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Naptown Nostagia: The Eastwood Theater took us to that galaxy far, far away

NOTE: This is a reprint of my article that appeared in the October 2011 edition of Indianapolis Senior Life. My thanks to Mr. Dave Battas for sharing his story of how he secured Star Wars for the Indianapolis market. We are forever grateful. 

Eastwood

This original artist rendering shows the Eastwood Theater as it was conceived in the late 1960’s as an 800-seat one screen auditorium. The movie house opened in September of 1968 with the comedy “Prudence and the Pill” followed by “Funny Girl”

The Eastwood Theater sat adjacent to the old Ayr-Way anchored shopping center along Pendleton Pike and was known for its curved-screen, free popcorn refills and having the best sound system in the city.

“I saw Tommy there,” said Robert Baker.

The Eastwood was owned by Y&W management Company which owned a number of indoor and outdoor theaters around Central Indiana and when they decided to open their new “road house’ theater on the east side, they asked Dave Battas to book the movies, manage and market the place.

“We opened the Eastwood on September 10, 1968 with Prudence and the Pill with Funny Girl following soon afterward,” he said.

The Eastwood offered their audiences reserved seating and advanced ticket sales of their limited engagement runs such as Paint Your Wagon and boasted uniformed usherettes who showed folks to their seats before the theater later segued to book traditional releases in the 1970’s.

Originally the theater had a flat screen but due to the number of films shot in Cinerama, a curved screen was installed in 1973 and never replaced. Battas booked several celebrity appearances at the Eastwood and took a lot of pride in the theater. After noticing a patron writing on the wall after a showing of Woodstock, Battas attached white paper to plywood boards and encouraged people to leave their mark as they left.

An old Fashioned "Grape Stomp" was organized in the Eastwood's lobby for "The Secret of Santa Vittoria" starring Anthony Quinn. Former Eastwood manager Dave Battas said he was always trying to find special events to tie-in with the pictures in order to draw crowds.

An old Fashioned “Grape Stomp” was organized in the Eastwood’s lobby for “The Secret of Santa Vittoria” starring Anthony Quinn. 

“There were a lot of names, dates, poems and peace symbols,” he said. “I hung those sheets all over the lobby.”

Though The Eastwood was known for a variety of movie offerings, the one that stands out for most movie goers is was the film Battas acquired in October of 1976. A 20th Century Fox representative asked Battas to consider a run of a new science fiction picture that was to be released the following summer. It was a tough sell. The film was made in England on a closed set. The principle actors were unknowns and the director was unproven.

“The working title is called Star Wars,” the representative said, promising Battas a selection of drive-in films if he took the little sci-fi odyssey, agreed to a $50,000 advance and installed a state-of-the-art Dolby sound system.

“We were the perfect theater for the picture because it was shot in 70mm and we had one of the few 70mm projectors in the area,” Battas said, explaining how he scored the exclusive run of a movie that went on to shatter box office records. “I didn’t even see the film until two days before it opened,” said Battas. “When I saw that opening sequence, I laughed because I knew it was going to be big.”

The film the Eastwood was notorious for was the initial run of "Star Wars" in 1977. This marquee shows that the movie was well-received enough to play at the Eastwood for a solid year.

The film the Eastwood was notorious for was the initial run of “Star Wars” in 1977. This marquee shows that the movie was well-received enough to play at the Eastwood for a solid year.

Star Wars proved to be bigger than big, filling the 800-seat theater to capacity at each of the five daily showings. Lines for the movie stretched into the parking lot and past a nearby Dairy Queen which also benefitted from the engagement.

“I guess people were buying ice cream like crazy while they waited,” he said. “To this day, it remains the movie for which the theater is best known.”

Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Eastwood became the place to see movies known for their special effects and sound quality such as Grease, Annie and Cocoon, but as multiplexes became more common it was harder for single screen movie houses to compete.

“When you are only showing one film for eight to 12 weeks, you can’t make a mistake in booking,” Battas said. “Multiplexes have an economic advantage.”

