When I was a child living with my family at 1024 Royal St., I used to frequent a movie theater on the corner of Royal and Ursulines. What happened to the building?
– Susan Dike, New Orleans
Susan, what you are referring to is a rather troubled property that began its life in 1914 as the Gaiety Theater. (The name was a popular one for theaters in America and even Dublin and London.) The best account of the history of local theaters is the book, “There’s One in Your Neighborhood: The Lost Movie Theaters of New Orleans,” by Ray Brunet, Jr. and Jack Stewart, published by Arthur Hardy Enterprises, 2012. Brunet himself was a part of local movie history, best known for having saved the Uptown Prytania Theater, now operated by his son. According to the book, in 1915 there was a legal announcement that the theater’s contents were being auctioned. Not a good sign. The building survived, even showing films of Italian operas appropriate to the neighborhood which, at that time, had a large Sicilian population. In 1927, a banner painter for the theater was the suspect in a double murder. The building itself was even a victim when it was one of several theaters experiencing the wrath of projector operators who triggered stink bomb attacks. Oh, and, in 1937 there was a major fire. Through the years, the theater’s name was changed to The Royal Arts, the Theatre Royale, Le Theatre de St. Genesius and finally, as an adult theater, the Capri. In 1969 the theater was shut down and eventually demolished, leaving only its garden walls. Poydras says his great grandpa use to hide in the balcony there to see some of the old “Francis the Talking Mule” films that were popular in the 1950s.
Anyway, to answer your question Susan, I wish I could tell you that the site is the location of a bar where Jean Lafitte and Marie LaVeau used to sip Sazeracs together. Instead, what outsiders see is a wall on both the Ursulines and Royal Street sides. What goes on behind the walls is uncertain. There are heavy metal gates on each side solid enough to stop Russian tanks. I suspect it is a green space for nearby condos and maybe even some parking. Visually, though, it is a dead block. At least there are still mules to be seen in the neighborhood, but they are busy pulling and not talking.
Dear J & P,
What was the best movie ever made in New Orleans?
– Roth Johnson, Marrero
Well, opinions vary, of course, but Poydras always discounts other opinions and goes with his own beliefs. One question though is what is meant by “made in.” Artistically, the best film ever set in New Orleans was “A Streetcar Named Desire,” but the Tennessee Williams play was shot almost entirely in Hollywood. Some outside shots, such as the opening scenes of Blanche arriving by train, were shot locally, but for the most part where Brando did his yelling, was mostly in a back lot studio.
As for the best film shot on location, Poydras votes for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” director David Fincher’s 2008 film, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett about a person who was born old and grew younger. It had a presence throughout town.
Button received many Academy Awards nominations and was considered a front runner for picture of the year, but as the night progressed most of the awards went in a different direction. The big winner was the British/Indian Production, “Slumdog Millionaire,” in which a kid from the old country achieves wealth in a talent contest and the challenges of dealing with it. New Orleanians were disappointed that the film they saw being made locally lost, although their attention was diverted by the awards being the same night as the Bacchus parade.