Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Willard’s Wretched Demise

It should come as no surprise to most film buffs that sometimes there was a dark side to the business of doing business after dark. While some saw the Biograph Theatre as a beacon in the night, for others it was a place to hide out from a sad reality. Like any business, sometimes things just went wrong.

A man died watching "F.I.S.T." (1978). The guy was in his early-30s; he breathed his last sitting in a seat in the small auditorium. The movie was bad, but not that bad. His face was expressionless, he just expired.

As the rescue squad guys were shooting jolts of electricity into his heart, and his body was flopping around like a fish out of water on Theater No. 2’s floor, down in Theater No. 1 "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was on the screen delighting its usual crowd of costumed screwballs.

There was a night someone fired five shots of high-powered ammo through one of the back exits into Theatre No. 1. Five bullets came through a back door's two quarter-inch steel plates to splinter seats. Amazingly, no one was hit. It happened just as the crowd was exiting the auditorium, about 11:30 p.m., and it seemed no one even caught on to what was happening.

Later the police were baffled, leaving us to speculate as to why it happened.

While it’s fun to brag about successful promotions, on the other hand, sometimes I bit off more than I could chew.

On October 22, 1982, “The Honeymoon Killers” (1969) opened as a midnight show. I had seen it somewhere and become convinced it would appeal to the same crowd that loved absurd comedies by Luis Buñuel and Robert Altman, and those trash culture aficionados who had adored previously popular midnight shows, such as “Eraserhead” (1977), or “Harold and Maude” (1971).

A droll murder spree movie in black and white, it turned out “The Honeymoon Killers” mostly appealed to me … when I was in a goofy mood. I saw it as a comedy. In its two-week-run, it nearly set the all-time record for worst attendance for a Biograph midnight show. The absolute worst? That little fiasco's story is best left for another time. 

Sometimes, with unpredictable situations, I just made the wrong call. Perhaps the worst of them was about another death in the Biograph.

Apparently some rat poisons make the victims crave water. Sometime in the mid-'70s, a popcorn-addicted rat we called Willard must have finally nibbled on some the exterminator’s poison; it died in the Coca-Cola machine's drain and totally clogged it up.

The situation called for a manager's quick decision to be made in the field. However, not knowing about the hidden rat corpse, and thinking I knew what to do, I poured a powerful drain clearing liquid -- we called it Tampax Dynamite -- into the problem. My experience told me that stuff could eat its way though any clog in a pipe.

Although the TD had previously done wonders in the theater's rest rooms, well, this wasn't one of my better decisions.

Before long before a foul-smelling brown liquid started bubbling in the drain and then backing up and into the lobby's carpet around the candy counter. There was no stopping its spread, as Willard’s revenge worked its way.

The wretched mess that ensued ran everybody out of there on a busy Saturday night -- the stench was unbearable. We had to close.


My forgiving bosses in Georgetown had a new carpet installed in the lobby right away; it was much nicer than the original had been.

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