(image c/o Cinema Treasures)
Continuation of the series that began here.
Getting past my brother’s interview process and meeting the owner made for quite the experience, and contrast. At least with my brother, he was a known commodity. Familia — for better or worse. On the other hand the proprietor, he was an eye-opener. When introduced to him by my sibling, I immediately felt sized up and grouped into one of two categories. Those like him, and everybody else.
Those like him were the self-made businessmen who started out with little or nothing and worked/scraped at whatever business secured them a living. He believed it was achieved through his own energy and pure ambition. Everyone else was just that. Everyone else. From the time of that first interview, till I left a year and a half later, success in life was defined through hard work. It was not just an expression for him, he felt. An opinion he freely shared…always.
I could see why my brother had a sub-rosa admiration for the man — his success seemed to stem from that drive to succeed. Those in college, studying, were another matter for this business owner, though. Professional students, as he called them, were “…wasting their time studying.” Better off getting to work, “…like your brother, here”, was his steadfast opinion. I’d be allowed to bring my college work into the theater, he said, as long as it didn’t get in the way of what needed to get done.
Given the unique aspect of the projectionist’s work, at least under this regime, it could work. But I would to be good-naturedly chided for it, most of the time. Nonetheless, I would be indoctrinated on how ‘real businessmen’ made a dollar in the world back then. The owner said he was used to making hard choices. And without the scale or margins of a large theater chain behind him, he got to make a lot of them.
So, what were the lessons gleamed while employed there? Scrimping was a way of life for independents. The economics of the movie theater in the mid-70s hadn’t changed much since the 30s and 40s either. Studios made their money from the box office — and theater owners made theirs from the concession stand.
“We’re not in the movie business… we’re in the candy business.” ~ theater manager
This business man owned other theaters besides the Huntington Park Warner at the time. IIRC, they were in the L.A. areas of Bell (yeah, that one), Highland Park, and San Pedro. And all of them understood his rules of pinching pennies:
- nothing — and I mean nothing — got thrown away
- popcorn left in the concession stand bin at closing time was bagged up and saved to go back in prior to re-opening the next day
- hot dogs left on the roller grill got the same fate as the popped corn…they just had a sleepover with the ice cream bars in the freezer, while the fresh ones slept in the refrigerator
- Pepsi was cheaper than Coke — so, the perennial Avis of sodas was what we stocked
- the concession stand controlled the booth — meaning, if patrons were stacked up to buy snacks, they’d delay the start of the movie; so now you know why movie showtimes are like the Pirate Code:
“… more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”
What did this mean for the education of the new projectionist they just hired? Well, you found out very quickly that owning a movie theater was difficult and risky work. For mom’s youngest, my brother, the owner proved to be quite the mentor (whether either of them knew it or not). My sibling learned it so well that he’d take what he picked up here to his own business, years later.
To be continued…
The entire Warner Theatre Project series can be found here.