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Friday, May 18, 2012

The Best Seat In The House


“They don’t make ‘em like they used to!” You’ve heard it before, but it’s true. Quality and craftsmanship are things of the past. Fortunately, some examples have survived into the 21st century. The historic Vista Theatre on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles is one of them.

The Spanish-style facade belies its ornate interior. Built in October 1923 by architect Lewis A. Smith, the Vista Theatre is a one-of-a-kind movie theater notable for its Egyptian-themed décor. The 638-seat theater, originally called Bard’s Hollywood Theatre, was the site of vaudeville shows in the Roaring Twenties, although today it serves as a venue for films and movie premieres, the latter evidenced by cements slabs of celebrity handprints lining its entrance.

I’ve been to the Vista twice, most recently last week for the Dark Shadows Movie Premiere Party. I’m posting some pictures I took here on my blog, www.keithbdarrell.com, but if you’re reading this blog on an RSS reader you might not be able to view the photos, so go directly to the blog. You can also see some shots of the Vista on its homepage, www.vintagecinemas.com/vista/vistaphotos.html.

In 1986, Kathryn Leigh Scott, an actress from the original Dark Shadows TV series, published a book about her experiences on the hit gothic soap opera. Over the years, when I’ve remembered to bring the book with me to events where the cast and crew from the series were in attendance, I’ve had them sign the book. Sadly, many have since died, spurring me to start traveling with the book. Decades ago, in New York City, I attended a one-woman musical performed by Nancy Barrett (Dark Shadows’ Carolyn Stoddard) and chatted with her briefly afterwards, kicking myself for having left my book thousands of miles away. So, when I learned Nancy would be at the Vista for the Dark Shadows Premiere Party, I tucked my book into my suitcase.

I was seated with some friends in an absolutely wonderful spot at the Vista: dead center, two-thirds of the way back, behind a very short person affording me ample visibility over his head to the 50-foot screen. I left to find Nancy; we chatted and she added her autograph to the two dozen others in my book. Eventually, I worked my way back to my row, where I found a white-haired gentleman comfortably ensconced in my seat. My friends informed me the event organizer had given him my seat, over their protestations. I was a bit nonplussed, but I recognized the gentleman as someone I had met two years earlier: Sy Thomasoff, designer of the spooky sets on the original Dark Shadows TV show, the gothic soap opera I had been obsessed with a child and used to run home from school to see every day.

Sy looked up and graciously asked if I wanted my seat back. I immediately assured him he could stay put and I would find another seat (in the packed theater). As someone brought up to give up my seat on a bus to my elders, I’d certainly relinquish my seat for the man who was one of the creative forces behind the passion of my adolescence. Besides, when I refer to Sy as a gentleman, I mean it in every sense of the term: he’s one of the most polite, considerate, friendly, and down-to-earth people you’d ever want to meet. But as I turned to leave, an epiphany struck me and I pivoted. I passed the book in my hand to Sy and asked, “Hey, Sy, as long as you’re sitting there, would you mind signing this?”

I’m glad I’ve learned to travel with that book; you never know who you’ll run into.






2 comments:

  1. Wow, I so miss those grade-school years of busting butt to arrive home in time to catch Dark Shadows [I'd get home just in time to catch the final credits of Edge of Night lol].

    House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows are among some of the most *gothic-atmospheric* movies I've ever had the pleasure to enjoy.

    Kudos to you for scoring an autograph of the talented Sy!! :)

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  2. I caught the tail end of General Hospital when DS was on at 3:30, and then most of One Life to Live after ABC moved it to 4pm. I think Edge was on CBS.

    I never cared for HOD or NOD. HOD was Dan Curtis' gory version of how he originally wanted to do the Barnabas arc - an old style vampire killed off in the end. He had planned to do that in DS, but Frid's portrayal of a "reluctant, angst-filled" vampire (and its ratings success) forced him to keep Barnabas alive for the duration of the show.

    NOD was filmed as an approximately 2 hour and 20 minute movie and cut (butchered) down to 90 minutes. Scenes were randomly excised, so the final version made no sense. There is a possibility the film may one day be restored to its original length, if all the missing footage can be found.

    Sy is now on my Facebook ;) It's been a Dark Shadows month: I've just returned from a week at Collinwood - the original mansion used in the TV series.

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