By Jeff Baker
This all happened to me my Junior Year in High School. I had a job working at Movie Palace (that was the name of the place!) in a cheap shopping center. Back when shopping centers were a big deal.
Movie Palace had just one theater, metal seats with cushions, no big decorations like the older theaters but we kept the theater clean, and sold tickets at the right price. Nowadays there’s a laundromat where the theater was and I wouldn’t go near their snack machine but back in the 1970s it was kind of a cool place to work.
Two little restaurants, the dress shop my Mom went to all the time, a little bookstore and the theater at the far end of the building. And we were about the only kids Mr. Lotan hired that stuck with the job for a year.
Louis went to a different High School than I did but he always said “Augie, we gotta be crazy to keep this job.” Maybe we were but we were awfully young.
That was the year “Jaws” was making a big splash (I know, sorry!) and so my Boss, Mr. Lotan, was quick to capitalize by booking a quickly-made knockoff; “Teeth of Terror” was an hour-and-thirty five minutes long but it felt longer. It would have been shown on one of those cable shows where they show bad movies if they had been around then and besides the film just wasn’t that good.
Anyway, my boss loved gimmicks, his patron saint was probably William Castle so he paid a couple of local carpenters to build an open shark’s mouth, big enough to walk through and put it at the entrance to the theater, right beside the ticket window. Of course, the skittish customers could walk around the mouth and some of them did.
It worked like a charm, getting attention and publicity even a picture in the local paper.
Luis cracked that the caption of the picture was better-written than the script for the movie.
Amazingly, the movie actually played for longer than we expected it to.
The first odd thing came a couple of weeks after it opened. Somebody came in looking for their grown daughter. She’d said she was going to see the movie and her car was parked in the parking lot but it had been there for several days. He showed us a picture and I remembered her; she’d come in to see the movie wearing a bikini top. I remember thinking she’d be wishing she’d brought a sweater.
A couple of weeks later, a cop actually chased a guy into the theater, right through the open jaws. He’d robbed a store and probably thought he’d be able to hide in the theater. No dice.
But they never came out.
At first, I thought they’d gone out the emergency exit but then I remembered Mr. Lotan had put alarms on the doors in case somebody left them open to let someone in.
Then there was the afternoon some old guy, smelling of gin bought his ticket and was the only one in the theater for that showing. He walked through the jaws and didn’t come out of the theater when the show was over. Louis and I checked the theater, even looking under the seats.
Most of the people who walked through the shark’s teeth came back out, but not everybody. Several people had disappeared and Louis and I had stopped kidding about it. It wasn’t part of any gimmick.
So, I went up to Mr. Lotan’s office and was about to knock on his door when I heard his voice, talking on the phone?
No, singing on the phone.
No, chanting. Chanting something about “Leviathan.”
That was when I quit.
Louis walked out right after I did.
I had them mail me my paycheck, and I stayed away from that shopping center and saw all my movies at the Westlink Multiplex across town.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Again, special thanks to Joel Sanderson for the picture. (That’s him in the wetsuit.) Theater showing “Jaws” in 1976.