For the Washington Post's STYLE Section, 1996

The first time I visited the Biograph Theatre was in high school. It was 1968. I went with some friends to see "YELLOW SUBMARINE". From the moment I walked in and saw the freaky-looking box-office cashier, the autographed photos on the wall, and heard rock music playing in the lobby, I had a great feeling about the place. "Far out! I bet this would be a cool place to work," I thought. (We actually thought that way in the 60’s, as I recall) Well; I was right! A few years later, I was hired as Assistant Manager. It would be my salvation from working in the real world and my second home for years to come. I never had to pay to see a movie again. It forever spoiled me for other jobs.

My prior work experiences had been for people I either feared or loathed. To suddenly find myself in an environment where the powers that be were a couple of mensches named Alan and Lenny--two guys who were more like uncles than bosses--was unique. You don't find too many employers who will pay your bail and also explain the mysteries of using a credit card. I learned from them; I got to spread my wings and exercise my creativity. I became part of something special and exciting: Show Biz!

Well, it wasn't all glamour. I had to open the theatre, making sure the house was clean, the popcorn was fresh, the concession stand was stocked and the cash drawer was set correctly. Next, I had to make sure we had the films we planned to run that day, and haul the heavy cans up to the booth so the projectionist could splice them on to larger reels for the nightly screenings. Then I'd dash back downstairs, check everything again, switch on all the lights and unlock the doors for the waiting line of moviegoers, and spend the rest of the night selling tickets and buttering popcorn.

Sometimes there were accidents: During a Classics Of Literature And Drama festival, a double bill of STEPPENWOLF and ULYSSES opened not with Milo O’Shea on the streets of Dublin, but Kirk Douglas and a gang of loincloth-clad Italians doubling for Greek adventurers. Hey; it said "ULYSSES" on the film can! How could I tell it was a sword-and-sandal epic and not the deathless prose of James Joyce? Fortunately, the audience had a sense of humor, and we suffered only a few refunds.

After a couple of years of this, I moved on from the day-to-day operation of the theatre, and became involved in a number of behind-the-scenes activities. Soon I was helping Alan and Lenny create our programming, coming up with ideas for themed festivals and double features (once pairing NIGHT OF THE HUNTER with A DOUBLE LIFE, just to see Shelley Winters get murdered in both pictures) and producing the EXPOSE YOURSELF programs--showcases for local filmmakers. We ran everything from X-rated midnight shows to The French New Wave. Classic Hollywood movies were interspersed with festivals of films from Australia, Italy, Germany, Japan, Great Britain and The Soviet Union. We had festivals that explored Romance, Mayhem, Novels, Science Fiction, Comedy, and The Western. People appreciated our creative approach to presentation.

We took some chances, and sometimes we got angry reactions. Our decision to book Godard’s HAIL MARY offended some Catholics; BIRTH OF A NATION was denounced by many African-Americans. Yet, this was a place where art, history, and politics collided on-screen. If it was available on film, and we felt it had a legitimate place in one of our festivals, we ran it. We were not in the business of stifling expression—we showed movies. It was like having your own screening room where you could show fun, interesting, challenging stuff all the time, and changing shows 2 or 3 times a week meant there was no such thing as "routine". We were constantly re-inventing our environment. To be able to make a living doing this was heady stuff for a young man. How lucky can you get?

Over the years we have been visited by hundreds of thousands of people. Scores of protesters slept on our floors during the May Day demonstrations when we kept the house open all night to accommodate the crowds; I was tear gassed trying to get home from work that morning. Marion Barry, John Waters, John Denver, Ondine, members of the PLO and The Langley Punks are but a few of the celebrities who have schmoozed and partied in our lobby. Dustin Hoffman, in town shooting ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, dropped by to see a show one night. Apparently his hectic shooting schedule, combined with the cool darkness of the theatre conspired to relax him: we found him asleep in the back row at closing time. Resisting the temptation to take some unglamorous Polaroids of the star snoring, we gently woke him. Sheepish and flustered, he made his exit, apologizing profusely for having kept us.

Part of "THE EXORCIST III" was shot there. It was the scene in which the detective, played by George C. Scott, meets with his friend, the priest (the late Ed Flanders) at their favorite movie theatre. In typical Hollywood fashion, they took tremendous liberties with the geography of D.C., suggesting from exterior shots and jump-cuts that the Biograph was actually located somewhere on Wisconsin Avenue. But, what the heck? We've been immortalized on film, and that’s only fitting for a place that will live in many people’s memories as the best movie theatre that ever was.

I went back to the Biograph for a couple of nights last week to see my old pals, The Langley Punks, with whom I'd done some film and recording projects. As I sat there watching myself on-screen, I couldn't help thinking how most of my old haunts are now gone. Here we are in the dark, sharing one last laugh in the place where it all started. The Biograph is about to join that growing list of Places That Used To Be, and here we sit… Can they really be planning to turn this shrine into a CVS drugstore, for God’s sake? Is nothing sacred? We who have worked and played here--grown up here--loved this place. I don't want it to be gone. Man; I really don't want it to become a drugstore.

I think of what Holden Caulfield said in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE: "If you want to know the truth, I don't know what I think about it…Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you just start missing everybody." Perhaps in years to come they'll find me after closing time, sitting again in the dark in the new CVS, amidst the Dristan and the Vicks--just about where the old boxoffice was. When the police ask me what I'm doing, I'll quietly reply: "I just started missing everybody."

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