The theater eventually segued from movies to a live concert venue before closing altogether in the early 1990’s. Today only two walls of the facility remain as part of the Menards lumber yard but for those who first heard about a Pinball Wizard, learned that Grease was the word or caught sight of that galaxy far, far away, the memories of the Eastwood live on as a treasured piece of the city’s cinematic history.

 

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December Column Michiana House & Home: Don’t Miss The Big Picture

In case you haven’t noticed, there is something special in the air this month. It’s being featured in nearly every television commercial and newspaper advertisement. It’s the theme of a diverse line of festive clothing not to mention a wide range of toys, games, home décor and other seasonal merchandise. It has its roots in an ancient religious tradition, is represented by a merry band of beloved characters and is the kind of miraculous event retailers began celebrating in July. Now with only a few shorts weeks to go before the big day, the buzz has built to a fever pitch. If I were being honest, I would have to admit that I too am caught up in the excitement.

After all, it’s not every day that a new Star Wars movie comes out!

Star wars nativity

Why am I NOT surprised someone has actually done this?

Yes, on December 18, The Force Awakens will be released in theaters and while few people would compare it to the Christmas holiday, I can’t help seeing the similarities: It cannot live up to the hype, will never be as good as the original and is just not as much fun without little kids in the house to share it with. Nonetheless, we will buy our overpriced tickets, wait in long lines at the concession stands and sit through an ungodly amount of previews so that two hours later we can convince ourselves it was the best flick of the franchise. (Remember when we thought that about Episode I?)

Why do we do this? We spend months preparing for and placing unrealistic expectations on an event that is over in a day and cannot hope to be as perfect as we would like it to be. We tell ourselves it will all be worth it to see old friends like Han, Luke and Leia again, but no amount of screen time can make us forget the long years we had to endure Jar Jar Binks. In addition, the awesome threesome is not as young as they used to be, probably won’t get involved in a lot of the hijinks, and have yet to tell anyone how long they plan to stay. Personally, I will be bummed if they take off before the first dogfight.

Don’t get me wrong, it was nice of the Disney Company and Lucas Films to think of us this year and bring us this wonderful addition to our collection all wrapped in a giant holiday bow, but I worry many will fail to accept this gift as it was intended and at face value, because they are too busy comparing it to the movies we’ve received before. If there is one thing that the new Star Wars movie and the holidays have to teach us it’s that when we get too bogged down in the details, we miss the big picture. And if we miss the big picture, then we lose out on a significant chapter of what could turn out to be the Greatest Story Ever Told.

May the spirit of Christmas (and The Force) be with you, always.

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December Column Glo Magazine: Aren’t You a Little Old To Be a Disney Princess?

She is the 59-year-old wife of a former Corellian smuggler, the mother of three, a politician, revolutionary and trained warrior. Although she is a far cry from the doe-eyed ingénue I first saw in the summer of 1977, when she returns to the big screen this month after a 32-year hiatus, she will become my favorite “Disney” princess for all time. She is Leia Organa of Alderaan.

Now, before you purists out there start sending in the hate mail disputing whether or not Leia qualifies as a true Disney princess, let me ask you this: Has she ever gotten lost in the woods? Is she missing at least one parent and have strained relations with the other? Does she have an assortment of cute, comical sidekicks? Does she have a rogue boyfriend? Does she sport a trademark hairstyle? I rest my case. Let’s move on…

Leia           I was five-years-old when I “met” the adopted daughter of Bail and Breha Organa and believe me, it was love at first sight. I was among that first wave of kids who stood in line to see Star Wars at the local single-screen movie theater back when there was only one movie and before George Lucas redefinied numerical order as we knew it. Like a lot of little girls I had been raised on a steady diet of traditional fairy-tale princesses who sang to woodland creatures and cleaned house until their prince came to carry them away but Leia was a princess for a new generation. She had the bravery of Merida, the moxie of Mulan, the beauty of Belle and understood difficult hairstyles better than Rapunzel herself!

Leia may have been a damsel and she may have been in distress, but her reactions to peril are anything but conventional. She had no trouble talking back to authority. She could take charge of any situation. She knew how to wield a weapon when necessary and Lord help the scruffy-looking nerfherder who got in her way. She was an iconic character who was everything I wanted to be when I grew up: strong, courageous, independent and vital to the storyline. She was the epitome of a feminist role model long before I knew what the term even meant.

