Monday, August 29, 2005

staff: Tom Campagnoli

Tom Campagnoli (1975)
Photo credit: F. T. Rea

Of all that reported to work at the yellow cinderblock cinema, who had the key to the front door of the funhouse the longest? It was Tom Campagnoli, who came aboard as an usher in 1973. With shore leaves in Europe, and other ports of call, Campagnoli stayed on through more sea changes than anyone else and went down with the theater's ship in 1987.

Campagnoli had 13 Biograph years-plus and actually wore more hats than anyone else over the long haul -- he was an usher, a janitor, a projectionist, an occasional substitute cashier or sandwich-board-carrier, and lastly a manager. When Tom wasn't busy with all that he published comic books and fronted a band, too.

The original manager, Terry Rea, was the Biograph's skipper from late-1971 through mid-1983. Tom's partner at the end of the Biograph's run, Mike Jones (see post and link to article below), was there from 1976 through 1987, again with a little time off for European adventures. The only other employee close to those three was the original projectionist the late Howard Powers, who labored and caught cat naps in the booth about 10 years.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


(Photo Credit: Tom Campagnoli)

Director John Waters’ Polyester opened for its first run in Richmond at the Biograph in November of 1981. Waters also had a new book, Shock Value, out at the time. So the offbeat Baltimore filmmaker/author made his way to the Fan District to sit for interviews by the media and to sign books for the public at a little wine and cheese party in the theater’s lobby before the first screening of Polyester, which featured a gimmick -- cards with 10 different smells on them to be scratched-and-sniffed at certain times during the playing of the movie -- called “Odorama.”

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

films: repertory festivals

In its day RKO was known for its ability to produce well-crafted, sometimes artsy or offbeat features using a smaller budget than the other so-called major studios. Nonetheless, it was almost always in trouble, financially. RKO stopped making movies in 1953 and eventually sold its lot and production facilities to television's Desilu Productions.

In July and August of 1982 program No. 60 played out in Theatre No. 1, the larger of the two auditoriums. It was an unusual program in that all 24 of the features were from one company, RKO, which still operated as a distributor.

The 12 double features in this festival were: Top Hat (1935) and Damsel in Distress (1936); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) and The Informer (1935); King Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949); Suspicion (1941) and The Live By Night (1948); Sylvia Scarlett (1936) and Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948); Murder My Sweet (1945) and Macao (1952); The Mexican Spitfire (1939) and Room Service (1938); Journey Into Fear (1942) and This Land Is Mine (1943); The Thing (1951) and Cat People (1942); The Boy With Green Hair (1948) and Woman on the Beach (1947); Citizen Kane (1941) and Fort Apache (1948); The Curse of the Cat People (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945).

Thursday, August 04, 2005

stories: A Flashback

Working in show bidness can be tough duty. Ask anybody who knows. It’s not all laughs.

For instance, one evening a couple of traveling porn queens came by the theater. Naturally, they asked for the manager. So I was fetched from my santuary office to talk with Annie Sprinkle and another woman (the one in the photo) who claimed she was from Richmond (Hermitage High). Sometimes, the X-rated touring performers from the live shows at the Lee Art Theater in the next block of Grace stopped by, so I figured that was the deal. Like, maybe they were film buffs who wanted free passes?

They had a limo parked in front of the theater. Their driver was a dwarf. No joke. After what sounded to me like a lot of cocaine-driven nonsense about a glossy magazine spread, and how they'd been to other local landmarks, Annie asked me to pose in front of the theater with the other lady.

Those were simpler times. Why not?

As Annie told me to stand a little closer, what’s-her-name? -- I think it might have been Honey -- gave me a hug and flashed what I quickly suspected to be her left breast. My reaction was honest, spontaneous. The duo had what they wanted, so they giggled and piled back into the limo. My co-workers couldn't stop laughing, as they had seen the whole thing through the cinemascopic front windows.

Later the silly picture showed up in Partner, a forgettable low-rent rag . The feature displayed other shots of Honey in similar flash modes in front of various familiar local backdrops.

To change the subject, the very next year Grace Street was changed from a west-only one-way street to two-way. The change was probably toughest on the winos, but it wasn't easy on anybody. That neighborhood hasn't been the same since. And, good night Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are..."