Thursday, August 03, 2006

stories

Without our steady patrons the Biograph would not have happened for long. Amazingly, it lasted 15 years in a town without pity, movie-wise.

In truth, it wouldn't have lasted at all without a loyal cadre of regulars, who were in the place all the time. No such regular was more appreciated for her support than Donna Parker, the blonde in the Christmas card to the right.

For people who go to movies frequently, theaters can be temples, or hideouts, or merely diversions. As businesses, in most situations they rarely seem stable for long. There's always the next crisis. For a repertory cinema the edge was keener.

The Biograph's regulars felt our mood swings, the ups and downs. They knew it was always just hanging by a thread. Then, one day, it wasn't.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

staff: Kimberly Pickle

In 1978 Kimberly Pickle (now Tucker), with her bright smile, was hired during an especially busy summer. Occasionally, due to behind-the-scene business -- feuds between distributors and exhibitors -- the Biograph would get to play first run pictures with considerable commercial potential, so the staff had to expand to deal with the large crowds.

Ordinarily, the independent Biograph was shut out of the running for such product. However, in 1974 the Biograph benefited thusly from a spat between the dominant local theater chain, Neighborhood Theatres, and Paramount. Chinatown and The Conversation, among other titles, opened there as a result.

In 1978 it was United Artists and Neighborhood who were fighting. So, among others, the Biograph got the chance to premiere a Pink Panther picture (I forget which one) and a Burt Reynolds football flick, Semi Tough. As a bonus Kim served from time to time as a part-time cashier through 1982.
(Photo Credit: F. T. Rea)

Friday, July 28, 2006

softball origins

On Saturday, May 6, 2006 another Kentucky Derby Day softball reunion was held. Anyone who ever played on the now defunct team was welcome, plus their families, friends, etc.

Chiefly, the annual get-togethers were set in motion by the initiative of the original Swordfish team’s third baseman, Ernie Brooks, who had left Richmond to resume his graduate studies at Virginia Tech. Brooks corralled enough former players (Swordfish), who had also left the team, to challenge what was then the current Biograph team (then called the Naturals).

Serendipitously, that first reunion/old timers game was played on the first Saturday of May, earlier in the afternoon in which the 1980 Kentucky Derby would be run. (We went to The Track to watch the horse race.) Thus, a tradition was set and it’s been Derby Day ever since. At this time the Biograph Theatre’s softball team was one of the cars, maybe the clown car, attached to the runaway train known as the Fan District Softball League (1975-94).

At this year's reunion a few innings of softball were played in splendid weather without anyone hobbling off the field, or worse -- being carried off. A fine picnic spread was laid out and consumed. Cold beer flowed as the same stories were stretched, again. The horse race was watched on a little battery-powered TV.

Several of the guys at this year’s gathering were teammates of mine in 1976, when I was the manager of the Biograph, a repertory cinema that was located at 814 West Grace Street. It was the first summer of Biograph softball. We called ourselves the Swordfish, after a joke in a Marx Brothers movie. That year we played a schedule that was not set; we challenged other teams, which played in organized leagues (mostly Fan League teams), to play us for a keg of beer.

The Biograph Swordfish won 15 games (that were scheduled and umpired) of the 17 we played that initial season. In spite of having few experienced softball players on a roster, which included two French guys (friends of one of the cinema’s cashiers) -- they had never seen a softball, or baseball -- we probably won half of them by coming from behind in late innings.

Typically, our opponents saw themselves as more experienced and athletically superior, which only made it more fun when they bumbled their way into handing us the victory.

It was uncanny. Every time, those supposedly better teams seemed to be willing to overplay their hands. Now, having played and observed a lot of organized softball, I know that first Swordfish squad was absolutely charmed. Moreover, it was the loosest and luckiest team I’ve ever been associated with, bar none.

The Swordfish's two losses were: the championship game of one of the two tournaments we entered, and the other was played inside the walls of the old state penitentiary.