Leia2          I find it interesting that my mother introduced me to classic “house of mouse” royalty such as Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but it was my father who first took me to see Star Wars. My dad gave me a princess who didn’t need a ball gown or a great pair of shoes to make an impression on those around her, but possessed a spirit and spunk big enough to outshine any fashion statement including buns, braids and even a metal bikini. She may have been a princess in need of rescuing, but throughout the course of the original trilogy, she does a fair amount of rescuing herself. Not only does she blast her way into a garbage chute in order to escape certain death, she co-pilots the Millennium Falcon twice, rescues Han from carbon freeze, kills the creep who objectifies her, and still manages to take down her enemy after getting shot in the shoulder. What more could a little girl want?

Leia 3            How about a princess who knows how to age gracefully? That’s right folks, according to the latest trailer for Episode VII, it appears that the good people in charge of the Star Wars universe have decided not to give Leia a Disney makeover. Based on the footage I have seen it’s obvious that after 40 years, the clock is well past midnight, the glass slipper no longer fits and it’s OK to be a little older, a little wiser and yes, even a little grayer. While all of the other princesses have been restored, remastered or digitally enhanced so that they look as good as they did when they first arrived, Leia proves you don’t have to look as you did a “long time ago” even if you do live in a galaxy far, far away.

Although I initially struggled with the idea of Disney owning the rights to the Star Wars franchise and making new movies, I’ve made my peace with it. I am even OK with Leia taking her rightful place as a Disney princess. She is one of the most well-written female characters of all time and no doubt she paved the way for people like Hermonie Granger, Katniss Eberdeen and even Mia Thermopolis (The Princess Diaries.) She is a personality who stands the test of time and proves over and over that she is still a “force” to be reckoned with.

Welcome back, your highness. It’s good to see you again.

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March Glo Column: Perusing the Protection

Protection    As a general rule, I am not one to lurk about the family planning section of my local drug store and certainly not with my 18-year-old son in tow. However, when the pharmacy’s printer suddenly went on strike during a routine pick-up, we were directed to a small enclave of standby customers clustered around a wall of products all promising Ft. Knox level protection with a cornucopia of kinky bonuses.

I’m telling you; it was an eye opener.

“What do you suppose they mean by ‘Fire and Ice’ sensations?” I muttered as Boy Wonder groaned quietly beside me. “I’m serious. Is that like putting Icy Hot down there? Lord, I don’t like that feeling on my shoulder, let alone a private part.”

“Hey, did you see that nice blood pressure machine over there,” the prude interjected, trying to divert my attention. “Why don’t you go get your blood pressure checked?”

I ignored him and continued to peruse the merchandise. Once upon a time, before intimacy was a matter of life and death and safety became the industry byword, product options were limited to a red box and a blue box. Now, thanks in part to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a handful of other conditions and the cleverness of the good people at the Church & Dwight Corporation, there was a wealth of choices complete with a wide range of special effects. I’m not kidding. No matter what your deficiency, there is a product to compensate for it. Quite frankly, I don’t think that George Lucas had this many bells and whistles when he filmed the original Star Wars movie.

I discovered that depending on my mood, I could be pulsed, twisted, tickled, ribbed or, so help me God, “charged.” Electro shock therapy aside, there were boxes that boasted “extended action” (though exactly what is being extended remains a mystery to me), a “triple threat,” an assortment of fruity flavors, fun colors, two different sizes, several quantities and an ominous line of goods designed “For Her Pleasure.” I’m not exactly sure what is going on there, but I would love to tell the bozo behind that misnomer that there is not a woman alive who places the success or failure of her entire experience in a sliver of latex and unless that box also contains a bottle of champagne, a dozen roses and a massage, you clearly aren’t thinking about her at all.

The more I contemplated this area of retail, the more I realized that the industry leader remains a brand of products synonymous with a group of legendary losers. I am not sure who came up with that namesake or why millions of people seem to trust it but wasn’t a failed defense system the plot line of that tale? If I remember my mythology correctly, a group of warriors feeling rather cocky about their prowess went to sleep safe in the notion that their fortress was guarded against all unwanted invaders. However, when the opposing army penetrated their city walls sheathed in disguise, those goobers couldn’t protect themselves, let alone anyone else!

