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Screen Gems
By K. Michelle Moran   - 10/16/2008

Grosse Pointe Times

For Michael Hauser, it's no wonder why people still hold such fond memories of the grand movie theaters of yesteryear. "The minute you walked into one of these palatial venues, you immediately felt like royalty," said Hauser, a local movie theater expert who co-authored "Detroit's Downtown Movie Palaces" (Arcadia Publishing). "The themed architecture was spectacular; the colorful neon from the marquee made the street come alive; you were greeted by a doorman and then guided to your seat by a uniformed usher. At a number of the downtown theaters, besides a firstrun film, the bill of fare included an orchestra, dancers, a stage show, a serial, a cartoon and a newsreel - an entire evening's worth of entertainment."

Hauser will be sharing the fabled history of these entertainment venues during a Grosse Pointe Historical Society talk at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms. Part of the Frank Bicknell lecture series, the free program will look at the downtown movie houses Grosse Pointers once frequented.

"Going downtown to the movies in the days before the multiplexes, cable TV, movies on demand, videotapes and DVDs, when only the Punch and Judy Theater existed in the Grosse Pointe community, was a very special occasion," said honorary GPHS Board member Mike Skinner, chair of the Bicknell Lecture Series Committee. "Entire families would plan such trips well in advance and often tie this to a trip to the downtown department stores. In the 1920s, the downtown area could be accessed from all of southeastern Michigan by a vast network of streetcars and interurban trains. Thus, when the Grand Circus Park section of Detroit - near present-day Comerica Park and Ford Field - contained a dozen theaters with 26,000 seats, it was one of the premier places in the world to go to see a first-run movie."

It's a subject Hauser knows well.

"Michael Hauser has been passionate about preservation in the city of Detroit for over 20 years," said GPHS Program Director Nancy Pacitto. "He was very instrumental in establishing the movie palace tours for Preservation Wayne in the early '80s. His mission was to make the public aware of how important it was to polish our magnificent architectural jewels, especially the Fox Theatre, the Gem and the Detroit Opera House."

Hauser is now the marketing manager of the Detroit Opera House, once known as the Capitol Theatre, a 1922 C. Howard Crane design inspired by European opera houses. He has long been fascinated by these remarkable buildings and the stories behind them.

"I worked in several downtown movie palaces in my hometown of Grand Rapids, creating and placing advertising for several local film exhibitors," Hauser said.

"I was curious about the history of these unique venues and was always exploring the inner depths of these unique structures, trying to learn more about the architecture, the actors who had performed on stage, the types of films presented through the decades. I was also inspired by the publication Marquee, a magazine published by the Theatre Historical Society of America. I first discovered this wonderful and insightful magazine in the undergraduate library while attending Michigan State University."

With Marianne Weldon - his "Movie Palaces" co-author - Hauser created "The Reel Story," an exhibit for the Detroit Historical Museum that examined the history of some of the region's most significant current and former movie houses. That exhibit led to "Movie Palaces," a photographic history of such venues as the Michigan, Capitol, Fox, United Artists and Gem theaters, among others.

"There has been so little printed about the subject of movie palaces and theaters in general," Hauser said. "We were able to include some wonderful images from a number of sources, many of which had not been seen by the public. We also felt that this was a way in which we could give back to the community and create public awareness of our restored jewels, since a portion of the book proceeds directly benefits the Detroit Historical Museum."

For his GPHS talk, Hauser plans to include discussion about neighborhood venues on the east side as well as downtown, along with a video and visuals, such as fliers, posters, architectural artifacts, concession items and photos.

"Grosse Pointers will gain a tremendous insight into the history of these theaters, as well as what it took to restore them to their former glory," Pacitto said.

Noting that Hauser spearheaded restoration efforts at the Redford Theatre, GPHS Board President Stuart Grigg said Hauser is "a Detroit gem" and "truly an under-sung hero of our local history and our built environment."

"He knows things about Detroit theater buildings and history that the people who were there didn't know," Grigg quipped. "The GPHS is privileged to have Mike Hauser speak for us.

This is a must-see, must-hear lecture, presented by the area's foremost authority."

Hauser's talk is free and open to the public. For reservations or more information, visit www.gphistorical.org, send e-mail to gphistorical@aol.com or call (313) 884-7010.

You can reach Staff Writer K.

Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586) 498-1047.

Caption:Above: The 1946 Midwest premiere of "Centennial Summer" took place at the Fox Theatre, where stars Vivian Blaine and Phil Silvers traveled to the theater by motorcade from the Book Cadillac Hotel.

Left: "Gone With the Wind" premiered at the United Artists Theater to huge crowds in 1940.

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