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Uncle Mann

Living in Hollywood with a single mom who was trying to support herself and her three kids was hard; especially with all of the kids in school and a mother that was, by necessity, not home much of the time.  Lucky for us, and due to our close residential proximity to Hollywood Boulevard, Uncle Mann really came in handy.  Uncle Mann must have been a rich guy, after all he owned the 2 biggest, coolest theaters on the Boulevard.  I assumed he must have owned all the rest too, the ones we passed daily walking back and forth to school.

My sister worked for him; so you could say that’s how we got in good.  We spent hours on end, sometimes in a single day, fixated while Uncle Mann regaled us with Historical Dramas and Science fiction and Fantasy.

My mom certainly trusted him because she would let us hang out with him even when he was violent and scary; in fact, she even seemed to encourage it!

For our Mom would let us attend any movie that we wouldn’t run screaming and crying out of.

Mann’s Chinese and Egyptian Theaters were the real gems on a string stretching from Bronson to just past Highland.  The closest theater to our building and probably my favorite was the Pacific theater.  Not only did it have a labyrinth-like interior that amazed me with its exits and entrances here and there (they always seemed to be in a slightly different place with each visit), it also had 3 screens and each one was as nice as the last.  It also had a big street level parking lot out back that I spent a lot of time roller-skating in.

That lot was always empty before first showing at around 11:30, and before that time I ruled it as my little disco fiefdom.  I’d skate to exhaustion and then wait for the Big Weenie (Big Weenies were indeed better) to open up across Wilcox Street so I could grab a chilidog and some fries and decamp back to The Lido.

Lobby of Pacific Theater

But it was the interior of the Pacific that was special.  I couldn’t believe that the outside, which presented a giant Soviet-looking box to the world had an interior that was so interesting and complicated.  I would pass in and out of view ascending and descending the staircases in the lobby leading to the main screen; behind thick Spanish Style columns.  The lobby was shaped like a cashew, dark but not too dark, and it always smelled old, but not stale, and to me that was good.  With loges and balconies (“can we sit up there mom please?!”), and brocade fabric everywhere there was always something to look at before the first cartoon came on before the previews.  The earlier I got there the better; I’d just sit there and wait, smiling.

On the roof of the theater sat two tall antenna towers, each emblazoned with the word “Pacific.”  They lit up at night and I always assumed they’d be able to transmit what was showing in the theater to some undisclosed location.  I used them as beacons during the day, that, when in sight, told me that after a long walk back from school I was almost home.

I felt like it was my personal theater.

My sis worked at Uncle Mann’s headquarters at Highland and Hollywood, The Chinese Theater. I loved it but I knew that everyone else loved it too and somehow that made me love it a little less.   There were always tourists there with cameras taking photos of the solidified foot and handprints of the stars.

Nobody messed with that stuff at The Pacific.

The Chinese, the ‘postcard’ theater

But this was the theater that we got to see “Private Benjamin” 4 times in a row, every day for three days straight.  We topped that with all the days showings (5) of “Popeye” while our mom worked a double, then we turned around the next day and did it all again (and always with unlimited popcorn).  I always felt special attending movies with my sister working the ticket counter there because I felt truly a part of Uncle Mann’s family.  And I knew that she invented nachos there, a little known fact and an accomplishment that I’m sorry to say she never got credit for.

In between marathon showings of “Love At First Bite” or “Xanadu” I’d sometimes stretch my legs out in the lobby and play a few games of Asteroids that unfortunately, I had to pay for (Uncle Mann had to get income from somewhere). Later, they moved a cool game in called Arkenow that was my sister’s favorite.

The inside of the Chinese 1 looked a lot like the Pacific theater but all the fabrics were red and there was Chinese writing everywhere.  Chinese 2 and 3 were standard small sized theaters that you could find in Anytown USA and I tried to avoid them at all costs.  On top of the main theater was what looked like a mansard roof through a funhouse mirror but was really what I soon understood to be a pagoda.

Exiting the main lobby to the outside there were two dragon/lion Chinese statues that always had chewed gum on them.  To the left was a glass case with a wax figurine of Marilyn Monroe circa 1955 and “The Seven Year Itch,” on loan from the Hollywood Wax Museum.  The eyes seemed to follow me and I tried not to look at it.  Fully exiting the theater, the overwhelming smell of popcorn was replaced by a new and equally overwhelming smell of melting wax.  For a buck fifty you could have your own stamped wax replica of the theater, made by what looked like a decades old Carny Device.  Though I sometimes felt I was being watched, I was glad the Monroe figurine (life size) and the Carny Contraption were many feet apart (for her safety).

But I had to admit it, I never got tired of looking at the footprints and superimposing my foot over them (were people THAT MUCH smaller just a few decades ago? Christ I’m only 13 years old!), even when invariably having to wait for someone trying to mash their foot inside Humphrey Bogart’s impression.