Located at Belvidere and Spring Streets, the fortress prison loomed over the rocky falls of the James River for nearly 200 years (it was demolished in the early-1990s). As it happened the guy in charge of recreation at the pen frequented J. W. Rayle, a popular bar of the era, located at Pine and Cary. In that bar, during a conversation, he asked me if the Biograph team -- I played outfield and served as the coach -- would consider taking on the prison’s team on a Saturday afternoon.

As it turned out the first date he set up was cancelled, due to something about a small riot.

OK.

A couple of weeks later the Swordfish entered the Big House. To get into the prison yard we had to go through a process, which included a cursory search. As I recall, we had been told to bring nothing in our pockets. Thus, we had our softball equipment and that was it.

As we worked our way through the ancient passageways, sets of bars were unlocked and then locked behind us. Each of us got a stamp on our hands that could only be seen under a special light. Someone asked what would happen if the ink got wiped off, inadvertently, during the game. He was told that was not a good idea.

OK.

The game itself was like all softball games, in ways, and rather unusual in others. The fence in leftfield was the same high brick wall that ran along Belvidere Street. It was only about 225 to 240 feet from home plate. Yet, because of its height, maybe 30 feet, a lot of hard-hit balls caromed off of it. What would have been a routine fly ball on most fields was a home run there. It was a red brick version of Boston’s Green Monster.

The prison team, known as the Raiders, was quite good at launching softballs over that towering brick wall. They seemed to have an unlimited budget for softballs, too. Under the supervision of watchful guards hundreds of other prisoners, seated in stands, cheered for the home team to vanquish the visiting Swordfish.

During a conversation with a couple of my teammates behind the backstop, I referred to the home team as “the prisoners.” Our opponents’ coach stepped toward me. He, like his teammates, had on a typical softball uniform of that era -- it was a maroon and gray polyester affair, with “Raiders” printed across the chest and a number on the back.

In contrast, we just had identical blue hats with a “B” on them. About half of us wore one of two different Biograph T-shirts models.

“Call us the Raiders,” he advised, sternly, as he pointed to a mural on the prison wall that said “Home of the Raiders.”

I realized I’d made a faux pas, right away.

“While we are on the field, we’re not The Prisoners,” he said with conviction, “we’re the Raiders.”

“Raiders,” I said. “Right.”

“All our games are home games,” he deadpanned.

We all laughed, grateful the tension had been broken. He thanked us for being there, for agreeing to play them.

The Raiders won, in a high-scoring affair. Afterward, I was glad we’d met the Raiders. And, I was even more glad to leave that place.

Now, I’m so glad that prison is no longer there. Located in the middle of Richmond, it was a nightmare in so many ways.

It was all part of a sepia-toned softball season so long ago it seems like a dream now. The Biograph teams that followed never saw such raw success, again. Each year that passes, the original Swordfish that show up -- that can show up -- are more glad than ever to see one another on Derby Day.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

stories

The Handbill War: As the Biograph Theatre's manager, when I was busted in 1982 for posting a handbill that promoted a midnight show, it was a bust I deliberately provoked. I wanted to beat The City of Richmond in court. For an amusing account of an incident in that trial, which I won, click here.
By keeping ordinary things like handbills, cohabitation, gambling, and other "victimless" crimes illegal, it means just about anybody can be harassed by the long arm of the law. But it's the ones with the unfashionable attitudes that feel the boot first.
This pen and ink cartoon of mine above was created in 1983 and first published as a handbill posted on utility poles in the commercial sections of the Fan District. Later it ran in SLANT in 1986. The 'toon was part of a five-year campaign, led by yours truly, to fight off the city's anti-handbill laws. Laws that politicians and yard sale promoters routinely ignored, but bands and clubs were getting busted.

For a while the cops left hand-billers alone. Then the busts resumed in late-1984. In 1985, SLANT's first cause was to once again frame the battle with The City in a freedom-of-speech context, while insisting the pop scene depended on flyers being posted in such a way, on the people’s utility poles, to exist.

In 1986 an ad hoc group of Fan District artists and musicians formed to pepper The City with a propaganda campaign. In 1987 the local statutes governing handbill-posting in the public way were changed. Essentially, we won. Freedom of speech prevailed.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Cat People

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, founded in 1929, stopped making movies in 1953 and eventually sold its lot and production facilities to television’s Desilu Productions.
Twenty-four summers ago I booked a festival of 24 titles to play at the Biograph, all from RKO, which still operated then as a distributor of its original library.

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).

One feature, “Cat People” -- which was later remade as a vehicle to present a young Nastassja Kinski’s lithe form in all its glory -- was a low-budget black-and-white thriller. Unlike the remake, the original was a lean and subtle production that left much to the viewer’s imagination. Still, any film of that genre can be disturbing to a sensitive viewer.

For some reason “Cat People” got under one such viewer’s skin. He was a solitary man who walked around the VCU neighborhood during the day. He stayed in some sort of subsidized group home at night. Night or day, he was always medicated to the hilt. At the theater we used to let him in free. Then, of course, he would complain about everything. We laughed about him, and imitated him, when he wasn’t there. But we treated him with respect when he was, always at matinees.

Anyway, the movie scared him. “Are there really any cat people?” he would ask, in his distinctive, almost cartoon way of speaking.

“No,” he would be assured. Then a few minutes later he would ask again, his hands would flex and twitch, his eyes would wander. Same answer. Then he’d take his free popcorn and go into the dark auditorium to watch the movie for a while.

Well, I saw him recently. He’s totally gray now, he must be at least in his mid-60s. He still walks around the neighborhood, with his strange gait. There are no movie theaters in the Fan District now. When I created the image above -- of a cat named Zeke in a coat and tie -- for a calendar in 1996, I thought of that same man, and smiled. I bet he still remembers that movie.

Yes, sometimes, there are cat people. But they aren’t all mean. Some of them just look at you, like they know something you don’t know.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

stories

“Chasing Dignity,” published today by STYLE Weekly, is the newest episode of a series of true stories to be called “Firsthand Stories.” This particular yarn is set in 1978. The ultimate Midnight Show of all-time, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," was playing to a packed house when a street fight broke out on Grace Street:

“...It wasn’t long after that night I found myself poring over an essay by F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘Echoes of the Jazz Age.' ...During that rereading, it occurred to me the shattering glass door had been the sound of the hippie era ending for me. Yes, we baby boomers were about to see that our sweetest day in the sun, with its causes and rock ’n’ roll anthems, had been another dollop of time, a period with its look and sound, not unlike others. In some ways, the Roaring ’20s redux."

Monday, May 15, 2006

stories

Here's a flashback to 1990 that includes some Biograph history, as well as softball nostalgia:

REA GIVES BIZARRE EDGE TO
BLAB'S 'MONDO SOFTBALL'
Publication: Richmond News Leader
Date: 07-05-1990
Byline: Paul Woody

Years ago when Terry Rea was manager of the now defunct Biograph Theatre, he organized a softball team for the Fan League. But this wasn't just any team. This team had two illegal French aliens.

"One spoke no English at all," Rea said. "Neither had ever seen a baseball game. But they went out to a yard sale, found some funky `50s uniforms and they were a laugh riot."

The Biograph team also had a life-size, cardboard figure of Mr. Natural, a comic-book character created by R. Crumb of Zap Comics. Rea and his teammates took Mr. Natural to every game. They would carry him onto the field and chant to him.

"Some thought it was funny," Rea said. "Some thought we were mocking them. Some thought we were mocking the game."

All Rea was trying to do was enjoy a little softball and make the team and the league, "a rolling comedy show," he said. "I'm not sure everybody on the team was 100 percent behind me on that."

Rea began playing softball in 1976, but now, at the age of 42, he's in semi-retirement.

"I try in the offseason to lower my expectations, but I'm losing my game faster than I can lower my expectations," Rea said. "That drives everyone out of the game except the most fanatic."

Rea, however, is hardly done with softball. In fact, he may be contributing more to the game than he ever did as a player. Rea, a freelance graphic artist by trade, is the originator, host and creative force behind "Mondo Softball," a weekly, one-hour talk and call-in show seen Tuesday nights at 9 o'clock on BLAB-TV (Continental Ch. 7, Storer Ch. 8).

Mondo is Italian for "world." Rea took it from the drive-in movies of his youth that were all the rage.

