, it makes sense that the photo is 1954.

    Thanks for the article. From another time and place.

    From Wikipedia:

    Later releases
    Gone with the Wind was given theatrical re-releases in 1947, 1954, and 1961. The 1961 release commemorated the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, and included a gala “premiere” at the Loew’s Grand Theater. Gable had died months before, but other stars from the film attended. It was re-released in 1967 in a 70 mm stereophonic version, which is best known today for its iconic poster.[30][31] It was further rereleased in 1971, by United Artists in 1974, by Turner Entertainment and MGM/UA Communications Co. in 1989, and by New Line Cinema in 1998. The 1954 release was the first time the studio issued the film in widescreen, compromising the original Academy ratio and cropping the top and bottom to an aspect ratio of 1.75:1. In doing so, a number of shots were optically re-framed and cut into the three-strip camera negatives, forever altering five shots in the film.[32] The 70 mm re-issue of the film cropped the film further, to a very narrow ratio of 2.20:1. The 1998 theatrical reissue and the VHS and DVD releases restored the film to its original aspect ratio. On November 14, 2009, on the occasion of the film’s 70th anniversary, the film was re-issued in a new high definition transfer to the Blu-ray format.[33]
    The film has made $400 million worldwide in theater receipts since its release,[34] which Turner Entertainment estimate to be equivalent to approximately $3.3 billion when adjusted to 2007 prices.[35] Other estimates place the adjusted gross between $3 billion and $5.3 billion at contemporary price levels, making it the highest grossing film of all time.[36][37][38] After adjustments for inflation, Gone with the Wind is also estimated to be the highest grossing film of all time in the United States[39][40] and the United Kingdom, where it is estimated to have sold a total of 35 million tickets.[41][42]

    [Bill, you may well be right about the date of the photo. The re-release info is interesting, and (for those who waded through the fine print above) the estimate that GWTW's box office take would today be above $3 billion ought to give pause to those who get excited about the big opening weekend of some movie no one remembers a few weeks later. As far as cultural impact, The Avengers is no GWTW! Although Titanic may come close. -- DA]

  • judi

    Here’s more trivia about my favorite movie. According to Gone With the Wind: The Definitive Illustrated History of the Book, the Movie, and the Legend by Herb Bridges, the screening in Riverside was one of top secrecy:

    A weekday evening in early September, (David) Selznick had entrusted film editor Hal Kern with the job of getting he, his wife, studio backer Jock Whitney, and the twenty-four cans of film to a local theater in absolute secrecy. This was to be an unannounced screening, and he cautioned Kern not to tell a soul where it was going to be held. Kern arranged for a car to pick up the Selznicks and travel to a theater location only the driver would know.

    “The manager of the lucky theater, two hours away in Riverside, had not been forewarned. But when Kern got out of the car, staggering under the weight of his twenty-four film cans, the manager guessed what was going on.

    “Then the movie audience was told that a special preview would be shown instead of the movie normally scheduled, and that it was very long, and anyone wishing to leave the theater would have to do so immediately. Once the screening began, the doors would be locked and no one permitted to enter, leave or make phone calls.

    “The theater patrons, sensing something special, settled back, ready for a treat. When the title Gone With the Wind flashed across the screen, the audience rose to its collective fee, cheering, applauding, and screaming. And when the movie was over, the standing ovation was repeated in its entirety.

    Not sure how this would have played out today with cell phones or fire laws about locked doors, but it must have been mighty exciting back then.

    [Judi, thanks for the info. Imagine learning you'll be watching a four-hour movie. But, again, this shows just how much anticipation there was for "GWTW" and what an impact it made. I have the idea that I've read (on Wikipedia?) that the Fox manager phoned his wife and told her to hurry to the theater. -- DA]