Thursday, August 19, 2010

Orpheum/NorShor recollections...

Orpheum Theatre Superior St exit, circa 1929
(Superior St. exit later became NorShor entrance) 
The renewed interest in Duluth's historic Orpheum Theater, the four walls of which encase today's NorShor (what remains of it), is brought on by the 100th anniversary of the Orpheum's opening, well covered in today's (Aug. 19) Duluth News Tribune (read Christa Lawler's stories HERE and HERE).

I am quoted in one story and provided a photograph of the Orpheum's former presence on Superior Street, which served as the theater's exit (the entrance was on Second Avenue West) throughout it's 30-year history, and became the NorShor's entrance after the the conversion was completed in 1941. That conversion reversed the entire theater 180 degrees, with the NorShor's screen on the end of the auditorium where the Orpheum's balconies had been. That meant the Orpheum's stage was approximately where the NorShor's existing lobby is.

My quote recalled seeing the blockbuster movie "The Robe" at the NorShor when I was a sophomore in high school in 1954-'55, and was singled out by me in pointing out that the NorShor had such a big outer lobby huge crowds could, and did, line up indoors, although there were times -- and "The Robe" was one of them -- when eager moviegoers filled that lobby, then snaked out onto Superior Street and down the block.

"The Robe" is largely forgotten today, but it was a phenomenon when it was released. It was based on a runaway best selling book by Lloyd C. Douglas and told the fictional story of what happened to the robe Christ wore on his way to his crucifixion. It starred Richard Burton in an early screen appearance, possibly his first. Burly Victor Mature played the gladiator Dimitrius.

The movie was also the first filmed in a then-new and exciting wide-screen process called "Cinemascope."

It was THE movie of the year, and perhaps the decade, although just a couple of years later a black-and --white movie called "Blackboard Jungle" showed up and forever changed American popular music ("Rock Around the Clock") and to some extent filmmaking.

The arrival of "The Robe" in Duluth was such an anticipated event that the NorShor theater operator persuaded the public high schools to release students who wanted to attend the opening matinee. That's when I saw it. Who would choose to stay in school when you could go to a movie?

So, to state the obvious, the public schools released students from classes to go to a movie depicting the crucifixion of Christ and its fictional aftermath. You will never see that happen again, but, hey, it was 1954. Oh, and make no mistake about this: They didn't release us to see a matinee of "Blackboard Jungle." --Jim Heffernan

No comments: