Monday, April 12, 2010

The Pantages Theater

My very first real job, (not babysitting or housecleaning) was at the stunningly beautiful Pantages Theater, at Hollywood and Vine. I was not yet 16.
I saw a notice on the bulletin board at school for usherettes and candy girls. I still remember what I wore that day for the interview. A black and white striped mini tank dress.
As soon as I walked into the ornate, cavernous lobby, I fell in love with the place, and I had a feeling like I belonged there. I knew I had the job.
They were hiring a lot of extra staff for the premiere of a new Disney movie, "The Happiest Millionaire". We got period costumes to wear and had our hair done.
There was a big show in the street out front before the premiere. We were to seat all the guests at the premiere, including the stars. Well, this was all pretty exciting for a star struck teen, and getting paid to boot! After the premiere, there was a big party, and we were encouraged to mingle, and I had my first glass of champagne.
All the people who worked there were either aspiring actors, or or college students. We soon got tight, and the partying began!
I would come home from school, do my homework, eat something, and go to the theater. It was my social life, I just went to high school because I had to. Several of us became roommates together, just up the street from the theater, at the Castle Argyle, an old, swank spanish style apt/hotel from the hey day of Hollywood. Clark Gable used to live there. Apt. 302 was Party Central.
Our Boss, Mr. Perlmutter, we called him Mr. P, looked like a mobster. He had a big, black Cadillac, with a phone in it. This was 1967-69! We would have weekly staff meetings on the big staircase in the lobby. We discussed problems, and policy, and how things should be done. Everything had to be impeccable. For instance, you could not kick the door stop down with your foot. You had to bend down, and put it up by hand. This was not just any movie theater. All the movies had big premieres that we worked in formals and tuxedos. Then it was a reserved seat run, and it was the only place in town to see that movie. Everyone had to be seated personally, and we carried flashlights, and had special places to stand to greet the patrons. Then we had to stay inside the theater to watch for smokers. We saw the movies so many times, we made up trivia quizzes about them.
As much as Mr. Perlmutter taught us all about good service, and was good to us and fair, he had a lot of shady things going on. Years later, I found out he had people on the payroll that didn't exist. That was his gambling money. When the party planners called to ask how many cases of champagne were needed for the premiere parties, he added 10 to the count, and those went into the trunk of his car.
We all had a fondness for the theater and the history and lore. Besides showing movies, it was an old vaudeville house. There would be variety acts before the movies.
Howard Hughes once owned the theater and his office upstairs.
The Academy Awards were held there for the decade of the 1950's.
Miss Rupp was one of the assistant managers. She was probably in her late 60's at the time, and was a very prim and proper catholic lady. The story was, that she was jilted by one of the Pantages brothers, he married someone else, and she ended up being the family babysitter. She went with the theater. Whoever bought the theater had to have a job for Miss Rupp. She would ask to see people's tickets and direct them to the proper door. She was always on everyone about every little thing, and to not comply was grounds for immediate dismissal!
The uniforms we wore were old fashioned, but I loved them. A maroon top, with gold braid, and a zipper up the front. Big shoulder pads, and a cinched in waist, with a peblem bottom, and a black straight skirt that we rolled up to mini length. Men wore maroon blazers and black pants. Later, we got more modern uniforms, space-agey gold lame A- line mini-dresses with blue princess piping down the front.
We used to love to explore the theater. There were at least a dozen dressing rooms under the stage, and all kinds of balconies, and nooks and crannies that hadn't been used in decades. Once I found an old trunk backstage from one of the vaudeville actresses, and wore some of the 30's clothes from it.
We climbed up into the chandelier.
The projectionist, looked exactly like you would expect an old timey projectionist to look. We would go into the projection booth on our breaks and watch him change the reels. There was an older black lady, Pearl, who cleaned the ladies lounge, and kept the beveled, art deco wall of mirrors sparkling.
Because we were mostly Thespians, it was inevitable that someone would say, "Hey, Kids, let's put on a show!" We did a production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown". I was Peppermint Patty. Then, in the tradition of the theater's past, we did a vaudeville show. These were actually pretty good productions, but it was not for the public. Some legal technicality, so we invited family and friends.
For some reason, after a couple of years, the movies being booked there, got cheesier, and cheesier. And no more premieres. "Hell's Angel's 69". "Helga" with a live birth! "Three in the Attic", and "Spirits of the Dead". I left soon after that, it ws so sad to see the demise of the crown jewel of the Hollywood movie palaces.
Several years later, the Nederlander company bought and started bringing the big Broadway musicals there.
Flash foward 35 years, after running into a few people from the old Pantages days, we decided to have a reunion. We found as many people as we could, and we all went to see "The Producers" at the newly restored theater, and the manager gave us a tour of the theater. We had a party at a nearby restaurant. We all told stories about how much those days meant to us, what we learned there, and all the fun we had. For many, it was our first job, and for others it meant more to them than their college days. I found out I was not the only person who still carried fond feelings for "The Pan".


  1. Hi! I was wondering if you had and were willing to share a larger version of this photo...I'm a portrait artist, and a client wants me to create a painting of him and his fiance standing in the lobby of this theater. Thanks! Kelly

  2. What a great read. Thank you Terry. My first job was modeling at the Broadway at Hollywood & Vine. I worked for Catalina Swimsuits at the time. Pretty heady stuff for young girls like us!

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