I pointed all of this out to my son and said that despite the distinctive helmets and a profile that looked great on the logo, perhaps naming something after those connected to one of the biggest security breeches in history may not have been the smartest marketing move in the world.

“Maybe not, but it’s obviously working for them,” he said. “Still, I see your point. It sure does seem like they backed the wrong horse.”

 

 

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Fabulous Fridays: Seven Special Memories of Walt Disney World

Last year, I did a FF post about my favorite experiences at Walt Disney World and I thought that I would do it again in commemoration of my latest sojourn to the Happiest Place on Earth. So here are the seven most magical moments of my trip:
Disney wedding       1. My Wedding: Getting married at the Grand Floridian Hotel (the last hotel that I stayed at with my mother) was a wonderful experience made even better by the presence of my oldest friend in the world, Robi. I often joke that I have only known my parents longer than I have known her and she is truly one of my BFFs because when you go through as much as we have been through together…it’s the kind of friendship that is birth to earth!
wedding 3        2. The Castle Photo shoot: For some brides, the pinnacle of the wedding day is the reception, the cake, or some other big splurge and I am no different. However my big splurge was a castle photo shoot. To my surprise and delight, we not only took photos at Cinderella’s castle, but also the fountain behind it, at the Be Our Guest Restaurant and in other areas of Fantasyland! (This entry is tied with my wedding reception which was held at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian and was attended by Cinderella and Prince Charming.)
It's a small world   3. Celebrating “It’s a Small World’s” 50th Anniversary: Yes, it’s a cheesy song and if you aren’t into little marionettes, it’s probably not the kind of ride for you, but it is historic and in my opinion, the kind of ride you have to go on…it’s a true Disney classic
Mickey Jedi   4. Jedi Mickey is a Doctor Who Fan: While at our “Fantasmic” dinner package that coincided with Star Wars Weekend, we spent a little time with the Mouse who not only started pantomiming the actions of a Weeping Angel, when he realized how much my youngest son looked like Tom Baker, I thought the poor rodent was going to come out of character! We campaigned hard to get a TARDIS in EPCOT (Mickey agreed with us, by the way) and Mickey even asked us (in his own non-verbal way) where a certain “scarf” was. He also indicated that he thought bow ties were cool….now, some may say I am crazy, but in looking at the photos, I can’t help noticing that Mickey’s smile grew a little bigger after he made the connection between my kid and the Guy from Gallifrey.

Brave         5. Meeting new friends: I love a good character and Lord knows Disney is full of them. It’s always nice to get pictures of some of your favorites, but it’s even better when you get to see some friends you haven’t seen before! During this trip, we were able to meet the Beast, Woody and Jesse, Pocahontas, the Mad Hatter, Buzz Lightyear and Merida from Brave! (I love her hair.) I wanted to meet Anna and Elsa from Frozen, but after hearing that their Fast Passes were booked six months in advance and the stand by line was five HOURS, I decided to “let it go.”

EPCOT people6. The People: Disney does their job like no one else in the world and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the numerous men and women who made our trip so special. From our housekeeper Norma who left me flowers and other little gifts throughout our stay to the monorail gentleman who told us how John Lennon signed his “Beatles break-up” contract at the Polynesian Hotel and the woman in Ariel’s grotto who was born in the same hotel as Paul McCartney, it is so cool to meet people from all over the world and learn more about them. Trust me on this…if you are in Disney World, take the time to strike up a conversation…you never know who you might meet.

Be our Guest            7. The Be Our Guest Restaurant: I managed to book a reservation for this place on a last ditch effort at 2 a.m. a few days before we arrived. This is the only place in the Magic Kingdom in which you can meet the Beast and I am here to tell you…it’s impressive. The dining room looks just like the ballroom from the famous animated movie and the food is fantastic! I think it may have been the best steak I have ever eaten. Desert is included with the Disney Dining Plan and I highly recommend the Grey “Stuff”…it really is delicious!

What do you like best about Walt Disney World? Share your special memories below!

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