By Linda S. Gunther
June 20, 1967. I sat in the red-velvet cushioned seat wearing my royal blue cap and gown at the Loew’s Paradise Theater on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. It was graduation day for Taft High School seniors and I was anxious for the moment when I’d be handed my diploma and catapulted into my future.
The Paradise was how Bronx people referred to the palatial theater. The venue had been my Saturday afternoon hangout from an early age. As I stuffed hot buttered popcorn in my mouth and drank Coca Cola, I had watched countless popular movies in the late 50’s and early 60’s, my younger brother next to me, jabbing me in the arm while he threw white, pink and black Good and Plenty pellets down the back of my blouse. We’d laugh hysterically at Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, cringe at monsters like Mothra, sing along with Elvis Presley as he gyrated his hips, marvel at John Wayne westerns and hold onto our seats as spectacular scenes from Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments unfurled before our eyes. When we watched movies like Gidget Goes Hawaiian or The Parent Trap, although my brother complained that he was bored, I sat there enthralled, imagining what it would be like to be Sandra Dee or Hayley Mills, live the life of a screen actress.
In Junior High, I was in an accelerated education program and selected to be part of a school movie club focused on classic novels that had been turned into movies. Membership in the club included Saturday morning viewings at The Paradise Theater where we enjoyed movies like The Good Earth with Paul Muni, Pride and Prejudice with Lawrence Olivier and The Old Man in the Sea with Spencer Tracy.
As our High School Principal took the stage on graduation day and walked up to the microphone in front of the giant movie screen, I remember taking a moment to look up and appreciate the amazing ceiling that I had come to adore, a simulated deep blue moonlit night sky with fragments of wispy clouds floating over us, simulated twinkling stars, and the façade of brick Bronx buildings artfully silhouetted on the majestic walls around us. This was the signature Loew’s Paradise environment, the setting that got me hooked on “going to the movies,” a passion that would stick with me throughout my life. Because of this beloved landmark, I became a raving movie fanatic. I would later do decades of acting in community theater, some modest screen work, and audition for, and attend Oxford University’s British American Drama Academy via Yale School of Drama, and be instructed by amazing actors like Brian Cox, Jeremy Irons and Vanessa Redgrave.
Gone 3,000 miles from New York City to Northern California for more than thirty years now, I write suspense novels and non-fiction essays for literary journals. From the window at my beach house, looking out at the Pacific Ocean, I develop characters, and create plots which I hope will engage my readers. As I develop a story, I imagine it as a hit film, and identify screen actors who might play my main characters. My mind travels back to the Bronx, to that velvet-cushioned seat, to that enchanting midnight sky, to the stars twinkling above me inside the Paradise theater’s grand auditorium.
I stop writing and decide to Google the Loew’s Paradise Theater, curious about its history, its architecture. A black and white photograph of the theater pops up on my laptop. The caption tells me that the building was declared a New York City landmark in 1997. The theater originally opened on September 7, 1929 with the featured film, The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu, accompanied by a stage presentation titled Cameos, produced by Chester Hale, with British organist, Harold Ramsey, playing the ‘Wonder Organ.’ The architect of the grand theater was European-born John Emil Eberson, who attended high school in Dresden, Germany, studied at the University of Vienna and came to the United States in 1901. He was famed for creating what became known ‘atmospheric’ theater design and designed over 100 of such theaters. Thank you, Mr. Eberson. Thank you for inspiring me to pursue creativity and dream big