Palm Beach Daily News
March 27, 2011 Sunday
Dn1 Edition/B SECTION; Pg. B.1
Memories Paramount ‘very regal’; like you were ‘in the movies’; Grand bygone theater evokes reminiscences of lasting friendships, classic films and celebrity visits.
Compiled by The Rev. Dwight Stevens, Special to the Daily News
The historic landmark Paramount Theatre opened in 1927 and closed as a movie theater in 1980. During those years, more than 2,000 first-run films were shown and countless charity events were held, attracting Palm Beach residents for decades.
"Ever since we came to the Paramount in 1994, people have continually wandered into the building reminiscing about when it was a theater. It was because of those visits that I was prompted to research and assemble the Historic Photographic exhibit on display in the lobby," said the Rev. Dwight Stevens, church pastor.
"The idea to compile remembrances of when the Paramount was a theater was suggested to me by Sharon Queeney Weintz, culminating in the comments below. I found one common thread: The Paramount has a very special place in the hearts of many, many town residents. Thank you to all of those who willingly and openly shared their favorite memories of the Paramount. I’m sure there are many others who could do the same."
"Going to the Paramount was a great event. We moved here in 1926; I was 8 years old. I remember the 1930s: Not everybody had cars. We had a cottage on Sunset Avenue and after the movies, I remember seeing a half-dozen wicker chairs outside the theater, waiting, with lanterns, to take people home. My mother would have them take us by the cottages on Breakers Row to watch the moon over the ocean. Very sweet memories– a softness of life and gentleness, not like today. The Paramount was a place of dignity. It was upper echelon events. There were upholstered wicker armchairs in the first three or four rows, much desired, particularly by the ladies. They dressed for the occasion. It was a seen-and-be-seen sort of thing."
Edith Baird Eglin
"I lived in Palm Beach from 1941-1946 before going away to school in Philadelphia, living with my grandfather on Seaspray Avenue, Brazilian Avenue and at 7 S. Lake Trail. My father went into the Marine Corps in 1941. My grandfather, Sydney Hutchinson, age 74, really doted on me. I was 5 at the time. Every Thursday (the cook’s night out) we would go to Testa’s for supper, and every Saturday we went to the movies at the Paramount, sitting in the fancy reserved seats in the center area. I remember it well. These seats cost $2.50. There was no traffic, largely because of strict gas rationing. Most men were away in the service. Because German servicemen were being occasionally brought ashore at night to infiltrate our population, everyone on the island was issued an ID card around 1943, even me — and that had my thumbprint on it; it wasn’t just a picture. You needed to show it at each of the bridge checkpoints going over to West Palm Beach. You were asked not to drive at night; and, if you did, the top part of your headlights had to be blacked out with paint. The period was character building."
"My favorite Paramount memory I remember very well. It is from 1953. I had just come to town and was working at The Breakers. Someone handed me a ticket to the Paramount. I went and there was Bob Hope, the emcee of a wonderful charity benefit. I thought, ‘Palm Beach is something else.’ Bea Lillie, the comedienne, was part of the show, with her caustic remarks. You didn’t come to the Paramount in the ’50s without a coat and tie. Those in the balcony seats that night wore black tie, which was what the dress for opening nights for movies was back then. It was wonderful."
"Of course, the Paramount Theatre is very familiar to me. I attended dozens of movies there during my high school days, but I hardly dared to dream that one day I’d be up on that screen. It wasn’t a straight line, to be sure. I took a huge gamble when I headed off for Hollywood to try my hand at becoming a movie star. The four friends and fellow adventurers who went with me all gave up, but I hung on by my fingernails for another six months and, as fate and good fortune would have it, I landed a seven-year contract with MGM Studio shortly before the whole Hollywood contract system came to an end. Then in 1962, when I had just completed a contract picture for MGM entitled Light in the Piazza, with Olivia de Havilland, Rossano Brazzi and Yvette Mimieux, I phoned my family to tell them I’d be in the area for the premiere of the movie in Miami. They were excited by the whole idea and urged me to also premiere it in our hometown of Palm Beach. I went to work to arrange it.
It was quite an event, culminating in an exciting buffet luncheon. Bobby Davidoff, the famous local photographer, took a terrific picture of my mother, eldest brother Bill, and myself all wearing blazers and white pants exiting the Paramount Theatre that day. My mother, Anne, always regarded it as the iconic family picture. You can see it along with the Paramount’s other movie memorabilia on the lobby wall."
