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Back To The Future—With Mary Pickford Looking On

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin June 24, 2014 at 12:00AM

The Los Angeles Conservancy’s 'Last Remaining Seats' series—now in its 28th successful year—marked a milestone this weekend and I was there...
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This year’s edition of the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats series—now in its 28th successful year—marked a milestone this weekend by returning to the long-unavailable United Artists Theatre on Broadway. I was delighted to host a screening of Back to the Future in this celebrated movie palace, which has been brought back to life as part of the trendy Ace Hotel chain. While hipsters waited for admission to its restaurant and club, Angelenos of all demographics packed the 1,600 seat theater to see a modern favorite, a mere 29 years old, that was the most popular movie of 1985. (It far outpaced other hits that year, which included Rocky IV, Out of Africa, and The Goonies.)

OUTATIME The DeLorean license plate

Three of the film’s actors joined me onstage: Lea Thompson, who plays Michael J. Fox’s mother, Claudia Wells, who plays his girlfriend, and Don Fullilove, who plays the future mayor of Hill Valley. They delighted the packed crowd with their upbeat memories of making the film—even when six weeks’ of production were scrapped to recast the leading role. (Wells had been shooting a TV series the first time around, so she never got to work with the original star, Eric Stoltz.) Thompson said that a day doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t talk to her about Back to the Future.

The film looked great on the giant United Artists screen, and played well, too—proving that ingenuity and imagination did exist even before CGI.

Adding to the fun was the fact that the original DeLorean used in the movie was parked right in front of the theater on Broadway, with its memorable OUTATIME license plate. No one missed an opportunity to take pictures of the time-traveling car. (Special effects supervisor Kevin Pike, whose Filmtrix company built the “prop,” was also in attendance.)

As to the theater itself, which was closed to the general public during the long period when televangelist Rev. Gene Scott used it as his church, it is a marvel to behold. Inspired by Mary Pickford’s reaction to the 16th century cathedral at Segovia, Spain, it was designed by architect C. Howard Crane and completed in 1927.

Quoting the Ace Hotel’s web page, “The grand entrance, intricate detail and awe-inspiring craftsmanship illustrate Pickford's prescient instinct to house cinema in devotional dress. the ornately decorated open balcony and mezzanine overlook the expansive theater, orchestra and proscenium arch, while thousands of tiny mirrors glimmer in the vaulted ceilings.” You can read more HERE.

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Not on display Saturday night was a surviving fire curtain which bears the theater’s official motto: “The film’s the thing.” In time, I hope the good folks at Ace Hotel will be inspired to restore the badly-faded frescoes on the walls that depict Pickford, Fairbanks, and Chaplin. Perhaps a year of successful concerts will fund such an endeavor.

What a thrill to be part of a sold-out crowd watching a Hollywood movie in this palatial setting. If you don’t know about the Los Angeles Conservancy and its good works, which extend far beyond this annual festival, you can learn more HERE. There are three more screenings to go in this year’s Last Remaining Seats: Luis Bunuel’s El Gran Cavalera (The Great Madcap) at the opulent Los Angeles Theatre on Wednesday, June 25, and Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane at the Orpheum on Saturday, June 28.  

Finally, if you’d like to see Greg Laemmle’s conversation with Tom Sturges and Preston Sturges, Jr. following the opening-night showing of The Lady Eve, click HERE. Greg presides over Los Angeles’ treasured Laemmle Theatre chain and is a supporter of The Last Remaining Seats, which tells you what kind of guy he is.

This article is related to: Journal, Mary Pickford, Los Angeles Conservancy, Last Remaining Seats