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Movie Magic

Photograph by John D. Disher, c1987

Friends, this month marks a special anniversary in the history of the Rivoli Theater.

Twenty-five years ago the theater came to life with the magic of sound, light and celluloid for its final performance.

The date was January 11, 1987, and the film was The Morning After starring Jane Fonda.

About 150 sentimental moviegoers gathered to enjoy the show and watch that final film flicker into darkness as the Rivoli’s projector clicked to a halt.

Afterwards, we sat quietly in the  still auditorium, lingering among the ghosts and memories of entertainment history before starting our reluctant departure.

The moment was memorable and unforgettable, the movie…well, not so much.

Photo from the Muncie Star, January 12, 1987

Thankfully, during its six decades of operations, many other, much more noteworthy films graced the Rivoli’s big screen…one of which I learned about in a very unusual way…..

During my photography of the Rivoli’s destruction in 1987, I discovered an old accounting ledger in the the dumpster rubble.

Rivoli Demolition c1987 John D. Disher

Tattered and torn by the massive wrecking machinery, it yielded a fascinating treasure trove of information about the operation of the theater…in 1933.

Today, it is still embedded with a fine layer of powdery demolition silt. You can see it, highlighting the brown cover of the ledger.

c2012 John D. Disher

Perusing through its pages, I stopped at the entries for the week ending May 6, 1933.

Here are some of the Rivoli’s accounts payable that week:

$52.35 – newspaper advertising (The Muncie Star)
$126.25 – heat and power
$22.85 – telephone (Indiana Bell)
$111.80 union house salaries
$153.80 non-union house salaries

All are interesting items in their own right….

but the line that caught my eye was a payment to R.K.O. Pictures for $240.52.

It was simply marked as “Rental King Kong.”

Source: Wikipedia

Wow. King Kong played at the Rivoli during its initial release in 1933.

Wouldn’t it have been incredible to have seen the original release of King Kong at the Rivoli?

To have heard the roar of that beast echoing throughout the room?

To have seen him standing 20 feet tall, battling the Air Force from atop the Empire State Building?

In 1975, Kong was named one of the 50 best American films by the American Film Institute, and, in 1991, the film was deemed “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

In 1998, the AFI ranked the film #43 on its list of the 100 greatest movies of all time.

And people in Muncie saw it first at the Rivoli!

1954 Rivoli promo courtesy of David Battas, Sr.

Another cinema classic that has been near and dear to the hearts of movie lovers since 1939 is David O. Selznick’s epic Gone with the Wind.

The film received 10 Academy Awards (8 competitive, 2 honorary), a record that stood for 20 years. In the American Film Institute’s inaugural Top 100 Best American Films of All Time list of 1998, it was ranked fourth.

Gone with the Wind played at the Rivoli in February of 1940, following its December premiere in New York City. The film also played at least 2 times in later re-releases, first in 1954, and a second time in January 1969, to commemorate the remodeling of the Rivoli and installation of a new projection screen. The 1954 release was the first time the studio issued the film in widescreen format.

Rivoli - 1940 -The Muncie Star Album of Yesteryear, 1987.

1954 Rivoli photo courtesy of David Battas, Sr.

I love this look at the Rivoli’s theater lobby from the 1954 re-release of GWTW. Note the original ornate stairwell banister at the far right of the frame. The massive art deco promotional display was surely an effective attention-grabber for movie-goers in the 1950’s.

1954 Rivoli photo courtesy David Battas, Sr.

Here’s an alternate view of the 1954 Gone with the Wind lobby promotion. A soft drink vending machine is visible at left, and the ornate ceiling trim plasterwork is prominent in this angle.

So… what other famous and memorable films do you remember seeing at the Rivoli?

Folks from my age group invariably mention 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the best of all the Star Wars films. I’ve also read comments from Rivoli fans about seeing the movie Harvey with James Stewart. For my part, I have often talked about seeing the breathtaking cinematography of The Man from Snowy River and marveling at its outstanding soundtrack (presented on a newly installed multi-channel audio system at the Rivoli) in 1982.

I have to admit, regardless of the quality of the film, I treasure each and every time I visited the Rivoli. For me, the true movie magic was found as I sank into a chair with a box of popcorn and cast my gaze around the room, marveling at the giant asbestos curtain, the plasterwork, the ceiling dome, and the stage itself, as I waited for the movie to begin. When the movie ended, there was always the opportunity to come back and experience the wonder of the Rivoli once more.

However, on January 11, 1987, when the final curtain fell…I knew there would be no encore.

-John Disher, 25 years later, January 11, 2012.

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