"There were a bunch of `Mondo' films," Rea said. "Then, you started to see it thrown in front of almost anything to give it a bizarre connotation. People just know it has some sort of bizarre edge to it.

"And, of course, I'm using that."

Rea isn't the host of "Mondo Softball."

The host is Mutt deVille, a man of mysterious origin who always wears a baseball cap, sunglasses and softball jersey. Mutt deVille is Rea's alter ego. Mutt deVille was created by Rea as a pen name for the sports writer in Slant, the twice-monthly newsletter of commentary that Rea publishes, writes and edits.

DeVille initially existed to give some diversity to the pages of Slant, "and to create the illusion there was a staff of writers," Rea said. But the more Rea wrote as deVille, the more he liked it.

"My name, and my approach to things, like anyone who stays in his hometown long enough, carries a certain amount of baggage with it," Rea said. "I could move more freely as Mutt deVille.

"When I decided to do a show and it was a sports show, it seemed like a good idea to use Mutt. That led to the idea that Mutt should become a character and the time I was on camera should be a performance. Mutt is a device to make me feel at ease on stage."

"Mondo Softball" is not like any other show you'll see on BLAB. It's a one-hour play, softball as kitsch. It's part news -- standings, results and tournament highlights provided by Paul Joyce, the `field' reporter and a veteran local player -- part conversation with a guest, questions from callers and wisecracks, subtle humor and outright gags whenever possible. It's clever, and it's as entertaining as a show on recreational softball can be.

Rea said he has borrowed from shows he's seen. From the "Tonight Show," Rea took the idea that Johnny Carson is at his best and funniest when things go wrong.

"Part of live TV is that there are a lot of glitches," Rea said. "I've tried to incorporate the production values of an old `50s sci-fi movie and try to go with whatever goes wrong."

Each week, there is a great uproar over the magic word. If a caller says the word, he or she receives a $20 gift certificate from a local restaurant. The magic word is straight out of "You Bet Your Life" with the late Groucho Marx. In that show, it was called the secret word.

"If you're going to steal, steal from the best," Rea said.

Part of the attraction of "Mondo Softball" is that you can never be sure what will happen next.

"I think some people watch shows on BLAB just to see if the set will fall over," Rea said.

Rea brings a unique element of surprise to the screen. He isn't afraid to take a chance or play a little joke. When he was manager of the Biograph, a repertory theatre located near Virginia Commonwealth University, Rea once offered free admission to "The Devil and Miss Jones."

The line for the show, which most believed to be a well-known X-rated movie, stretched around the 800 block of West Grace Street. But the X-rated movie was "The Devil in Miss Jones." "The Devil and Miss Jones" was a 1941 comedy.

"Most people thought it was funny," Rea said. "But you always have some who get mad about something like that."

"Mondo Softball" has something of the same problem. Hard-core softball players don't always appreciate Rea's attempts at humor.

"I've heard some don't like Mutt's approach," Rea said. "But that's the reason Paul is there. Overall, though, the reaction I get is that they (the hardcore players) like Mutt."

BLAB-TV likes Mutt so much that another show already is in the works. "Mondo Pops," covering everything from sports to who knows what will premier this fall. It should be an interesting experience. Who knows, maybe even Mr. Natural will make an appearance.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

softball

The 2006 Derby Day reunion party was well attended and it ran smoothly. Kudos to the weather committee. I'll write more about it later, to update this post. Here's a sample of how today's well spent afternoon looked through my lens.
The photograph below of this year's group on the slope overlooking the picnic and ballfield is from Ernie Brooks.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

stories

The first reunion party of any kind at the Biograph happened on the occasion of the theater's third anniversary. We showed a few films, drank some beer, and so forth. Here are a some shots from that afternoon's get-together in the theater on Feb. 11, 1975.

softball

With the 27th annual Biograph softball reunion a week away (May 6th), from Ernie Brooks here are four softball-related group pictures:
The shot above was taken in my living room at 2321 Floyd Ave. after a postseason keg game with WGOE's team, the Gonads, in 1978. Yes, of course that's a jock strap on the head of the guy to the left of Jack. Can you tell who that is? Hint: He's a Lakers fan, at least he is when he needs to be.
The horse race fans above were in the then-new Track Restaurant on Cary St., watching the 1980 Kentucky Derby following the first Biograph reunion softball game, which was played at Thomas Jefferson H.S. A print of this same shot hung on the wall behind the bar in the Track for years afterward.
The black and white photo above is from the 1989 Derby Day party at Chandler Ballfield. Has anybody gotten in touch with Angie (in the middle) about this year's party?

