Saturday, April 24, 2010

NorShor experience was like no other...

by Jim Heffernan
(Originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, November 19, 2006 and reprinted in my book, Cooler Near the Lake, sold in area bookstores and on line through Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Adventure Publication.)
                        To Save the NorShor, see the editor's note below.
The folks hoping to save Duluth’s NorShor Theater from eventually suffering the fate of the Palace in Superior (turned to rubble last week) asked me to write something about what it was like to attend a movie at the NorShor in its heyday.

I was born just two years before the building that housed the old Orpheum Theater was gutted and turned into what became the NorShor as we know it. It opened in 1941, and its unique art deco design has been hailed as one of the finest example of that style. Vestiges of it can still be seen today in the NorShor’s present–lamentable–condition almost 25 years after it ceased to exist as a regular theater.

But what was it like to go to a movie there in the days before television, when movies were the principal form of entertainment for most folks? It’s been said that 1946 was the peak box-office year for movies in America. That’s about when I started going to movies at the NorShor, accompanied by parents in the early years.

Even to a child, the NorShor was a magic place–at least it was to this child who would rather go to a movie than a ball game any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Duluth had a lot of movie theaters scattered across the downtown and in some outlying neighborhoods, but nothing compared to the NorShor.

Its main entrance was eye-popping, with a hall of mirrors leading from the box office to the auditorium lobby area, which was dominated by a pair of curving staircases leading to the mezzanine and balcony.

Back on the main floor, the auditorium walls featured huge dimly lighted murals–female nudes pausing in a forest glade. Art. Well, art deco.

Before each movie began the screen was shielded by a huge curtain inside the imposing proscenium arch. When the feature was ready to begin, and soundtrack music rose, the movie’s image would be projected at first on the curtain, which, in a few seconds, would be drawn back revealing the screen. When the movie was over, as “The End” flashed on the screen, the curtain would glide shut.

I’ve heard that the owners had to keep a member of the union representing stagehands employed at the theater just to open and close the curtain.

No other theater in Duluth even attempted such pageantry or had such class. It made going to movies at the NorShor really special, like dining in a fine restaurant versus stopping by a café for a blue-plate special.

In my experience, after the movie, we’d often peruse the paintings in the narrow but sizable art gallery off the main downstairs lobby where local artists and photographers would display their works.

Still, you were there just to see a movie, even if it was in a unique setting. Once the lights went down and the curtain opened, the NorShor was just any other movie house, but somehow the lavish surroundings enhanced your enjoyment.

All of this cost the theater’s operators money, of course, which was probably why the NorShor charged more than some others movie houses for kids–12 cents. A child could get into the Lyceum for 9 cents.

Editor's note:  
     It was recently announced that the City of Duluth hopes to buy the old NorShor Theater and the vintage Temple Opera Building in downtown Duluth. Duluth Mayor Don Ness said that he envisions the area downtown from Lake Avenue through to 805 E. Superior St (where Sir Benedict's Tavern is located) will develop into an arts and entertainment district that will showcase our downtown. I've always said that if I were a millionaire, I'd do just that. So this plan might help realize that hope to save the NorShor.
     You too can help to save our vintage theater. If you're on Facebook, join the "Save the NorShor" group and let your Duluth city councilors know you want them to vote in favor of purchasing this theater. Better do it right away though as the council votes this Monday on this proposal and that vote will cast the future of the NorShor.  Save the NorShor!

Monday, April 19, 2010

There's brillig in the slithy toves of Iceland...

By Jim Heffernan
                      The photo (above) is from NASA's satellite.
I have always had a strong affinity for Iceland, but I don’t know why. I’ve never been there, although I think I flew over it once on a trip to Europe. Maybe in another life I spent time there – who knows?

Now Iceland is in the news as the source of that terrible volcanic ash that has grounded airplanes in a wide swath across Europe. And not that long ago, Iceland faced bankruptcy and had to be bailed out by other countries, but not Greece.

So two bad things about Iceland in recent months. I grieve for Iceland and believe the small island nation needs some shoring up.

I think the thing about Iceland that attracts me is the interesting names of people and places, like the volcano spewing the ash that has wiped out European aviation. It is the Eyjafjallajokull volcano at the Eyjafjallajokull glacier. (The volcano and glacier have the same name, you may have noticed.)

That is the kind of landmark name that makes me glad I went into print journalism, and not broadcast, but it is vexing as well because who can spell Eyjafjallajokull, let alone Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital? Down the road a piece from Reykjavik are some of Iceland’s other towns such as Kopavogur, Hafnafjorour, Akureyri, Reykjanesbaer and Garoabaer, where, it is said, there is considerable brillig in the slivy toves.

This does not bother Iceland’s foreign minister, Ossur Skarphedinsson, nor concern Baldvin Hannibalsson, former ambassador to Washingon, whose names, along with all those places, challenge the touch system of typing which has stood me in such good stead all these years.

