It was seeking relief from the heat that ignited Angela Danovi’s passion for historic theaters. That respite led to a love of classic movies shown at the Orpheum on mid-afternoon summers in sweltering Memphis. Of all those films, Gone with the Wind was her favorite. It was the now 101 year-old Olivia De Havilland with her portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara’s kindly but fierce sister-in-law Melanie Wilkes that led Danovi to seek out De Havilland’s other films and eventually develop a website dedicated to the film icon.
“I’d seen Gone with the Wind on TV but never in a theater, much less a theater as majestic as the Orpheum,” the now Rogers resident said on a recent call. “At that time ‘pan and scan’ versions of films were shown on television.”
Pan and scan compresses the film for what were square-ish televisions vs. the rectangular projection shown in a movie theater.
“Watching it at the Orpheum, we saw parts of the background and characters who were cropped out for television. Seeing that made me want to see what else I’d missed.”
Part of “seeing what she missed” led to about a dozen road trips throughout the United States to check out historic theaters. She’s been to Marietta, Ga., Franklin, Tenn., Birmingham, Ala., Wichita, Kan., and Knoxville, Tenn., among others. But the highlight of her Historic Theaters road trips was to Austin, Texas’ Paramount Theater for the 75th anniversary showing of Gone with the Wind.
“When I heard that the David O. Selznick Archives (held at the University of Texas, Austin) would be partnering with the Paramount Theater to provide memorabilia from the film, including costumes, I knew I just had to go,” she said.
This was the first time her historic theater tourism required more than a tank of gas. Plane tickets, hotel rooms and a rental car would be involved, not to mention tickets to the 75th anniversary red carpet showing.
“It was an event. A true experience,” she said. “They had the Paramount fully programmed. In every space where there was an activity or experience in every nook and cranny.”
These experiences ranged from costume displays to props with interpretive panels to a photo booth where you could have your picture taken in front of a digital background from the film that was immediately available for online download.
“These are the kinds of experiences we can replicate in our historic theaters in Arkansas,” she said, echoing the advice of League of Historic American Theaters Executive Director Ken Stein gave during his keynote at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Historic Theaters Conference in August. Stein was the executive director of the Paramount Theater in Austin during Angela’s pilgrimage.
Having traveled across the country to visit and experience historic theaters, she’d always wanted to attend the Theatre Historical Society of America conference, where she could learn more about historic theaters and their role in 21st century communities.
“Those conferences are very expensive and have a national focus,” she said. “That’s why I was so glad to have learned about the conference at the Rockefeller Institute. It was nearby, affordable and would be full of other locals passionate about the same things I’m passionate about.”
The Historic Theaters Conference and its 75 attendees from across the state have formed a network where one didn’t exist before. They will be sharing stories of successes, failures, best practices and obscura ranging from lighting issues to how to best deal with the need for wider seats in the modern era and much more. A Facebook group started by the Institute will help keep the dialogue going in between summits like the one held last month atop Petit Jean.
“Who knew that there was a League of Historic Theaters board member who lived in Northwest Arkansas? I had no idea,” she said.
Making these sort of connections and putting smart people in the same room to solve problems facing the state is exactly the thing Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller did repeatedly. This follows directly in his legacy, his love of the arts and passion for historic places.
In the meantime, Danovi will be working on programming classic films in historic theaters in her neck of the woods.
“That’s what they’re built for, after all.”
She’ll also be taking the advice of Ms. De Havilland, who said, “One must take what comes, with laughter.”