A Show Biz Life

By Joyce C. Carr. Originally published in the September 19, 1998, edition of the Weld County Past Times.

Special thanks to Stephen Walden for his help with editing.

Maybe you have heard the old joke:

The janitor of a theater was complaining to a friend about his job. He whined about the long hours, the low pay, the unruly children and the rude patrons.

The friend asked him, “If you hate it so bad, why don’t you quit?”

The fellow replied, “And give up show business?!”

After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado in December 1973, I was ready to change the world with my newly acquired teaching skills.

Unfortunately, jobs in the teaching field were few and applicants many. So, I found myself at loose ends.

My neighbor, at the time, was John W. Schafluetzel, long-time city manager for the Cooper-Highland Theaters chain. One of his theaters was Motorena Drive-In on South 11th Avenue.

One evening they were short of help in the concession stand. I was called and asked if I could help out. After that weekend, the management asked me to return. With no other prospects, I accepted. Thus began my short “show business” career.

That fall, the manager, “Doc” Strobel, announced he was quitting and asked if one of the employees would take over the management.

None of the others, who had much longer experience, were interested as they had other jobs, young families or were students. They were willing, however, to help me out if I would assume the responsibility.

Talk about innocents being led to slaughter. The hours were long and the pay minimal. In the beginning, I put in 72 hours a week. The day began at 9 a.m. and normally, I didn’t go home before 10:30 p.m.

There was plenty to do: ordering, checking in deliveries, payroll, scheduling, etc. Plus, the theater was getting old and had been neglected so keeping it clean and in repair was difficult.

Previously, when a new manager was hired, large articles appeared in the newspaper. Upon my appointment, there was but a tiny blurb in the theater owner’s magazine that, “J. Carr has assumed the management of the ‘open top’ Motorena Drive-In Theater in Evans, CO.” When I questioned this, I was told the higher management feared I would be beat up or something if people knew the manager was a female. You see, I was one of the first female outdoor theater mangers in this area.

Our worst problem was kids sneaking in, hidden in the trunk of a buddy’s car.

It may sound funny, but I got so I could stand by the snack bar and tell what kind of crowd we had by the sounds that drifted down from the cars. Loud outbursts and cursing usually meant a beer crowd. A wine or marijuana crowd was more jovial and you would hear more giggling coming from the cars.

By this time, the heyday of the drive-in theater was about over. Residential development had caught up with the theaters. The lights from the homes diminished the picture quality. Also, the advent of the videocassette recorder made it possible for a family to stay in the comfort of their home to watch their favorite films.

In the fall, I was promoted to the “hard top” Wilshire Theater. One week after assuming the management, the projectionists went on strike because the platter system threatened their jobs. It was a long and mean strike. Huge, ugly construction tacks were spread in the parking lot, causing flat tires.

Limburger cheese was spread on the exhaust manifold of my car. There were reports of the release of stink bombs in the theaters up and down the Front Range. For several weeks, off-duty policemen sat in the lobby trying to spot the suspected bombers.

My turn came during the holiday showing of Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact. We emptied the packed theater and offered rain checks, but the patrons wanted to stay. We had called the fire department, and the installed large fans which cleared the tainted air.

I had the most fun showing the movie Carrie. The movie ends with a peaceful scene in a graveyard. It shows a newly dug grave with flowers on it. All of the sudden, a ghoulish hand reaches upward through the dirt.

It was so unexpected, the audience jumped in unison, emitting a cry of surprise. You could actually feel the theater jump.

The best film I showed was the first Rocky. It was very popular and had an extended run of several weeks.

One Sunday night, when depositing the evening’s earnings, I was held up by a masked gunman. He took the bank bag, my purse and my car.

The experience affected me so that leaving the theater became a nightly ordeal.

Therefore, I finished my illustrious show business career, working days only as Mr. Schafluetzel’s assistant, retiring when he did in 1977.