Every once in a while my sis would pull a shift over at the Egyptian, just down the street between McCadden and Las Palmas.  There were not many tourists here (it was before they fixed the place up), I thought it was cool because it was historical, and it was close to the Magic Shop I loved to browse through on weekends.

I saw one of my favorite movies here, Alien (for the Pacific it was The Amityville Horror and the Chinese, The Empire Strikes Back), and when I walked up though the hieroglyphic-ed courtyard, there stood the actual model of the crashed alien ship that was used in the movie.  This happened to be the first of many movies I saw when I lived in Hollywood and I already knew right then and there; as I lingered over the HR Giger model; that I loved this place because only here would they do stuff like that.  The interior of Egyptian 1 was kind of like the Pacific and the Chinese but everything was kind of beige (like Sahara Sand!) and there were hieroglyphics.   At least the Egyptian 2 and 3 didn’t have that phoned in quality found at Chinese 2 and 3.

Walking to and from school I had the pleasure (but occasional terror) of walking all the way down Hollywood Boulevard from Wilcox to Bronson and vice versa.  I took that route so I could look at the movie marquees I passed at the various theaters.  I paid special attention on Fridays, when the movies changed over.  So what if I had to occasionally step out of the way of a hooker or some other seedy dude early in the morning on a weekday?

Though this may have been in actuality the sleazy Hollywood of the 1980 movie “Foxes” I never saw it or the Boulevard that way.  I stepped around the overflowing trashcans and discarded beer bottles and gave a wide berth to the Cave theater that showed the X-Rated classics “Deep Throat” and “Devil In Mrs. Jones” for about 2 years running.  Kids at school thought it was weird that I walked all that way but it was only partly because I never had any bus money.  They also couldn’t believe I lived so close to “Hollyweird” Boulevard itself.     I’d alter my route in a minor way, just crisscrossing the street, to see new movie release posters.  And I never got sick of seeing the poster from a holdover showing if it was awesome, like the maggots coming out of the eyes of a zombie in “Zombie.”

I’d change my route altogether if there was something really good at the Cinerama.  I’d take my turn early (or late depending on the to and from) on Sunset and skip Hollywood Boulevard altogether.

Plop!

The Cinerama Dome was really a big golf ball stuck in some unfortunate giant golfer’s hazard, half buried and with all the dimples intact.  It only missed a giant “Rawlings” written on the side.  Located on Sunset between Vine and Cahuenga, this place had cool posters, like all the theaters did, but big outside art too, like for “Blue Lagoon” or “Saturn 3.” It sure was fun to go by there and look at all that.

I wasn’t sure if Uncle Mann owned this place because it was so different looking and it was not on Hollywood Blvd.  The interior looked like the set of an Elvis movie all the time, no matter what was playing.  The big screen was cool, the rest of the inside was ok, a little sparse for my tastes, but the outside was awesome.  The theater, because it was so much newer than those on Hollywood, made me think Sunset Boulevard itself was probably a newer street.

The distance separating these theaters, the Chinese, Egyptian, Pacific, the Hollywood, the Fox and the Vogue; even the Cinerama Dome was a mere few blocks.  One thing I always felt that set these string of theaters apart; indeed made them different from theaters anywhere else I can think of; is that when the movie ended anywhere else, you’d step outside and be back in Seattle or Tempe or wherever.  Here, you’d step outside to Hollywood Boulevard and feel like you were back in a movie again.

It’s true, you could walk outside and see some skuzzy rundown people and buildings but the cinemas themselves were little islands of air-conditioned safety, colorful, noisy surrogate babysitters for my siblings and I.  Uncle Mann had really served us well.

Many of the theaters changed quite a bit in the years after we all moved away.  The Hollywood Theater is now the Ripley’s Museum.  They redid the Egyptian altogether, rendering it, in my mind, a little sterile.  The Chinese Theater (the name is again Grauman’s Chinese, not Mann’s) is the same but they tore down the twins and rebuilt them up above the Kodak Theater.

Neglected Vogue Theater

The Cave is gone; another one or two theaters out towards LeConte aren’t theaters anymore (I think one is a tattoo parlor).

And my beloved Pacific Theater, though still standing, is in a state of neglect, the marquee blank, and the ‘Pacific’ on the antenna towers is now obscured.  I think it is being used for church services now, all that unnecessary but wonderful detail lost to several years’ worth of moviegoers.

Pacific exterior detail

Back then I always felt secure on the Boulevard.  Over the years I’ve had many dreams where I’m walking around in my neighborhood, whether it be Brooklyn or Greenwood, wherever I was then living.  But then I turn a corner.  It always becomes warm and sunny; it’s 1980 and it’s nice and smoggy out.  Everything’s the same as it was, I’m out on Hollywood Boulevard and I’m checking out the movie art, looking for a movie to see.

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