KALLET GENESEE THEATRE - West of Syracuse, NY
Located in Solvay, just West of Syracuse, NY, the Kallet Genesee Theatre was one of the top roadshow/showcase/prestige theatres in the Upstate NY area.
This is a designer rendering that predates construction.
In it's best years, 1959-1974, this theatre was managed by George E. Read, who had the talent to create all the theatre displays (for the Kallet Genesee and also Kallet Shoppingtown) and print advertising (including the theatre's signature ad logo - called a "Sig Cut") himself. Read also came up with exceptional details to enhance the theatre's interior and film presentation.
Originally a theatre that played general release movies and double features, the Kallet Genesee was a popular neighborhood theatre when Kallet Theatres, inc, hired local resident George Read to be the manager. Read already had plenty of experience in every aspect of running another local theatre, the Franklin.
Kallet Genesee also hosted exceptional encore engagements of movies that had premiered elsewhere in town. Read considered curving the theatre's screen to simulate Cinerama for a return of HOW THE WEST WAS WON, but it was only booked for a limited run.
The entrance doors can be seen in mirrors on the back wall of the outer Lobby, leading to the right...
A cross promotion with a local store promotes the latest feature's soundtrack album.
George Read often created lobby displays and store signs to promote the latest feature.
He also arranged a successful local premiere of The Beatles' movie debut.
The concession stand usually had an attractive display, created or customized by George Read.
The odd shape hanging from the ceiling in the shot above is more identifiable in the next picture...
In the upper right corner of this photo is part of a hanging sign promoting THE SANDPIPER.
Behind the curved wall to the left is the Manager's office. The wall to the right concealed a hallway to the concession stand (reached from a door around the corner) and stairs to the projection booth. At the bottom of the stairs next to the door were three dimmers: for the house lights, footlights and the wall lights. Read arranged a cue bell for the projectionist in case the feature had to be held up, and the all the house lights were controlled by someone standing at the door. The curtain was controlled by the projectionist, who always timed it so the audience never saw a blank screen.
This photo through the tunnel shows the original green curtain within the smaller original proscenium. The screen sat a few feet back behind a gold curtain.
After being a showcase for a string of MGM films, including THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY and THE SANDPIPER, the Kallet Genesee Theatre got its first (reserved seat) roadshow engagement. Zhivago would have gone to the larger Kallet Shoppingtown, but it was still booked with the long-running THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Read and his staff made sure the Genesee was more than ready for its close-up...
The stage opening was enlarged to accommodate a ten foot wider screen for the premiere of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. When the new wide screen was installed at the front of the stage, the original front curtain wasn't wide enough to cover the expanded opening. The rear gold curtain was wider, so it was moved to the front.
The most memorably successful engagement at the Kallet Genesee was the Summer 1967 Upstate NY Premiere of THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE. Here we see a great collection of vintage cars and local musicians brought in to celebrate the opening night.
"MILLIE" was originally intended as a nice little comedy with music. However, after MARY POPPINS, THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (also at the Genesee), the very successful roadshow release of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, and the roadshow release of HAWAII, Universal decided to to take full advantage of Julie Andrews' popularity. Additional scenes and songs were added to elongate "MiLLIE" into a full length musical, so they could release it as a roadshow. It became one of Universal Pictures' highest grossing films, ranking right behind AIRPORT, THE STING, JAWS and E.T.
One can see in these images how much showmanship enhanced the experience at this theatre.
Having built up an exceptional skill for creating display work, George Read was now given an exceptional budget to create displays throughout the theatre. While most theatres just hung standard letters on their marquees, Read cut out and painted each letter of film's title. The key art featuring Julie Andrews' face was silk-screened onto translucent plexiglas and attached to the letter tracks with wire. The regular letters hung on straight tracks, but Read made the extra effort to wire the title letters to the marquee in a slight curve to approximate the look of the title in all the movie's advertising.
One didn't see over the door displays at many theatres beyond legit houses on Broadway, and even there they were rarely this elaborate. For the overhead space and the two showcases out front, every letter of the title and stars' names were individually cut out and painted. The stars' names were painted with a second, contrasting color around the side edges, to make them stand out. Inside the theatre were more custom displays showcasing the movie's soundtrack album and souvenir book, which were both on sale at the concession stand.
Read did similar, though less extensive display work for THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE, (Tommy Steele's face on the marquee) CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (the car on the marquee) and CABARET (the title in cut-out letters on the marquee).
Read often had onscreen trailer leaders custom made for major coming attractions.
Walt Disney's musical comedy THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE (Winter 1967-Spring 1968) had nearly all the elements of a roadshow film. It played in two acts with an overture and intermission, a soundtrack album and souvenir book were on sale at the concession stand, but there were no reserved seats. Of course Read made sure that the Kallet Genesee put on a great show.
Several weeks into the run of MILLIONAIRE, George Read was contacted directly by Walt Disney Productions with a serious question: "How are you making more money with this picture than any other theatre in the country?" The answer was that Read had deliberately tailored the advertising (print, television, radio) to a different demographic each week. One week he would feature the young romantic leads Lesley Ann Warren and John Davidson, the next week he'd highlight Fred MacMurray and Greer Garson, or Tommy Steele, the Alligators, etc... How about that? A concentrated effort to make the feature appeal to the public. In other words: SHOWMANSHIP!
