When “To Kill a Mockingbird” played in Albany

As I look forward to participating in “Mockingbird Marathon: To Kill a Saturday,” the public reading / fundraiser of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” on November 6, 2010, I think back to when the 1962 Academy Award-winning film of the same name played in Albany.

And so, on a chilly Saturday morning, I had two choices.

Go down to watch the Central Warehouse building burn and smolder, and possibly inhale some toxic fumes – a sweet distillation of asbestos and ammonia and chlorine and bird droppings and God knows what, all incinerated with smoke and fire.

As much as that sounds tempting…

I chose instead to visit the Albany Public Library and pour through old newspaper microfilm archives, hoping to find not only the date when “To Kill a Mockingbird” premiered in Albany, but what theater had the honor of hosting the film.

Before I went to the library, I checked the Internet Movie Database to confirm that “To Kill a Mockingbird” made its screen debut on December 25, 1962.  However, the film did not premiere in Albany in 1962; it actually took two months – until Wednesday, February 20, 1963 – for Albany theatergoers to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the Capital District.

Advertisement for "To Kill a Mockingbird," 2/20/62, Albany Times Union.

The film premiered at the Strand Theater, advertised as “New York State’s Most Beautiful Theater.”  If you’re looking for the Strand Theater today, its original physical address was 110 North Pearl Street.  I say “was.”  That address is now a parking lot adjacent to several downtown brew pubs.

For opening night, you could watch the film at 1:50, 5:35 or 9:20; “To Kill a Mockingbird” was paired as a double feature with the compilation “30 Years of Fun,” a collection of silent film comedies.

So if “To Kill a Mockingbird” was playing at the Strand… the next question is… what was playing at Albany’s other motion picture palaces and passion pits?

Over at the Ritz, William Holden and Trevor Howard appeared in “The Rage of the Lion,” which was part of a double feature with the French-Italian film “A Bomb for a Dictator.”

The Hellman, on Washington Avenue Extension, was completing their exclusive run of the “cast of thousands” film “The Longest Day.”

The Delaware – well, we call it the Spectrum today – was winding down their engagement of the film “Kill or Cure,” starring Terry-Thomas and Eric Sykes.  In addition to the ad for the film, the Delaware was proud to announce that there was free parking for all patrons of their films.

The Palace offered the breathtaking Hawai’ian drama “Diamond Head,” featuring Charlton Heston and Yvette Mimieux.  In addition to “Diamond Head,” they also showed the documentary featurette “The Wonders of Israel.” For the kids, the Palace would offer “a special Washington’s Birthday morning show” of “Tarzan and the Lost Safari,” along with a Three Stooges comedy and assorted short cartoons.  50 cents for children, adults 75 cents.

At the Madison, the film “Gypsy,” starring Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood and Karl Malden, was ending a successful run.

The Turnpike Drive-In announced they would open on the 21st, with an Elvis Presley double-feature of “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Kid Galahad.”  The Turnpike offered, for opening night, free orchids, free key chains, and free gifts for the little kids – as well as in-car heaters so you could enjoy an Elvis Presley double feature in late February in upstate New York.

At the Leland, one could watch the premiere of the 1961 film exploitation film “West End Jungle,” a film that was actually banned in England because of its semi-shocking display of the prostitution trade.  “West End Jungle” was coupled in a double feature with the 1958 low-budget film “Wild Women of Wongo.”  Yes, I know there’s a song called “Wild Women of Wongo,” as performed by the Tubes.  Not sure I’d enjoy either version, mind you.

So anyways, now that you know what played in Albany on February 20, 1963, I hope you all can attend the Mockingbird Marathon on November 6, 2010 at Townsend Park Bakery, and let’s raise a lot of dough – pun intended – for Literacy NY of the Greater Capital Region!