And since brillig in the slivy toves has reared up in rural Iceland, it’s only a matter of time before the mome raths outgrabe once again, after, of course, the gyre and gimble in the wabe settles down, making the borogoves all mimsy.

But I go on. Iceland has had some tough sledding but I’m sure it will come galumphing back with frumious alacrity, and burble as it comes.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Note: The places and names above are real; the nonsensical words are from Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky.”  

Friday, April 16, 2010

Minnesota, hats off to thee...

Here's something for all Minnesotans, former Minnesotans or Minnesota wannabees to enjoy...

Click HERE to watch TMC's Minnesota: Land of Plenty narrated by James A Fitzpatrick (circa 1942). Fitzpatrick takes us on a vintage tour of Minnesota communities and points of interest. And... catch the old cars, very vintage. A bit of nostalgia and fun.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Late Night With.....?

Just who is watching the late night TV programs with Leno, Letterman, O'Brien (again on the air on TBS in November) and the host of other late night TV talk show personalities dotting TV networks?  Are you hooked? Or, should I say, are you still hooked on those late night shows? A NY Times story in today's paper reports that Leno's viewers may be getting older–median age of his viewers is 56– (click HERE to read the full story). While Leno still leads the pack, his viewer numbers are down from 2009. But then "down" is where all the ratings of others fall as well.

I wonder... is there a new trend in late night TV viewing?  And what are the younger audiences watching at night now? I know that while we (on the older end of the audiences) were avid viewers of those late night programs, we no longer watch any of them regularly. The news junkie programs seem to be pulling us in more and more now. Are you watching TV late at night? And if so, what are you watching? We want to know.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Bible book baffles bellowing bloke...

By Jim Heffernan

Back on April Fool’s Day we bought a greeting card with a religious inscription (AFD and Easter came close together this year) that I initially mistook for an April Fool’s joke.

The inscription was attributed to the book of “Zephaniah” in the Bible.

“What is this, some kind of April Fool’s joke? There ain’t no book of Zephaniah,” I bellowed.

First chance I got I rushed to one of the several family Bibles we have around the house. Bibles are often given to families of loved-ones who have passed on by morticians who appreciate the business, so they start to accumulate as the years go by.

Now I’m no Bible expert by any means, but I’ve had the usual exposure through Sunday school as a child, and confirmation as a Lutheran. A couple of times as a youth I went to “Bible camp.”

I saw the movies “Samson and Delilah” and “David and Bathsheba” and “Sodom and Gomorrah” and “Solomon and Sheba,” Bible stories they forgot to mention at Bible camp.

But still, you’d think with such a rich religious background I could at least recognize the names of the books of the Bible when I see them.

Hastily I flipped to a handy Bible’s table of contents. My eyes rapidly scanned the Old Testament first, sure I had caught some greeting card company (it wasn’t a Hallmark because we don’t care enough to send the very best) in a major religious gaffe.

“Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers…” the usual suspects and on down through familiar-sounding books like Lamentations and Ecclesiastes and there, fourth from the bottom, was Zephaniah. He’s located right between Habakkuk and Haggai, two fellows whose names I actually was familiar with. Especially Habakkuk.

Well, of course. How could I have forgotten about good old Zephaniah. As every Sunday school child knows, he was the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah. Hard for a layman like myself to figure if he had a lot of fathers or they’re listing his paternal relatives down through great-grandfather.

So I stand corrected and humbled. It’s not the first time. Several years ago I had to publicly admit (I needed a newspaper column that day) that I didn’t know that Bartholomew was a disciple. We all know Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, even Judas and Thomas, but Bartholomew? I thought he was the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Journalist with Duluth roots joins CBS...

CBS just announced the hiring of a new reader, Rebecca Jarvis, for their morning programing.  Click HERE to check out the story on Ourvoices at the staff blogs.

Rebecca Jarvis (Becky) is the grandughter of Jerry Marks, a former Duluth News Tribune journalist and City of Duluth Economic Developer, now retired and living in Florida. Becky is the daughter of Gail MarksJarvis, a nationally known author, TV commentator and national speaker who writes a coast to coast syndicated finance column for the Chicago Tribune and Jim Jarvis, a UMD graduate and Twin Cities attorney. Gail, Becky's mother (daughter of Jerry and Helen Marks formerly of Duluth), began her financial writing with the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Gail grew up in Duluth and graduated from high school here and also was a UMD graduate.

Becky is not your ordinary youth growing up in the Twin Cities area. As a teenager attending St. Paul Academy, Becky hosted a teen TV show on Kare 11 and became widely known in the Twins Cities. She went on to higher education, graduating from the University of Chicago with a degree in Economics and Law, Letters and Society. Her achievements and honors that followed are utterly amazing for someone so young. One of her better known achievements was her competition in Donald Trump's popular Apprentice TV program when Becky came in as runner-up as the chosen apprentice.

Jerry Marks, Becky's grandfather, was a colleague of mine at the DNT and a good friend. He always was proud of his family and I can see why. Congrats to Becky!