Yvelyne ‘Deedy’ Marix
"I came here in 1945 with my family. We soon found out the Paramount was almost the center of our little world and one of the most traveled crossroads, because you couldn’t help but go by it all the time. The Paramount was on one side, Green’s was on the other. Several of the markets were there: Southhampton market, Herbert’s … It was a wonderful source of recreation for everybody all the time. It was a lovely place to go. It was the heartbeat of the town. The Paramount was famous, not only when an important black-tie society event was going on. People went to movies all the time then, in the pre-TV days. You’d see the news, you’d see dozens of your friends. But the most important thing I recall is the really lovely, delightful movies we went to see. It wasn’t just black tie and strobe lights. It was part of our whole community life. We knew when to ‘put on the dog’ and when not to. Palm Beach was never always ritzy-glitzy, not just a place to fancy-up and be photographed. It was a small, laid-back, at-ease community, which didn’t try to compete with Atlantic City or Miami. Palm Beach used to cater to everybody, very nicely, elegantly in a low-key way. That’s what people came here for. We cannot afford to lose our little piece of history. The Paramount was the heartbeat of so much. Long live the Paramount. "
"The Paramount Building and I have come in contact several times over the years, and the experience has left an impression. Back in 1957, when I was attending Palm Beach High School, I worked as an usher at the Paramount Theatre for one summer. I thought it would be fun to watch movies for free. I didn’t realize how tedious it would be to see the same movies over and over. By the time Sayonara (a movie starring Marlon Brando about a Korean War Air Force Ace reassigned to Japan) had completed its run, I could repeat Brando’s part word for word. One day while ushering, I was entering the back of the concession stand just as the theater manager was exiting, and he accidentally slammed the door into my forehead, cutting me quite badly. In those non-litigious days, I just slapped a bandage on my tattered brow and went back to work. Over time, the scar has blended in nicely with my frown lines. Later, I had the good fortune of meeting my lovely wife, Maria, while attending church at the Paramount. We ended up sitting next to each other in the same pew, and she helped me organize the Christmas pageant. A year or so later we were married there and our reception was held in the courtyard. Lastly, and most recently, in January I exhibited some 30 of my "Parrot People" paintings at the Paramount during their Centennial celebration. My brother George Hamilton even showed up to greet the crowd. So you might say the Paramount Building and I go way back. I regard it as an architectural treasure and the repository for some wonderful memories for a host of Palm Beachers, including myself."
Several weeks ago, I visited Dwight Stevens, pastor of the Paramount Church, to take a look at the walls of prominent people who had spoken or performed there when it was still a theater. Most of the photos were of movie stars and comedians. I remember one of the last extravaganza shows in which Bob Hope performed. Of course it was crowded and everyone loved his show. I attended several of these extravaganzas during my early years in Palm Beach. It was the only movie theater in Palm Beach, and the decor was impressive, reminding me of a smaller version of one of the major theaters and stages in Miami, Atlanta and New York. I was delighted when the Paramount was landmarked by the town to preserve a part of its history.
I also remember the Patio restaurant, which was located on the parking lot directly behind the Paramount. It was renowned for its excellent food, music and dancing. The patrons were required to dress in formal attire — at least for certain days of the week. Val Ernie and his band performed each night for those who came for dinner and dancing, and I remember it was very expensive. On several occasions during my bachelor days, I took my dates there. I can’t recall why it was demolished, but I have pleasant memories of the Patio.
"All my friends, boys and girls, we were 16 or 17 back in the ’50s, would race to the Paramount for the flick. We had to be quick, get the tickets and then race upstairs, pushing and shoving because there weren’t that many balcony seats. I’ve never been on time in my life except then to get to the front of the line to get tickets so I’d get up to the balcony. I’d even get there 20 minutes early and stand in line. We never saw the first frame of the movies. We didn’t care about the movies, but we loved the balcony. My God, it was fun.
Every time a new movie came in, the mothers of the girls in town all said, ‘Oh, no,’ cause they knew where we would be. It was lip- lock heaven. I’d give you some names, but I’d better not. I wish I were doing it this evening."
"At the Paramount, I photographed Bob Hope, Helen Hayes and Henny Youngman. Good old Bob Hope. He was quite a guy. Henny Youngman — nice guy: ‘Take my wife, please.’ There aren’t comedians like we used to have. Helen Hayes, married to Charles MacArthur. Those were big nights. All the hoi polloi showed up. The Paramount was quite a place."