All four of the men pictured above at this mid-90s Derby Day reunion at Pine Camp were assistant managers at the theater during Terry Rea's stint as manager, 1972-83. Left-to-right they are: Bernie Hall, who was one of the two original ushers, was assistant manager from 1973-76; Trent Nicholas, who had also been an usher, followed Bernie from 1976-78; Chuck Wrenn was the first assistant manager from 1972-73 and served as a pinch-hitter a few times afterwards; Mike Jones followed Trent from 1978-83. Mike then served as manager from 1983-87.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

still crazy after all...

Looking good: In beautiful early-spring weather comely Judy Faircloth and dashing Larry Rohr, as they were, under their stylish hats, at Moument Avenue's 2006 Easter Parade.

Hopping onto the Wayback Machine, below is yet another shot of Larry, looking almost as happy and a little less gray. Also in the picture are Billy Snead, Whitey Berndt and a four-year-old Leo Rohr. By his expression, I'm not sure if Leo was happy to be there, or looking for the first possible ride home. It was shot at the Fan District Softball League's 1985 All-Star Game/Picnic.
Photos: SLANT

Friday, April 14, 2006

softball

It's 22 days until the next Biograph softball reunion on May 6th. The photographs in this post offer five reasons for attending this year's party:

1. For the record.

The photo to the left, shot by Jack Colan in 1989 at Chandler shows Larry Rohr keeping track of matters. Yes, Larry is still keeping track of who shows up and who doesn't.

2. For the laughs.

The second shot, also by Jack in the same year, shows the unique pitching form of Dusty Thorn. Dusty may have gotten a bit grayer since then -- who hasn't? -- but he still has that chock-full-of-finesse pitching delivery and it's always good for a laugh to see him on the mound. Perhaps only Hank Brown, Thorn's longtime apprentice, has a daintier pitching form. Some of the guys look pretty weird running, too.

3. For the camaraderie.

The group picture below, by Dutch Perlstein in 1999 at Pine Camp, depicts the sort of classic Fan District Softball League camaraderie that can easily be found at every reunion gathering. From left to right they are: Chuck, Ernie, Saz, Martha, Terry, Stu and Jack. You'll think you're still at Chandler Ballfield, but probably glad you're not.
4. For the weather, as shown in the scene below, which was shot by Kim Pickle (now Tucker), in 1980 at a season-ending keg party for the Naturals. The gathering was at (and in the courtyard behind) the Franklin Street carriage house I inherited from Chuck Wrenn, in which I lived in that one summer.
5. For the good luck it brings when you get in the group photo, as the 1984 shot at Clark Springs below. The luck lasts for pieces of the year that follows (the photographer is unknown).

Saturday, March 18, 2006

handbill

The handbill above is one I did for a fundraiser in Sept. 1972. (R. Crumb's trucking man style was deliberately imitated in the McGovern caricature trying to appeal to hippies.) The other movie theater operators in town and lots of other know-it-alls told me I was crazy to take sides in politics by sponsoring a McGovern benefit. That was still in our first year of operation. Soon they learned the Biograph was going to be something different from business as usual in Richmond.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

BuTTercuP

A notice about an upcoming fundraiser for a worthy cause has come in from a locally-based band called BuTTercuP: In the photo above they are (left to right) Cassandra Cossitt, Octavia Carpin and David Stover. Both Cassandra and David were members of the theater's staff in the early-1980s.

The band's harbinger of spring reads:

We have the coolest gig ever! You are cordially invited to the first annual Tricycle Gardens Fundraiser on Saturday, March 11, 2006, to be held at "The Expansion Joint", 211 West Seventh St. (near Legend Brewery).

