Gordon and I drove over to San Gabriel to see the Joy Luck Club, the last offering of the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats program. I was really looking forward to seeing the theater again. I hadn’t been there in almost forty years. About seven years before the LA Conservancy started their program to show off our historic theaters, there was a summer program called Best Remaining Seats. Every week we went to a different theater that showcased old movies. The stars of these old movies usually provided a Q&A after the film. We got to see Lillian Gish at the Wiltern when The Wind played. I remember leaving the Q&A early because the theater was so hot. I was hanging around the front of the theater when Ms. Gish was escorted outside and placed in the backseat of a Honda. I looked at Gordon and said, “A Honda? How Hollywood has fallen.” We heard later that the limo driver misjudged the time he was supposed to return and Ms. Gish had to be protected from her adoring public. It made me laugh at the time. I wonder if the driver got fired.
We also got to see Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street (she was in a wheelchair; that’s what happened to hoofers in the bad old days), the final public appearance of Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights at the Arlington theater in Santa Barbara, King Vidor at the Orpheum when The Big Parade was presented…I can’t remember them all. I particularly enjoyed the Douglas Fairbanks movie introduced by his son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at the Casino on Catalina. We attended the dance at the ballroom upstairs (they only open it up a few times a year). The dancers were so good it inspired us to take classes. I can’t remember what we saw at the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium, as it was called at the time, but I remember Malcolm McDowell wandering around at the strawberry/champagne reception. It was a wonderful summer and the program made a HUGE amount of money…which, rumor has it, was embezzled by the guy in charge. So it took seven years for the Conservancy to start the program up again. It’s a good fund-raiser.
Last night the program started with dragon dancers. They were a hoot. Then a production student, can’t remember her name, conducted a Q&A with Kieu Chinh, Tsai Chin, France Nuyen, and an Asian woman who helped produce the film. They shared memories of making the 26-year-old film and discussed the changes in Hollywood that made more diverse movies possible. It was interesting, particularly France Nuyen. The student kept trying to steer the actresses into a victimology theme, that’s big these days, and the actresses wanted to promote projects coming up; it was a marketing opportunity for them. They’re pros; they know they have to get butts in the seats. And Nuyen was rather tart about the changes in Hollywood. She said in the old days there was honor; you could make a deal on a handshake. And people could sleep with their doors open. Not any more. She certainly didn’t follow any script. My hat’s off to her.
Then The Joy Luck Club was presented. I’d read the book but I’d never seen the film. It was well-done, the performances were all wonderful, but I found it a little maudlin. Everybody around me was crying but I was deconstructing. I hate being manipulated. I liked the book better.
Looking forward to next year’s program. I might even break down and play Trivia at Clifton’s. Or maybe not.
The exterior of the Playhouse reflects the mission style.
And the Dragon dancers reflect the changing demographics of the area.
The interior shows Spanish, Mexican, and Native American influences. The theater contains a fully restored Wurlitzer organ, tapestries from the King of Spain, and painted ceiling with chandeliers that replicate lanterns used on Spanish galleons.
And this is me taking a picture of the proscenium arch. I have hair!