Comments from lewiswardell

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lewiswardell commented about Merritt marquee on Sep 18, 2017 at 9:33 am

I loved the marquee, except for having, it seemed, at least one neon tube out on any given night. Access to the Merritt sign and top lights was from a hatch. We were able to sell 1200 tickets to each show from the single booth by giving instructions and pricing from an exterior PA, and encouraging one person from each party handling the transaction. During Star Wars the lines stretched around Renzy Street to the right.

lewiswardell commented about College Street Music Hall on Mar 18, 2013 at 6:06 pm

I took over temporarily as division manager for RKO’s Connecticut Division at the end of 1978 while running the Merritt Theater in Bridgeport. Although the company was managing commercial property in the building, movie showings had been suspended. We received a request to open for a religious revival and took the theater out of mothballs for it. The Reverend Bob Pulley (?) brought in the Edwin Hawkins Singers and a large staff for a one-off that was fascinating – speaking-in-tongues, curing the afflicted, ecstatic dancing etc. I left the chain shortly thereafter and haven’t seen the venue since. It was awesome to explore the empty theater and sub-basements when I got there. Lots of memorabilia and equipment had basically been abandoned when showings stopped.

lewiswardell commented about Cinemart Theater on Feb 26, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I worked as an usher at the Cinemart in 1968-69; starting the week after a year long run of Sound of Music. The Theater was really gorgeous – a true roadshow house. We had gala openings that might include a huge Hammond organ playing in the lobby, or a marching band in the parking lot. The ushers wore tuxedoes and white gloves, and since the seating was reserved, every usher had to learn the alphabet backwards so you could walk directly to the correct row. Bill Decker was the manager and he was a real showman from the vaudeville and live stage era. RKO really hung with musicals and roadshows, which required long engagements, and business started to suffer. I remember that “2001” played for three months and by the end about the only people around were the staff. At least it gave us time to figure out what the movie was about. After college I contacted Bill and he immediately gave me a job training as manager under Harry Gaetano in summer of 1975. That october RKO gave me the White City Cinema in Shrewsbury, MA, and I later transferred to the RKO Merritt in Bridgeport. While there I managed the eight theaters that RKO still had in their Connecticut Division.

lewiswardell commented about White City Cinemas on Feb 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I was the manager at White City from ‘75 to '77 and worked with Charles Gobron and Kathy Blake as my assistants. The theater was really beautiful, but like many of the huge houses was pretty hard to fill. We did screen a week of “1776” for school groups, and that was about as full as it got. I remember the ushers changing the huge marquee in the winter with wind just blasting off Lake Q – it was brutal. We screened “Nickelodeon” for Christmas in 1976 and as a promotion the studio only charged a nickel on opening night. It was predictably frigid, though, and the theater was only half full. A few days later I arrived to open and found a bunch of suits from Redstone inside. They had bought the theater and no one from RKO had even told me. I worked for them a week and transferred to the RKO Merritt in Bridgeport, CT. I miss the wonderful kids that staffed the place – they were a lot of fun.

lewiswardell commented about Merritt Theater on Feb 26, 2013 at 2:59 pm

I was manager of the Merritt from ‘77-79, including the run of Star Wars, which we screened seven times a day for months. We sold so much popcorn that the ushers had to pick up and stack the empty containers halfway through each day so people could get down the aisles. I also oversaw the twinning of the theatre, which though necessary economically, really ruined the theater. Even re-drilling the seats so they faced a little more towards each screen didn’t help much. RKO did install a Dolby sound system at the time, and when we re-opened with Grease and Heaven Can Wait (I think), the sound was pretty good. We also ran The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday and Saturday at midnight for a year. The folks from the Waverly Theater who developed a lot of the call/responses came one night by limousine in full costume to teach the locals how to do it. I came to bridgeport from running the White City Theater in Shrewsbury, MA and couldn’t believe the neighborhood support and size of the crowds.It was truly fun .