Sharon Queeney Weintz
"As kids and young adults, we all went to the movies there. Mary and Oby Obolensky, Harry Loy Anderson, Fran Gable, Ann Summers, Bob Leidy, Billy Gubelman, George and David Hamilton. Palm Beach was the ultimate of elegance and gentility in those days and we had the grandest, most luxurious movie theater in the country. Those were the days of stylish, unsurpassed movie stars: Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and it was difficult to tell which was more dazzling, the Palm Beach audience or those icons on the silver screen. It wasn’t just going to the movies, it was going to the glamorous Paramount."
I have great memories of the Paramount. On or about 1970, some friends of mine and I determined that we would acquire the Paramount. No film had been shown there for several years. With a combination of common sense and the ability of one lawyer to convince another lawyer, we obtained a license to show films as the zoning for parking had expired. We opened with West Side Story (January 14, 1972 ) — a lot of promotion, lots of fanfare, a big to- do. Lots of people there. About one-third into the movie, the power went out. Black tie, champagne … everybody winds up sitting in the dark. The power never did come back on that night. At that time, my wife and I and our three children — ages 5, 3 and 1 — were living in the residential apartments there. Each apartment opened to the back of the theater. All we had to do was go out the back door and watch a movie, which we did. Lots of other stories, including a time when we took down all the awnings — 60 of them — including the frames. They were piled up, and a few days later we found that many were missing. We found them in the backyard of a contiguous neighbor. We wound up buying that neighbor’s property."
Wendy Farrell Victor
"As a 12-year-old, the only movie house I was allowed to go to was the Paramount. My grandparents’ chauffeur would take me, wait outside in the car — and then straight home.
My grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps, had a balcony box there. The boxes cost $1,000 for the season. It was a special outing, and everyone wore black tie. Fortunately, for the children’s movies, we were allowed to be informally dressed."
"I remember being with (my late husband) Bob for an American Cancer Society charity concert that Van Cliburn gave (in 1964). He was brought in by (Frank and Betty) McMahon. I was very impressed, because as a kid I played the piano. He was very quiet, very nice. I was a little on the shy side. Surprising because he was such a great pianist. That was when I was young and thin. That evening, Julia Meade was wearing $1 million of Harry Winston jewels She was beautiful!"
Sally Higgins Pollack
"My family retired here from New York and we lived on the North– in a wonderful house — where my father fished the ocean. I took my three children to the Paramount Theatre all the time in the early 1970s. They liked to meet their friends there and sit up in front. We loved the Paramount. It was part of our life. It was another world in Palm Beach in those days. The theater was very large, it was larger than going to the Muvico. "
"We used to go there all the time (in the early ’70s). We loved the theater. It was huge, but so intimate and lovely. It was a gem and a very popular place. So charming … and they had some good movies, too. Everyone loved going. We were hoping it would never leave, and we were sad to see it go. I wish it would come back."
"My husband Tom and I moved here in 1960. The movies at the Paramount were a lot of fun. I always had the feeling it was a very special place and sensed what is was like in its early days. Being artistic myself, I always loved the fish painted on the mural walls that were visible when the lights were on, before and after the movies. They were gorgeous, and the artist made the fins and tails of these colorful fish flow as if they were under water. It made one feel like we too were underwater."
"I was born in 1954 and we came here in 1960. The Paramount was a place where we would go to the movies as kids. Our parents would drop us off and then pick us up or we would go as a family together. It was great to have a local movie theater. Good memories, convenient. The movies were cool with great casts: Sound of Music, The Great Escape. Good for everybody. Nice for the whole family. The picture of my parents as part of the historical exhibit at the Paramount today is of my parents at an American Cancer Society Benefit in 1963, emceed by Bob Hope."
"My most memorable thing about the Paramount Theatre is the beautiful, beautiful nautical scenes. Perhaps you could see them better before the movie started, but even so during the movie. It just really hit you, the beautiful nautical scenes. The other thing was the upper balcony. The seats were so comfortable. I think we could smoke up there in those days."
John Reynolds Allison
"When I would come home from boarding school, I would look forward to going to the Paramount. I remember when we went to go see one of the very last films featured there, which was Ice Castles (March 1979). I was with my family. I remember cars lined up, all the Rolls-Royces and the Mercedes and the chauffeurs. All the people being let out of their cars by the valet service. It was very regal. I felt like I was in the movies myself. This was when all the mothers were getting rid of their station wagons and getting Mercedes. Everybody was on their best behavior, so unlike the other movie theater at the Cross County 8."
