P. 5

Service with a Smile at the Cinema

                           The Era of the Cinema Usher

                                                                                                 Bertie Bertram

          ecently I bowled along to see a movie in  In those days, when a visit to a movie in the city  baby", the old theatre manager had whipped out
       Rone of our city theatres and from the time  or suburbs did not cost an arm and a leg, you  the "house full" sign and would stand alongside
       I entered the theatre, I was struck by the attitude  got  not  only  movie  value  and  entertainment  it  stubbornly  like  Napoleon  at  the  Battle  of
       of the cinema usher of today compared with  value, you also received lots of courteous and  Waterloo!
       their predecessors in the 30s, 40s and 50s and  helpful  service.  The  movie  moguls  and  their
       what passes for service to the public in this year  extremely efficient staffers' prime purpose was  Out in front of the competition - way, way out
       of 1997. "The Year of the Big Spender"!  to ensure YOU - from your entrance to your  in front - was the Hoyts Theatre Chain. They
                                           exit - an entertaining time in their theatre.  weren't  merely  big;  they  were  awesome.  All
       I quickly perceived I was not in a top-                                       other theatre groups or individuals were
       flight city movie palace of the 30s and                                       contenders and pretenders to the throne.
       40s  by  the  service  of  the  ushers  -  or
       rather, the lack of it.                                                       Hoyts had the magnificent Regent and
                                                                                     Plaza double as the flagship of the fleet
       After a good climb, I was met by an usher                                     and, throughout the suburban sprawl, it
       who tore my ticket and with a "straight                                       had its chain of more than 40 theatres
       ahead, mate", wham, bam I was on my                                           that  were  packed  nightly  by  patrons
       pat; but, in spite of everything, I made it                                   who  saw  two  movies,  one  or  two
       to my seat.                                                                   comedies, a travelogue, a newsreel and
                                                                                     a  couple  of  trailers,  and  you  did  not
       In that long-ago era, when you entered a                                      need a bank loan to take the family. You
       theatre to see a movie, you were met by                                       could even rake up a shilling (10c) to
       a  male  or  female  usher  who  gave  the                                    purchase a Dixie ice cream and a packet
       patrons a smile of welcome, passed you                                        of Columbines.
       along  to  an  auditorium  usher,  who
       showed you to your seat, waited until you                                     At St. Kilda, Hoyts had the elegant and
       were settled, then left.                                                      prestigious Victory Theatre, and what
                                           The glamour "angels" of the 90s may well be  a magnet for the people of St. Kilda by-the-sea
       Even if you had the misfortune to arrive late,  pouring you a coffee and a hot croissant on a  that lovely classy theatre was. There was a bevy
       the same procedure took place, only this time  Qantas 747; a slick in-flight steward may be  of  dazzling  beauties  in  burgundy  gowns  and
       a torch beam was used to guide you safely to  handy to give a young lady a smile that will  always  banks  of  gladioli  throughout  the
       your seat, and without any annoyance to seated  brighten her day and settle the butterflies in her  Victory, which took hours for these dreamboats
       patrons. The patron took that type of service  tummy.  But,  in  the  30s,  40s  and  50s  the  to prepare for the patrons' delectation. For these
       and courtesy for granted, and that's how it really  personality darlings and the dapper young male  delightful young ladies, it was a work of love
       was in all types of movie houses in the city as  ushers were there to greet you in a large movie  to have their Victory looking so glossy for the
       well as the suburbs.                palace or a suburban movie house and, prior to  public's perusal.
                                           television's arrival in 1956, there were hundreds
       Today, you hand in your ticket and wander off  of  picture  theatres  all  over  the  suburbs  of  Also at St. Kilda, on the Lower Esplanade -
       to a seat and if it is a dimly lit auditorium, stiff  Melbourne town. Friday and Saturday nights  right by Luna Park - was the grandiosity of the
       cheddar. And, if you don't stumble on steps or  were  unreal.  If  you  weren't  early  or  had  not  Palais  Theatre,  a  picture  palace  years  and
       someone's trotters, there's a good chance you'll  "booked" your seat in "the lounge", before you  years ahead of its time - a super colossal theatre,
       find a seat and enjoy the flicks.   could say "Lillian Frank is a hubba hubba jazzy  by golly. The Palais did not merely "show a
                                                                               flick", it "proudly presented a photoplay". That
                                                                               is how it read in the daily news in 1927. It also
                                                                               gave us lucky Melburnians the magic of Harry
                                                                               Jacobs  and  his  Band  of  Renown,  and  every
                                                                               musician was an artist of perfection.

                                                                               Built  in  1926,  it  opened  with  a  flourish  and
                                                                               attendance of every one of the rich and famous.
                                                                               All  the  assorted  socialites  from  Toorak  and
                                                                               Brighton  and  their  spouses  attended  on  the
                                                                               Saturday evening of 12 November 1927 to a
                                                                               blaze  of  publicity  never  before  seen  in  the
                                                                               Melbourne papers. Even Smith's Weekly gave
                                                                               it a big plug, and the staid Argus waxed lyrically
                                                                               about the Palais.

                                                                               The  opening  program  was  Monte  Blue  in
                                                                               Across the Pacific and Clara Bow in Rough-
                                                                               house Rosie, an apt title (if I may be permitted
                                                                               an opinion) for it was the very same Clara Bow
                                                                               who  was  extremely  "good  friends"  with  a
                                                                               complete Californian grid iron football team in
                                                                               the 1930s. but as they say, "gals will be gals".
                                                                                Left: The Hoyts Victory,  St. Kilda c. 1939.
                                                                                Image: CATHS Archive

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