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» Film-Tech Forum   » Operations   » Film Handlers' Forum   » Where did the Super marquee displays come from?

Author Topic: Where did the Super marquee displays come from?
Frank Angel
Film God

Posts: 5200
From: Brooklyn NY USA
Registered: Dec 1999

 - posted 05-02-2006 01:24 AM      Profile for Frank Angel   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Angel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
When I was a kid, I used to walk down 42nd Street (NYC) that was lined on both sides with theatres from Broadway and 8th Ave. They played day-and-date with the first run Broadway houses right around the corner, only the 42nd Street Brandt theatres played great double features AND they charged half the ticket price of the Broadway houses. I never knew how that could be, but it was.

Anyway, each theatre had huge displays that covered the top of the entrances as well as the sides of the entrance with what would be the equivilant of 3, maybe 6-sheets. Some covered the entire marquee. But the thing that was so awesome about these displays was that they had all kinds of elements within them -- title lettering, images of the stars/actors, etc., cut out and in relief standing out in front of the background. They had very much the same look as today's standees, but HUGE and even more intricate becaues evidently they didn't have to be shipped in boxes. And what's more, they looked like they had to have been custom designed specifically for each individual theatre because they fit the physical structure of the buildings perfectly. Some were even up on the marquee. Plus, these theatres changed pictures quite often -- it was not like the Roadshow houses around the corner where pictures played for months.

Question is, where did these come from? Did the theatres' do this on their own? Did the studios supply these elements? Anyone know of what I speak? Seems like a lot of work for a run that lasted only for maybe a week. I wonder if this was done anyplace else in the country. Surely LA would have it if New York had this great stuff.

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Kenneth Wuepper
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 996
From: Saginaw, MI, USA
Registered: Feb 2002

 - posted 05-02-2006 07:40 AM      Profile for Kenneth Wuepper   Email Kenneth Wuepper   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 

The Butterfield Theatres here in Michigan had a sign shop and a sign designer. The shop was on the third floor of the Temple Theatre and was across the hall from the third level lounge, beneath the balcony.

The signs he created were of the type you described. I can recall "Ben Hur" and "The Robe" as well as the lobby displays he created.

Ellis Merkley, the manager of the Temple, was a master at exploitation and even had the ushers dressed in costume, singing and carrying sign shop letters "Oklahoma" through the downtown stores.


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Bill Gabel
Film God

Posts: 3873
From: Technicolor / Postworks NY, USA
Registered: Jan 2002

 - posted 05-02-2006 10:55 AM      Profile for Bill Gabel   Email Bill Gabel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Frank, Just like Kenneth said many of the theatres in their day had sign shops in their basements to make and design marquee and lobby displays. Also the studios made available through NSS at times other items other than posters for your engagements. And depending on the type of engagement the studios would put special signage up in the first run theatres. Like at the Rivoli with Cleopatra and at the Warner with neon signs on their vertical sign displaying the titles. In Los Angeles a company called AdArt made many of the marquee displays for the studios for their first run engagements.

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Bobby Henderson
"Ask me about Trajan."

Posts: 10735
From: Lawton, OK, USA
Registered: Apr 2001

 - posted 05-02-2006 05:53 PM      Profile for Bobby Henderson   Email Bobby Henderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
In the past some of those displays were made by hand. The lettering was often projected onto various rigid (but light) materials and hand sawed or routed. Various murals and other illustrational elements were often hand painted after a guide drawing was put down via a projector.

In recent years computer driven machinery took over the jobs with some elaborate marquee displays. Vinyl cutters and computer driven CNC routing tables could cut any vector-based graphics and lettering out of materials like Gatorfoam, HDU board, Sintra, etc. Output from large format digital printers replaced the hand painted murals.

To check out the very latest in theater marquee trends, check out the refurbished El Capitan Theater sign (in the pictures page). The marquee formerly displayed backlighted large format digital printed images specially composed for the marquee. That has been replaced on three sides with a full color LED-based video capable electronic message center. Not only does it show the same movie logo ads -but it can show movie trailers and lots of other full motion graphics stuff.

Of course, many of the old style marquee stuff is still around. Some people like the 3-dimensional Wagner letters that slid onto rails (rather than the flat Zip-change letters which require a suction cup thing for letter changing). Every once in awhile we'll make a sign for someone with that old style rail lettering. You can get those letters in some pretty large sizes, although your choice in type is extremely limited.

More people are moving toward electronic message centers. You can change the messages frequently, use movement and graphics and you don't have to be out in the rain and cold to change the messages.

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Gerard S. Cohen
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 975
From: Forest Hills, NY, USA
Registered: Sep 2001

 - posted 05-02-2006 08:22 PM      Profile for Gerard S. Cohen   Email Gerard S. Cohen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
You remind me of another lost advertising device--the gold embroidery lettered, fringe and tassels on blue cloth background that hung from marquees, sometimes draped completely around three sides.

I found one crumpled in a dust covered pile in the attic of the (old) Victory Theatre on 42nd Street. [I think the Victory, built as a stage theater around 1903 or 1906, was for a time Minsky's Burlesque, then became a movie theatre with live vaudville acts, then a two-feature house, then was drastically renovated into the New Victory music, stage and ballet theater.]

After vacuuming and laundering, and sewing a rip or two, I installed it in my classroom. To maximize projector throw and screen visibility, I furnished the room the long way, covering one entire wall of wardrobe doors with mirrors. Above them I built a canopy frame of laths, and covered it with the blue and gold cloth reading "Entirely New Show Every Day" and "Live Acts."

That was of course the Film Arts Classroom, with sound-proofed doors, four 16" speakers, a Gray Labs turntable the size of a refrigerator,tube amplifier, Murano glass chandelier and strings of Japanese garden lanterns on a dimmer circuit, pull-down roller screen, movie posters, and an assortment of projectors in three film sizes.

The cloth canopy lasted many years, but succombed to a BoE rule requiring the removal of dust-catching decor.

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