In addition to ZHIVAGO (1966) and MILLIE (1967), the Kallet Genesee Theatre hosted the holiday roadshow engagement of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968). Beginning in the summer of 1968, a full six months in advance, Read arranged to run a variety of radio and television teaser ads furnished by United Artists for Chitty. These ads were no more than whimsical play on the title with no hint of what the movie was about.
PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969) was the last Roadshow feature to play at the Kallet Genesee. Subsequent musical engagements included DARLING LILI (1970), CABARET (1972) GODSPELL and LOST HORIZON (1973). Premiere engagements also included Academy Award winner A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and the space drama MAROONED.
Popular encore engagements, (many of them move-overs from Shoppingtown) included THE SOUND OF MUSIC, SOUTH PACIFIC, MY FAIR LADY, FUNNY GIRL, AIRPORT, BEN-HUR, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS and AMERICAN GRAFFITI. In many cases George Read managed to book rare magnetic stereo prints of movies that were primarily released in mono.
Walt Disney Productions frequently opened to great success at the Genesee including THE SWORD IN THE STONE, THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE, THE WILD COUNTRY, THE ARISTOCATS, and SNOWBALL EXPRESS.
For the top-grossing film of 1969, Volkeswagen were offering "Herbie" LOVE BUG decals for movie fans with their own bug cars. George Read made a cross-plug deal with a local VW dealer to loan a couple of the bugs, then customized them to look like the star car for display at the theatre.
Note the curvy line of the theatre's lobby wall, a theme which was carried on inside.
Look closely at the theatre doors, where Read stenciled the distinctive LOVE BUG logo. You can also see the second boxoffice, located inside. Useful for advance ticket sales of Roadshow movies, as a second window for very busy days, and a warmer alternate for very cold days.
A Different Sound of Music... Sister Mary Olivia Gibson, teacher at Maria Regina College in Syracuse, wrote a book about courageous nuns working "under cover" in plain clothes to help an urban community. Universal Pictures bought the book and turned it into a vehicle for Elvis Presley to play a singing doctor. A CHANGE OF HABIT had its Eastern U.S. Premiere in November 1969 at the Kallet Genesee, to benefit the Franciscan Sisters' special education program. Universal sent young co-star Jane Elliott to appear in person, but unfortunately the author was ill and could not attend (perhaps because she saw what Hollywood had done to her book). The movie pictured above is another Elvis vehicle, HARUM SCARUM.
Mary Tyler Moore had a three-picture deal with Universal between TV series THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and the MARY TYLER MOORE Show. The three pictures were: THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE -1967, WHAT'S SO BAD ABOUT FEELING GOOD? -1968, and CHANGE OF HABIT -1969.
Just past the tunnel is the rear of the Kallet Genesee auditorium. The four doors to the left lead to manager George Read's office, a utility closet, (past the water fountain) the men's room and the ladies' room. This space behind the seating is where Read assembled many of his large promotional displays. The side exit opened onto an indoor alley between the theatre and the adjoining store. More often than not, one would see Read's display work from previous features here. This included a huge cut out of the title BEN-HUR, and a pile of red letters that once spelled out THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE on the marquee.
This photo shows the wider stage opening with the gold curtain, and new seats that were installed prior to opening CABARET in 1972.
In the mid-70s, the Kallet theatres were sold to CinemaNational, the theatre division of Carrols inc., a popular fast-food chain that eventually converted to Burger King. CinemaNational already owned nearly every other first-run theatre in town: Cinema North, Cinema East, Mini 1, Westhill, Shop City Cinema, Bayberry, and the mini Oswego Cinema 36 miles away. (All of them were gone within the next 20 years.)
After the sale of the theatres, George Read left the Genesee, ending an era of showmanship. The new owners moved him into another theatre, and he eventually left the company. At one point, George used his technical and showmanship talent to transform an old college auditorium in Cazenovia into a nice little theatre, full of unmistakable George Read touches. Read is an experienced Union Projectionist, so he took some booth assignments in various theatres, and was eventually put in charge of creating the print advertising for CinemaNational and Carrols/Burger King.
in 1997, while the Genesee was still thriving as a budget priced second-run house, the building owner decided it would be more lucrative to tear down this classic theatre and put up a Pep Boys store in its place. The community lost a beloved and still viable landmark. The store went out of business a few months later and remained a vacant eyesore for years.
The Kallet Genesee has become a recurring topic among the Syracuse community - a perfect cautionary tale of what happens when avarice is blind to history, and what can be lost as a result. There is a local Blog (NYCO) about the Kallet Genesee, and on August 16, 2007, the theatre was remembered on the reader letters pages of the Syracuse Post-Standard:
The Post-Standard published two followup letters on 8/21/07...
And another letter on 8/23/07 recognized George Read as the key factor of Kallet Genesee's success.
George Read is now retired, but active. He has enjoyed his passion for trains as a conductor for the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway, continued his long-running involvement with the yearly Syracuse CineFest, and has often been found in the projection booth at the nostalgic Palace Theatre in Eastwood. It's become clear that Read has plenty of fans, with fond memories of how much his brand of showmanship and first-class presentation enhanced their moviegoing experience.
Text © 2007 by TJ Edwards Photos © 2007 by George Read.
As with most features here, this is a work in progress. Check back for future updates.
Cinema Sightlines is very grateful to George E. Read for providing information and images.
Look for an in-depth profile on Mr. Read, coming to our Showmen pages.
More on Roadshow Movie Theatres in Syracuse: The other leading prestige movie theatre in Syracuse was