Written on February 19, 2012 – 6:00 pm | by Charlotte Zercho
It’s true, boys and girls. Movie theaters used to only have one screen. And speaking of things that at least one generation of Americans will find befuddling, people used to have to look at wristwatches to know if their movies were about to start — and sometimes the watches needed to be wound.
Michael Hauser of Detroit is an expert in a large number of defunct or outmoded things, among them the downtown Hudson’s store and its worthy competitors.
His longest-term fascination is with theaters, and as it happens, he works at one: the former Capitol, now the refurbished and resplendent Detroit Opera House.
As marketing director of the Michigan Opera Theatre, Hauser recently saw 86,000 people pass through the building for the not-quite-four-week run of “Wicked,” and he was gently amused at the amazement of the throngs who’d never seen anything like it.
“It’s hard for them to fathom,” he says — the columns, the ornate ceilings, the marble, the sumptuous lobby bigger than some entire screening rooms at the Megaplex Sardine 20. “You can tell because they’re ogling the architecture, wanting to get their picture taken everywhere.”
Hauser, 60, will expound on the subject at 7 p.m. Wednesday in a free presentation at the Downriver campus of the Wayne County Community College District. To get the rest of the details out of the way, he’ll speak in the Heinz C. Prechter Educational and Performing Arts Center at 21000 Northline Road in Taylor.
The title of the event is “Downtown Detroit’s Magnificent Movie Palaces,” which lets you know in five words how he feels about the whole thing. And he’s apparently not alone; the annual historic theater tour he started for Preservation Wayne remains the most dependably popular the organization offers.
For all the grand auditoriums that have gone missing — the Oriental, the Madison, the Adams — downtown retains more seats than in any theater district beside New York. The Fox, the Fillmore, the Music Hall, the Century and Gem and Capitol: all date from the golden age of Hollywood.
Whether full or flattened, Hauser says, and whether they retained their dignity or were reduced to showing kung fu or porn, all remain important. The big theaters were civic centers of a sort, home to radio shows, fashion shows and war bond sales.
To study movie palaces is to study architecture, sociology and history. And if it makes you hungry for a Twizzler, that’s just a bonus.
If you’re old enough to remember eating Jujubes in a balcony, chances are you’ll recall Doug Jacobs and the Red Garter Band.
A San Franciscan by birth, Jacobs moved to Detroit in 1968 to open the Red Garter Saloon and lead a Dixieland combo. He and the band went on to play for President Ronald Reagan, a smattering of governors and decades of Jerry Lewis telethons for muscular dystrophy research.
He worked the Labor Day telethons for free and believed so strongly in the cause that he paid the band out of his own pocket.
That adds a level of irony to the news that he died late last year, at 71, of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
He was living back in Northern California, and the death wasn’t reported until late January. Reader John Quayle of Wyandotte passed along word, noting that for as much as Jacobs contributed to Metro Detroit, “some acknowledgement might be in order.”
I agree, and if I knew how to play a banjo, I’d strum a few notes in tribute. Instead I’ll just picture Jacobs playing “Ain’t She Sweet” on the patio at Dearborn Country Club at the end of a charity golf outing, with Bill Bonds nodding in time to the music, and tip my imaginary straw hat.
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