"My wife and I moved here permanently from Chicago in 1973, after having an apartment for 12 years. We lived up the street on Bermuda Lane and would walk to the Paramount and then go to Sprinkles for ice cream. The movies were $1–current movies. There weren’t as many activities then, only one or two parties and dances a month, not like today. So we’d all go to the movies. We’d see all of our neighbors there. I loved the theater."
"I had moved to West Palm Beach in 1963 and was dating a young lady, Nancy James, who was the youth director at First Baptist Church. Nancy had an avid interest in classical music, so in February 1964, when she learned that the piano virtuoso Van Cliburn would be in concert on Palm Beach, she immediately obtained tickets. It was a memorable and exciting evening having the opportunity to hear this amazing artist in such a beautiful theater.
We can be seen in the large photograph of the Van Cliburn concert on display as part of the current Historic Photographic exhibit today at the Paramount. We are the couple seated to the far left on the front row. This photo of the two of us was taken in front of the theater by a professional photographer."
"When (my late husband) Reggie and I were in high school , we loved going to the Paramount. Everybody felt special when we would go there. Girls wore dresses, not slacks or pants. Neither sex wore blue jeans when going to the Paramount. On Saturday nights, we would go to the movie, then to the Hut, and then it was not uncommon for the boys to ask, ‘How would you like to go watch the submarine races?’ — which really meant to go park at the beach and smooch. There were cars lined up, all facing the ocean. Everybody knew who was there because we all knew each other’s cars. It was only after Reggie and I were married that I learned that the expression about the submarines was based on truth. There really were German submarines off the east coast of Florida during World War II. They torpedoed a number of our ships.
When we went to the movies at the Paramount Theatre, we knew and always respected its history."
"The Paramount was the most beautiful theater I’ve ever been in. It was just great. There were all kinds of wonderful old movies shown there. I remember the preferred seating section and the murals with the fish. One night, I remember seeing Howard Keel in person when he was in the audience for a movie."
"I remember seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (April 1963). It was a really scary movie with Tippie Hedron, Melanie Griffith’s mother. I was in ninth grade at Palm Beach Day School. Quite the year for the tender teenager. After Mrs. Derham’s dance class on Friday night, we would always go to the Paramount. We’d all go in a cab, Park Taxi, TE2-2222. We all felt so grown up. Victoria Schraft. Edward Roddy. Alex Fanjul. It was a blast growing up in Palm Beach. I had the best time. It was such fun!"
"I remember going to the Paramount back in the ’60s. Epic movies like Lawrence of Arabia. And they used to have old-fashioned newsreels before the films. It was huge, cavernous — at least to me as a kid — with fish murals on the walls.
"The Paramount used to be a popular place to go in the ’50s and ’60s. It was the theater in town. A great thing to do. Everybody looked forward to going. Bob Hope was there several times. Everyone was sad when there was no longer a theater in town. Everyone missed that. It would be nice to get a movie theater back in town. It was such a great pleasure to go there."
Susan O’Hara Wellmeier
"I remember an American Cancer Society Benefit (March 17, 1963). I was 18. Bob Hope was the emcee. We were the guests of Tommy McGinty, who started the Desert Inn and the Stardust in Las Vegas. Tommy once was a boxer with Bob Hope (who also was a boxer). Barbra Streisand was on Broadway then in I Can Get It for You Wholesale. She was pretty unknown at that time. She sat on a stool in a lemon yellow dress and sang Cry Me a River and two or three other songs. Tommy was so impressed he wanted her for Las Vegas. It is a happy memory."
Today, the Paramount is facing a financial challenge as a result of a mandate from the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Code Enforcement as reported in this newspaper the past few months. Replacement of deteriorated deck balustrades with replicas of 1927 original balustrades designed by architect Joseph Urban must be done by May 31, 2011, or fines will be assessed. Of the $365,000 needed for this project, $101,235 has been raised thus far.
Daily News copy editor Danielle Provencher contributed to this report.
HOW TO HELP
Send your tax-deductible donations to:
Preserve The Paramount Fund, 139 N. County Road, # 31, Palm Beach, FL 33480
Tours of the Paramount are available by calling 835-0913.