Ann Blyth, LC, Janet Leigh
LIZ GETS TO WORK IN THE MOVIES, SORTA.
Here’s the backstory that explains why she was so excited to meet the movie legends she did. Ann Blyth, Janet Leigh, Jane Powell, Jane Russell, Ann Jeffries, Rhonda Fleming, and Celeste Holm.
She was tickled to get to be a movie extra more than a couple of times. Like when Hollywood came to film in Cleveland i.e., “Welcome to Collinwood”. Then in journalist Scott Lax’s novel-turned-into-movie titled, “The Year That Trembled”.
It started on a dare from her sister Wanda Gray, a movie extra herself.
The love of movies started in her childhood. Her family’s great love of movies helped Liz enjoy most of her childhood leisure time, for it was spent at the movies, of course. Called the cheapest of all babysitters back then was what was also called, in the language of the trade, movies on “the grind”. (That’s when they had the features showing “on the grind” i.e., at 2:00, 4,6, 8, 10)
That love affair continued when, besides being able to spend time as a teen in those old movie palaces, she got to work in those haunts (while still in high school). After graduating from John Adams High School, she continued part-time along with modeling at some of Cleveland’s most popular department stores like Bonwit Teller, Halle Brothers and Sterling Lindner Davis. At SLD, she worked up in rank to manage leased departments like “Better Jewelry” and their “Portrait Studio” (where she was the photographer, too.)
When this start of a career in Leased Retail was jeopardized with the closing of the store, she was fortunate to segue into a job that had her incorporating many things. That time was pre Womens Lib, so that meant it was mandatory (pardon the pun) for a good trophy-type-secretary to look presentable. Good jewelry albeit costume along with nice attire helped, too. (That, Liz had thanks to leaving most of her pay at work, in Sterling’s “Better Dresses” and “Better Jewelry” Departments.) It probably didn’t hurt having a good wardrobe.
But it was really her love of movies, her photographer’s eye and her penchant for promotion… that got her the offer of a dream job. She became secretary to the then-manager of The Colony Theatre.
It was while working for Bill Lanese, that Liz loved learning more about movies and how they were marketed at the theater level, i.e., opening nights, benefits, galas, etc. (All those parties that she had to dress up for!) Then Lanese left Cleveland to relocate to the west coast, to work in the related field of movie promotion, this time on his own. It got back that Bill made it BIG… as a publicist… but how big? Bill Lanese Advertising became one of the biggest and most respected P.R. firms handling all the major studios. So well thought of was he, that they funded the startup of his firm. That’s the kind of impact some can only hope to make. Bill did it.
Lanese recommended Liz be promoted from secretary to manager and she was. At that time, it was the Stanley Warner Theatre chain who had the Cleveland theatres the Allen, the Vogue and the Colony… located in Cleveland’s landmark Shaker Square.
When the chain merged with RKO to become RKO/Stanley Warner Theatres, regional manager Joe Alexander along with district manager Dick Wright assigned Liz to manage both the Colony along with the Vogue (located further out Van Aken Boulevard in Shaker Heights). She was awarded the management of that theater when recommended by the Vogue’s longtime manager Frank Wheatley upon his retirement.
Told then by RKO’s Joe Alexander that she was one of their first female movie theatre managers (obstinately to get her to say yes, no doubt) Liz took on the challenge of running both theaters, splitting her time between them. When they had the blockbusting premiere of “The Exorcist” at the Vogue, she knew she had to have more help. She already had it in the form of two now-famous or in-famous (depending on whom one talks to) movie maniacs, Morrie Zryl and Sylvia Sheer, both now of Blessed memory.
Mention is made of these fine folks because many old film-industry-friends have come out of the woodwork (read: retired with time on their hands) Without giving away timelines, here’s a hint how long ago this all was… and for those who know all these players… a sort of “don’t-remind-me-it-makes-me-feel-old department”, too: Morrie often used to remind Liz that she gave him his first fulltime job (in this country). Sylvia says how she schlepped then-infant son Jerry on her inventory rounds (for Berlo Vending). These two worker-bees went on to be the perfect choice of others, too. Morrie grew up to run numerous theatres while Sylvia stayed at one theatre, the Center-Mayfield, for decades.
And later in the ’80s … a couple of reunions
But, back to 1969 … and how the wedding went.
The reception held at the Colony was planned by Morrie and Sylvia as a much bigger surprise. Was it ever! Wedding patrons planned to come early so as to get a free movie out of it. Plus regular movie patrons ended up sharing in party trays (being circulated among the crowd just for them).
Those who came to that movie had themselves a interesting intermission. The movie? “Funny Girl”.
More will be written about movie trivia by Miz Liz…