There was a time when
even villages had a movie theater. Boonville, for example, had the Franjo.
Now there are cities without a movie house.
The City of Rome had and still has a great one, the Capitol Theatre. A few
Sundays ago the Capitol's director, Art Pierce, was a guest on the
television show I host on WUTR at six o'clock on Sunday nights, assuming a
sporting event doesn't run long.
Anyway, during the show we talked about theaters in general and the Capitol
in particular. The Capitol has occupied a prominent spot on W. Dominick
Street since 1928.
We talked about the Capitol's history and what's happening there now, which
is a lot. The Capitol is the venue for stage productions and for silent
movies, accompanied by the Capitol's original Moeller organ, a treasure.
We talked about theater architecture, old movie chains operated by families
such as the Kallets, of which the Capitol was once a part, and other movie
But we ran out of time before I could bring up something I wanted Art Pierce
to talk about: ushers.
Unless you were going to movie theaters in the 1950s, you probably don't
remember ushers. The mid to late 1950s is when ushers - real ushers -
started to disappear.
It had to do with cutting costs. People were spending less time in theaters
and more time in front of television sets. Theaters had to save money.
The ushers I remember worked at Utica theaters, including the Olympic, Avon
and Utica, three theaters within one block of each other, which shows how
popular going to the movies once was.
Ushers wore uniforms - something like you might see on a bellboy at a fancy
hotel - and were armed with flashlights. Someone older than me remembers
when ushers even wore white gloves.
Ushers had two basic jobs. The first was to help people find empty seats,
not always an easy thing to do. Before television, before there were so many
entertainment options, before people got so busy, movie houses were the
places to go, especially during the summer when theaters had something new
called air conditioning.
The usher found empty seats and showed you to them, flashlight pointed on
the carpet so you could see the way. "Enjoy the movie," he said.
I say "he" because I never saw a female usher. Ushers were male, high school
or college age, courteous and professional. Many of them were movie
aficionados. Watching movies at work was a great usher perk.
The second part of an usher's job was to enforce theater rules, of which
there were several.
Talking above a whisper brought the usher down the aisle. Finding the
offenders, the beam from his flashlight zeroed in. Being illuminated by an
usher's flashlight produced instant quiet.
And don't even think about putting your feet up on the seat in front of you.
Even worse was taking a soda to your seat, thus creating the possibility of
spilling it on the carpet. Soda in your seat was a major offense, one that
could get you removed from the theater. If thirsty, you gulped down a soda
in the lobby and got back to your seat fast as possible. Only in recent
years did management realize that people would buy big and expensive sodas
if allowed to drink in their seats.
These days there are young people who take tickets, sell popcorn and clean
up between shows, but no real ushers. You won't see an usher inside the
theater unless there's a water balloon fight between the people in row 12
and row 20.
And don't get me going about using cell phones in theaters. Where's an usher
when you need one?
Joe Kelly is the editor and publisher of The Boonville Herald & Adirondack Tourist and