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February 10, 2013



Hollywood Comes to Flatbush

In the summer of 1960 I stayed at my sister's house in upstate New York for a few weeks and so missed seeing my favorite director's new movie. It was Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, of course, and when I returned home to Brooklyn my friends had all seen it and I had to physically prevent them from revealing what was at the secret heart of the film's mystery. 

So I went to see it alone. It was as I recall playing on Flatbush Avenue (The Albemarle? The Rialto? The Loew's Kings?) but the big problem was that I was a few minutes late. The press and TV advertisements all stated up front that no one would be seated after the film had begun, and sure enough I was out of luck as the soft-spoken, spectacled, and studious looking teenage ticket taker told me in a sorrowful voice. I was pissed of course but decided to stay in the lobby in case the policy could be reversed on an ad hoc basis by this good-natured sort. (Ostensibly the policy, as Hitchcock explained in a later interview, existed so that people coming in late after the movie's star Janet Leigh had been dispatched early in the film, would not spend the rest of it wondering when she would appear. More likely, though, it was a ploy to guarantee that people would come to see what this potentially special and certainly scary Hitchcock film was all about.)

Meanwhile a well-dressed and well-appointed matron swanned into the lobby and tried to get past the ticket taker into the auditorium. He of course said no and explained why. She would have none of this and began throwing her ample weight around trying to scare him into letting her in. Voices were raised, threats were escalated, push nearly came to shove, but no was no. Finally realizing she wasn't going to get in she went all out and upped the feminist ante to horrific proportions. She started belittling him verbally, and when that didn't work she gave up but not before enunciating loudly and pointedly MAY. YOUR. MOTHER. DROP. DEAD. She then stormed out of the theater leaving her richly perfumed dragon breaths in the conditioned air behind her.

The ticket taker and I looked at each other -- I open-mouthed, he shaking his head. I headed home sure I would not be able that day to witness another performance like this one.

A week or so later, my friend Billy Ricca and I entered the theater super early, smiled nicely at the same ticket taker (his mom presumably still quick and kicking), got in to see Psycho, and sat in the second or third row. We of course were stunned, surprised, gob-smacked, and scared half out of our wits. As for the matron I hope she finally saw it, after eating a smallish portion of lite humble pie.

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