Birth of Venice and early years
Actors, Filmmakers and Writers in Venice live or lived
The Fabulous Fox Venice
The Fox Venice Theatre, the quintessential Venice institution, was operated by Cumberland Mountain Theaters, Inc. from 1973 to early 1979. Previously it had faltered under National General Corporation operation as a large, single screen neighborhood theatre in the new era of multiplexes. (An econo-historical-nostalgic note: During the Cumberland reign, admission eventually stabilized at $2 for adults, $1 for children and senior citizens.)
Cumberland Mountain Theaters was a spin-off of the Cumberland Mountain Film Company, which was housed in a loft space above the theatre from 1969 through 1988. The Single Wing Turquoise Bird Light Show also operated in that studio space. Rol Murrow has described that group's final performance, Freak Night. He says, "There were lots of folks who deserve credit for the Fox, Cumberland, The Single Wing Turquoise Bird, etc."
I would guess that the number of folks whose combined creativity and imagination made the Fox what it was, extends into the high hundreds at least. The Fox reached out for and embraced the most original people in a megalopolis jam-packed with original people, and drew them to the shabby environs of 620 Lincoln Boulevard, to do their thing or to be magnificently, intelligently entertained, or both.
During the boom years of its existence a Fox Venice schedule was the hip accessory for every self-respecting refrigerator door in Los Angeles. The theatre's mailing list read like a who's-who of the entertainment industry. The schedules (printed by Peace Press during the Cumberland tenure) featured, on the front, pictorial representations of the films, usually double features, and on the back, capsule descriptions telling why each and every one was a must-see. For some people that was true, and they came almost every night!
The schedule included a notice to filmmakers: "We want to see your movies! We are screening and cataloging many films, many rarely seen, for possible exhibition," and alerted them that the theatre was available during the day for special screenings in 35mm or 16mm formats. On another occasion, the back of the schedule said, "Our audiences want to see your short films!...Our audiences are distinctly expressive in their appreciation! The Fabulous Fox may even be able to qualify your film for Academy Award consideration."
At the Fox, the film inspection department habitually cleaned, scrutinized, and repaired every reel that came through the door - especially if it had passed through the hands of "certain West Los Angeles theaters run by amateurs and fools." The management was justifiably proud of its craftsmanship. "We're one of the few places around that still care more for the art of film than the money," was the Fox's claim to fame. A number of producers and directors agreed, and loaned their pristine personal prints to the theatre to run in place of the scratched-up general release prints.
The fare was generally new and different every day of the week. You might find almost anything on the screen at the Fox. Documentaries about ancient bluesmen, political activists, Findhorn, the ballet. Such beloved oldies as Todd Browning's Freaks. Outrageous animation. Films that sank without a trace, like Dylan's Renaldo & Clara. There was always a fantastic variety of foreign films: Wertmuller, Antonioni, Roeg, Mifune, Varda, all those guys. The Fox hosted the Los Angeles premiere of Fassbinder's Satan's Brew.
Over the years the theater offered live concerts by Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, Richie Havens, Oregon, Canned Heat, Little Feat, Caldera, David Bromberg, John Klemmer, the Japanese group Bow Wow, and many others, including many great blues players such as John Lee Hooker for its Blues Night series.
In 1975 the theater hosted the sneak preview of the Rocky Horror Picture Show the night before it opened in Westwood. That special midnight screening, attended by an overflow crowd of the play's camp followers and various performers, started the tradition of audience participation midnight screenings that continues to this day.
There was an animated short film they used to show, the kind of thing I hadn't seen at other theaters. In outer space, a strange looking craft whizzes by. Cut to another spaceship of a different design. Back to the first one, then the second one, music, and finally the two spaceborne objects get together in the same frame. They slow down enough so you can see that one is a cigarette and the other an ashtray, and the cigarette puts itself out in the ashtray while the words NO SMOKING appear.
1977 was a great year, with a special midnight concert by the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo; a festival to benefit the restoration of the Hollywood sign.
It was also about this time that one of the guides to attractions and life in Southern California, the Rainbow Pages, listed the Fox as one of the area's Top Ten Attractions, right up there with Disneyland and Universal Studios. Strange company indeed!
In 1978, the offerings included live theater from El Teatro Campesino and Carol Rusoff's Saturday morning drama workshop for kids. Toni Basil and the Fox co-produced an absolutely dazzling musical called Follies Bizarre. And over most of the theater's eclectic years of operation the San Francisco Mime Troupe regularly brought down its band of political soothsayers to delight the Fox's audiences. Cheech and Chong also gave a surprise midnight show in the 70's, testing with great success the material they were developing for Up In Smoke.
1979 brought, among other things, eight weeks of Chaplin Sundays, a series on New German Cinema, and a month of Friday midnight showings of Everything's Goin' to Pot and Saturday night screenings of the Grateful Dead Film.
In early 1979, the Cumberland era ended and subsequently the Fox was run for a couple of years by Parallax Theatres, which changed their name to the Landmark Theater Corporation. For its last few years, to its closing in 1988, Rafigh Pooya owned the business. Mr. Pooya brought a new kind of film to the Fox - premieres of foreign films not geared to the art crowd or the international film aficionados, but rather intended for the large numbers of foreign born people moving to Los Angeles. The theatre became an oasis of foreign culture in the vast desert of USA entertainment culture dominating the other venues.
Some of the highlights of 1980 included a Celebration of Animation every Sunday for two months; an entire week of nothing but Alambrista! (a film about the plight of illegal immigrants in the U.S.); and, for the Friday and Saturday midnight shows, a eclectic series of music films sponsored by KROQ. Also in that year there was a six-night Cinema Brazil festival and four nights of live music from Escola de Samba Unidas de Los Angeles, along with a dance troupe. 1981 saw a mammoth Truffaut retrospective, every Monday and Tuesday for nine weeks.
In 1982, over a three-month period, the Fox showed a total of 13 Los Angeles theatrical premiers of independent films. That year also brought a 12-film retrospective of the works of Luis Bunuel; Rock'N'Roll Week; and two months of Tuesdays reserved for films about politics. If you got there before 6:00, admission was only $1.50 (as opposed to $3.50 afterwards.) "Shock Value" was an 11-week Friday series "devoted to schlock, camp, sleaze, freak, and all manner of celluloid vileness." Attack of the 50 Foot Woman was shown with the sound track muted and the LA Connection comedy troupe on hand to improvise dialog.
Discovery of asbestos in the theater's acoustic treatments in 1988 doomed the once vibrant hall, and after it was stripped of its furnishings, screen, curtains, and interior it never came back, but instead was converted into an indoor mini-mall and flea market.
But for those of us who enjoyed it, the memories will live on as long as we do!
Above: Rol Murrow, former
owner of the Fox Venice, and Lance Diskan (former manager of the Fox Venice)
celebrating a July 2008 reunion at Murrow's New Mexico homestead. Lance
says, "Great to see one another after all these years. Brought Rol
a flyer from 1978 "Venice Night" extravaganza
- still fresh from my personal archives. Shared many wonderful stories
from Fox history, Venice years, mutual friends and Virtual Venice with
The impulse to glorify the Fabulous Fox is that of the
author, Pat Hartman. But she did some research too. For his generosity
in taking the time to help, many thanks to Rol Murrow, aka
Elsewhere: Cinema Treasures page on the Fox Venice.
© 2004 - 2012 Pat Hartman