“Get your ice cream! Get your tootsie frootsie ice cream!” shouts Chico Marx in the 1937 Marx Brothers film A Day at the Races, as he pushes an ice cream cart that actually holds some betting information for horse races.
On August 29, 2006, visitors to the Michigan Theater enjoyed some real tootsie frootsie ice cream in a special member event. Before the film, ice cream and fake Groucho Marx glasses and mustaches were handed out to patrons streaming in for an evening of late summer fun. A friendly vibe filled the Grand Foyer as film fans relaxed in anticipation of an old-fashioned night at the movies.
After the last notes of the pre-movie organ concert faded away, a contest was held on stage to judge the person who had best dressed up like a character in the movie. Audience applause rewarded a look-alike of Margaret Dumont, the long-suffering admirer of Groucho. A photograph was taken of the audience wearing the Groucho Marx disguise.
Theater Executive Director & CEO Russ Collins and Annual Gifts/Membership Director Laura Barnes used this time with theater patrons to toot their horns about past and future accomplishments of the Michigan. Much applause greeted the news of the Michigan Theater’s recent award of the 2006 Outstanding Historic Theatre Award by The League of Historic American Theatres. Patrons could also look forward to the launch of the MicroCinema Gallery on September 12.
We then settled into our seats for two hours of the zany, absurd antics of the Marx Brothers. Laughter rolled through the theater as Groucho and Chico tossed silly one-liners at each other (and Harpo made funny faces and noises). Logic flew out the doors as the English language was mangled. Interestingly, one of the biggest bursts of applause came for a serious and delicately choreographed dance routine.
It just felt good to be there, in the darkness, surrounded by other moviegoers enjoying themselves. The crowd included many young children, who were one week away from returning to the classroom. Also in attendance were some University of Michigan students, who that week had been streaming into Ann Arbor, getting ready for another year of college.
At one point, I imagined that we were back in 1937. Franklin Roosevelt was in the first year of his second term. Political tensions were rising in Europe, but the worst of the Depression seemed to be behind us. The Marx Brothers’ last movie, A Night at the Opera, was pretty funny, so let’s go see this new one!
That’s the beauty of these Detroit Movie Palaces. They let you both appreciate the past and look forward to how they will next be used to present some unique entertainment.
Copyright 2006 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.