Alex Theater Celebrates 82 Years of Entertainment

Garineh Demirjian

Since its grand opening as a silent movie and vaudeville theatre in 1925, the Alex Theatre in Glendale has hosted every trend in filmed entertainment.

The humanities/social lecture presentation is a decade by decade analysis of the fads and features that shaped Hollywood from the Golden Age to the Digital Revolution.

Many people have fond memories of the Alex Theater. With over 2000 seats, the Alex was home to some of the best motion pictures ever released. By the late ’50s the size of the theater was altered to accommodate the new cinemascope screen. Although it lost seats, the Alex continued to draw audiences from all over southern California.

Randy Carter, speaker at the humanities lecture is president of the Alex Film Society and a producer and director of movies and television programs. A member of the Directors’ Guild of America, he has worked as production manager, assistant director and director. His credits include The Godfather Part II, The Blues Brothers, Cheers and Seinfeld.

“Even with those impressive credits I am actually now exactly where I was in 1973 when I started in the business, said Carter. “I am unemployed and looking for work.” The Alex Theater was the valley’s premiere theatre house. Many studios would have premieres or sneak previews of their big, upcoming pictures. The first screening at the Alex was a film called “Lightnin’ ” a 1925 silent film written by John Ford. According to Carter “it’s the talkiest silent film I have ever seen.”

The first tidalwave of changes that took place in theatres like the Alex, was sound. By 1925 Bell Telephone had perfected a sound-on-disk system for motion pictures. This system, which came to be called Vitaphone, was based on the synchronization of the picture film with a phonograph record.

Despite this technical breakthrough, Hollywood movie studios demonstrated a notable lack of interest in Bell’s project. Only Warner Brothers Studio was tempted by the Bell instrument, and even Warners considered talking pictures too risky a novelty. But Warners saw in the Bell machine the possibility of saving money by substituting phonograph records for live musicians.

During the 1920s, live musical performances at first-run theatres became an exceedingly important aspect of the American cinema. As Carter said, “You could go anywhere and hear the New York philharmonic.”

1930 was the year of the movie studios. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) had stars like Clark gable, Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney; Paramount was Cary Grant and May West; Warner had Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.

As far as Universal studios were concerned, movie production at Universal City increased, a steady stream of silent films including westerns, comedies, and action-adventures became Universal’s trademark. Carl Laemmle, creator of Universal, also began inviting visitors to Universal City to observe his movie making, establishing Universal’s long-standing tradition of welcoming guests to enjoy the behind-the-scenes magic. However, the Universal tour was temporarily halted in the late 1920s, when “talkies” became the norm and producers demanded a set free of visitor’s noise.

A few of Universal’s most notable feature films of these early years include “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1923), “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925), and “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930). Universal also became well known for its horror films of the early 1930s. These productions included such classics as “Dracula,” “The Mummy,” “Frankenstein,” and “Bride of Frankenstein.”According to Carter, Charlton Heston came to the Alex Theatre to screen “Ben Hur.” He came because “My wife has not seen it on the big screen in 20 years and we are both going to be dead in a few years.”

Carter reflects on the true character of an old time Hollywood actor. “The Charlton Heston of the National Rifle Association is not the real Heston; that was not the bulk of his life. He was at the civil rights marches in the 60s – if you see a picture of Martin Luther King, the next guy over is Charlton Heston.”

In 1992, the Glendale Redevelopment Agency purchased the historic Alex Theatre to serve as the centerpiece of Glendale’s revitalized Brand Boulevard. The agency dedicated $6.2 million in public funds to restore the Alex to its former splendor and transfer it into a performing arts center. Since reopening on News Year’s Eve 1993, the historic theatre has been a source of pride for residents and attracts thousands of theatergoers to Glendale each month.