Tricycle Gardens is a non profit community garden located in Church Hill. Their goal is to help create a better Richmond through community gardening. They are also striving to create educational programs, such as seed starting workshops and working with youth in the community.

Tickets for the dinner portion of the evening (7 p.m. - 9 p.m.) with Buttercup for desert, are $40 each or $75 a couple. This includes a fabulous buffet dinner, wine and champagne, and a silent auction with great donations from local artists, restaurants, and local businesses. Buttercup will be raising the roof from 9 p.m. on. Once again we are honored to be joined by several extra-special guest artists!

"Music-only guests" may come at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 and will be available at the door. For more info and to reserve your dinner please contact Lisa @ (804) 683-7968. Hope to see you there!

staff: Rebus

Although Rebus was surprised to be called up from the cartoon reserves to serve in the Cartoon War, he's flattered that anyone remembered him. The panel above shows him reacting to the startling notice for him to return to active duty.

Rebus is best known for his role as the theater's official spokesdog. Drawn by yours truly he made his initial appearance on a midnight show handbill in our first year of operation (1972). His name Rebus came a few weeks later. It started as Uncle Rebus, then the Uncle was quickly dropped, when he reappeared in a single panel that I drew for my own amusement. It was titled: "Have a Good Time," which had become the Biograph's motto.

A month-or-so later, that single panel has grown into a nine-panel comic strip. It was subsequently published by VCU's student newspaper, The Commonwealth Times, which morphed into an all-comics tabloid called "Fan Free Funnies" for three issues in the spring of 1973.

What is a rebus?

It’s a word puzzle. The viewer sees a line drawing of an eye, then a plus sign, then the letter “c”, then another plus sign, then the letter “u.” Decoded that means “I see you.” Such little puzzles, usually somewhat more complicated, were common in publications aimed at children in the 1940s and '50s. The original Rebus comic strips all had little rebus puzzles in them, somewhere.

In the 1970s a circle of area artists was into drawing cartoons, making short animated films and even making large cartoon paintings. Inspired by “underground comix,” there was a scene, of sorts, in the Fan District then which revolved around cartooning. In some ways it was a precursor of the illustrated fiction wave that began to be noticed about ten years later. Anyway, in such a make-believe world, Rebus was a minor celebrity ‘toon, perhaps along the lines of local pitchman who appears on TV frequently selling sofas, promoting community events, etc.

Rebus continued to pop up on Biograph handbills and programs all during my tenure as the Biograph’s manager. He also was happy to help out with other projects, such as my 1980s Rock ‘n’ Roll promotions with Chuck Wrenn; we called our partnership Lit Fuse Productions.

Later, to make my then-girlfriend laugh -- she said Rebus was a chump -- I did a black humor series of small paintings called "Documenting the Death of Rebus." In each piece he was being killed off in a different way. Then she moved out.

Undaunted, Rebus made a rousing comeback in a series of 'toons published in SLANT (1985-94), doing some of his best work. As well, he has appeared on various posters, calendars and T-shirts. etc., I've produced over the years since.

Rebus rules!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

stories: postmortem anniversaries

A few Biograph Theatre anniversaries have been celebrated since it closed in December 1987. The ones I know about were parties I organized/hosted. In 1989 I had a part-time gig as a bartender at The Attic in Northside, so it went down there. This one happened by word-of-mouth. We showed some videos and looked at old photos.

In 1992, for the 20th, I booked two acts, lined up a room -- Twisters (it was the Back Door in the 1970s, now it's Nanci Raygun), promoted the event and even made up some T-shirts. We had the Useless Playboys as the headliner; Rebby Sharp did an opening set. I remember the late Carole Kass (perhaps the best friend the Biograph ever had) was there. The reunion aspect of it was nice.

For the 30th, in 2002, working with the Richmond Moving Image Coop, we showed several films and presented three bands at Poe's Pub. Colleen Curran at Richmond.com wrote a piece about the occasion. That party -- featuring Page Wilson with Reckless Abandon; Burnt Taters (now The Taters); Used Carlotta -- packed the house and raised a little money for RMIC. A good time was had by all, as far as I could tell.

