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The Cornell Theater during it's most profitable period.
Taken 4/13/1963 Courtesy the Burbank Daily Review.
 





The last days. 1977 before the wrecking ballstruck. Courtesy of the Burbank Scene.

 Newspaper ad 3/21/1962

A remarkably tacky ad for a Live Midnight Spook show. These programs were a staple of teen-movie going in the late 50's thru the mid 60's. A lot of these shows were basically variations of the old traveling magician acts. But a few of these brave souls managed to put on some very entertaining programs.

Almost all of these live shows were followed by a feature, usually something from the old Universal Catalogue. But every once in a while something special would happen, in that some enterprising former carnival barker would combine a short feature with a live stage show, by placing a look alike in the audience to be grabbed by ushers dressed as the monsters or beasties from the main film. This event would happen at an appropriate time during the film, and soon the monsters would appear back on screen with the now familiar looking audience member.

By the late 60's early 70's, these ballyhoo presentations were all but history, as theater rentals had sky rocketed 9along with property values. Not to mention the growing sophistication of the audiences. But for a while, Mad Scientists and Rodan would appear live on stage and do their thing to the amazement and amusement of the youngsters in attendance. This was simply.. Show business.

If you'd like to know more about this fascinating chapter of Americana, check out the DVD from SWV 'Monsters Crash the Pajama Party' You can find it at Best Buy, and most of the regular DVD outlets or you can order direct from the folks who made it, buy clicking on the cover below

 


 


Original Artist's concept design for the Cornell Theater.

The Cornell Theater opened for business in 1949. A huge complex located on the corner of San Fernando Blvd. and Cornell Ave. The theater had a huge 65 foot cinemascope screen, and seating for 1300.

The Cornell was part of the Pacific Theater chain (which also operated the California Theater, Picwick Drive-in and the San-Val Drive in), which is still in operation today. The Cornell was Burbank's premiere theater, complete with air-conditioning and over a full acre of parking. 

Two main aisles ran from the concession stand/ lobby to the front of the stage. The Deeply slanted designed of the theater made in a popular exercise location for youngsters that were brought along to the theater, as they would spend the intermission running down the aisles until they could stop themselves at the stage. 
One vivid memory of that floor design was during a screening of the James Bond film "Live and Let Die". I was at the theater with a good friend (whose name I cannot recall. Some friend I am!), and both of us were a little perturbed at the (aforementioned) procession of youngsters charging to and fro from the rear to the front of the theater. For some reason, my friend stopped one of these energetic dervishes (nothing painful here or mean spirited, he just stopped one of the boys from running by snapping verbally at him as the started the trip back to his starting point. As the feature started, an attractive usherette and the boy came back with the Manager of the theater, and they escorted my friend out. I was dismayed, but I stayed to watch the movie, anyway. I told him all about it when I got home. Surprisingly, my friend was not upset by his expulsion from the theater. He took it as a badge of honor.

We soon parted company, as he joined the military with dreams of being as good a marksman as Lee Harvey Oswald. The people one aligns themselves with during their youth is sometime frightening.

The theater was a significant part of Burbank's infrastructure at the time, being involved (and donating their parking lot) for many charitable events through the 1960's. The Cornell fell on hard times during the mid to late 60's (as did most theaters).

Their prices remained the same until 1968 when the theater opted to lower their prices. With a per seat price of only $1.50 and first run double features, the Cornell managed to hold on until the mid 70's. A raise in ticket prices could not save the theater (which had succumbed to running triple features, most of which were 'B' grade horror films).

Many people have vivid memories of the Cornell Theater. A good old friend reminded me of the Theater's nickname in reference to the aroma that lingered within the halls of the Men's privy. I won't go into detail, as I promised that I would not. The latrine was not why I went to the theater. And with the condition of most public facilities during the 60's (and especially the 70's), I don't recall the Cornell being anymore offensive than any other (Though the old World Theater on Hollywood Blvd. did have it's own unique and unavoidable bouquet).