What next?

Friday, February 10, 2006

stories

The staff art show that hung during the Biograph's second anniversary party on Feb. 11, 1974 -- which featured the well-attended "The Devil and/in Miss Jones" prank -- included various works by several then-current employees and some former staff members, too. Most of those who worked there in the early days were artists of one stripe or another. This piece, by yours truly, was made to hang in the space of the lobby’s gallery that usually featured the artists' statements.

I also had a couple of pieces in the show. One of them sold and that was fun. Another piece was stolen. That was a bummer and a weird kind of violation.

Although most of the art shows that hung in the gallery displayed the work of local/VCU-connected artists, that was not always the case. In the first three or four years, when the walls of the lobby regularly featured shows that changed every couple of months, or so, occasionally art by then-renown artists, usually printmakers, was on display. Among them were Ernest Trova, Robert Indiana and sculptor George Segal.
From Ernest Trova's Falling Man series

In the summer of 1978, the same time as the Rocky Horror Picture Show began its five-year run at midnight, we had a show up that was memorable for an odd reason. It was a group of silkscreen prints and paintings by Barry Fitzgerald, who drove a cab and sometimes played keyboard in a popular local band, Single Bullet Theory.

Fitzgerald’s work had a pop art, reaction-to-advertising look. His droll sense of humor showed in a series of a half-dozen similar paintings. Each had a large line drawing in black against a background of a flat field of a single color. The renderings were done in the sparse style of a government pamphlet. Each had the same girl, Lois, coughing as she faced the viewer. Each had a caption written across the bottom of the colored panel which explained that Lois was choking on something. I think Barry was asking about $100 apiece for them.

Let’s say the first one was blue. It might have said, “Lois chokes on a gumdrop.” I think one of them did say that. The next one could have been yellow, it would have said something like, “Lois chokes on a pocket watch,” and so forth. The only other caption I remember had Lois choking on an Egg McMuffin; that one I’m sure of.

One day a man claiming to be a lawyer called me to say I had to take the Egg McMuffin piece down, pronto. He told me he was a local guy, who’d been talking that day with an attorney for the McDonalds fast food empire. He asserted that if I didn’t take it down McDonalds was going to lay some legal action on the artist, the Biograph and me.

For my part, I said something like, “What!”

The caller explained that it wasn’t a matter of Fitzgerald saying anything against McDonalds’s signature breakfast sandwich, which was fairly new then. No. The problem was that McDonalds wanted to protect the use of the words “Egg McMuffin.” They didn’t want it to become a generic term for a sandwich made by anyone using the same ingredients, etc.

Then I must have said something like, “What!”

Anyway, the threat finished with how I better do what the caller said, because all the law was on McDonalds’ side.

Well, I called a friend who is a lawyer to ask him what he thought. He said I ought to buy the painting. Then I told Fitzgerald what had happened. He loved it. We decided to leave it up.

So, what happened? Never heard from the wannabe McDonalds lawyer again. For a long time I've wished I had bought the painting.

articles

There was a time when February 11 meant a party was brewing, maybe a few surprises, too, on West Grace Street. Tomorrow is the 34th anniversary of the opening of the Biograph. Accordingly, here's an excerpt of "Thanks Aimee," written for Richmond.com in 2000:

"...Times had changed and the theater could no longer pay its way. But in that little independent cinema's heyday, Feb. 11 meant something to those familiar with the nightlife in the VCU area. The Biograph's second anniversary was the party that established the occasion of the theater's birthday as a date to mark on the calendar. That was the year of The Devil Prank."



Friday, February 03, 2006

softball

Here's the handbill for the 1984 Fan District Softball League's All-Star Game/Picnic. It was the first year we had amplified music.

From this year's event through 1988's, this annual mid-summer party consistently drew between 250 and 300 people to the Columbian Center, in the Westend a long way from the Fan. One year, the temperature was at a blistering 99 degrees all day and the thirsty group went through 21 kegs of beer in the afternoon.

The beer truck driver was amazed. Do the math.

Image by F.T. Rea