My personal recollections of the Cornell are many. I remember the theater fondly. Seeing such double features as "Terror Creatures from Beyond the Grave w/ Bloody Pit of Horror , Bonnie & Clyde w/ Bullet, War of the Gargantuas w/ Monster Zero (with free posters given to the first 500 patrons, of which I got two). The Cornell was an important part of my childhood.

I remember staying throughout the afternoons on Saturdays, seeing some of those films three times, "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun" (w/ The Elvis Presley feature "A Change of Habit") was such a thrill to this young boys eyes that he had to see the crocodile run twice more, it was that important.

Other favorite moments came from a diverse group of films, "The Incredible Two- Headed Transplant" which costarred Larry Vincent, then famous as the host of KHJ Channel 9's late night horror movie show "Fright Night". Larry played the host of this program, Seymour, the most sinister man who crawled upon the face of the earth. Seeing Larry (Seymour) on the big screen was something I could not pass us (the actor promoted his appearance in the film on his TV show. 

Seymour did warn his viewers that the film would give us many sleepless nights. Though he failed to mention that the result would not be because the film was scary, but because it was irredeemably bad). The co-feature was the Toho giant monster marathon "Destroy All Monsters". I managed to take my nephews to this film (which having just entering their teen years greatly enjoyed), but they had to leave before the "GP" rated 'Transplant' feature began. I spent an entire weekend at the Cornell, memorizing each film. A preverbal glutton for punishment.

But a couple of prize moments remain firmly etched in memory. It was my first viewing of a film that left an indelible impression on me. A film so vividly terrifying that it took another ten years before I could gather the courage to see it again. That film was George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead". A lot has been written about the film, but for a representation of what my feelings were, I can only recommend Roger Ebert's diatribe against the film that he wrote back in 1968 (?) for the Reader's Digest.

"Night of the Living Dead only had a PG rating as the time (violence being considered less profane than sexuality), but Ebert's review was less about the film than about the effect this film had on a matinee crowd of children. I can wholly attest to that, as I entered the screening late for the main feature (which was "Night of Dark Shadows" w/ Jonathan Frid).

I had no idea what this Living dead thing was about, nor did I care. I came to see Barnabus do some gothic bloodletting in glorious Technicolor. Entering the theater after a brief stop at the concession stand for the necessary supply of nitrates and sugar water, I sat down for the climax of Dark Shadows. As the house lights came up, I knew that I would have to see this film a couple of more times, as the ending just enthralled me in a way that the TV soup opera couldn't.

After a brief pause, the lights dimmed, and after the trailers and a cartoon(!), up pops this grainy Black and White film with bad cheesy muzak. I knew this was going to be a long ninety minutes. To say that I had had an epiphany at that moment would be subtle.

After the film ended, I sat in my chair stunned. I could not move. it was not until the lights started to dim, that I forced myself up and left the theater. It was beginning to turn dark out, and that subliminal feeling of dread forced me to run the 23 blocks back home with a full and painful bladder.

By the mid 70's, The Cornell had turned to running triple features of unpromising quality. Exploitation packages as "In Search of Dracula" w/  "Squirm" and some others that escape memory for the low price of $2.00 per seat. The theater by 1977 had really run it's course with attendance dwindling and maintenance at an appalling low. That combined with the inability to bring in big league first run features only edged the Cornell into oblivion.

The Cornell Theater finally closed their doors in 1978. The marquee promised that the theater was being remodeled, but no such thing happened. In 1980, the wreaking ball tore down a part of my childhood. I regret that I never took any photos of the beloved palace, but these are things that children and youngsters don't bother to think about. Nostalgia is something for our later years. And so it is that now, 24 years after my last visit to the Cornell, that I long for the days when one could spend all day watching shadowy lights flickering across a huge screen. The newer theaters and home video cannot compete with the feeling of both independence and security that the Cornell theater brought me. I will always remember the Cornel.

 

 

This site was last updated 07/25/07