"A Revolutionary Concept in Screen Entertainment": The Emergence of the Twin Movie Theatre, 1962-1964

By Meissner, Christofer | Post Script, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

"A Revolutionary Concept in Screen Entertainment": The Emergence of the Twin Movie Theatre, 1962-1964


Meissner, Christofer, Post Script


American film exhibition in the early 1960s was characterized by several distinct trends. One growing trend was in the construction of suburban shopping-center movie theatres. According to trade press reports, there were over 150 such theatres built between 1961 and 1963 ("$54,725,400 Invested;" "$90,706,500 for 242 New Theatres;" "$97,411,500 Invested;" "Shopping Centers New Lure" 12; Shlyen 3). Another trend that was at its peak was that of the drive-in movie theatre. The total number of drive-ins in operation in 1963 topped 3,500, a little over one-quarter of all American theatres (Austin 64). Most American movie theatres in the early 1960s, though, were neither shopping-center theatres nor drive-ins but downtown picture palaces or inner-city neighborhood movie houses dating back to the pre-World War II studio-era of American cinema. The Hollywood film industry of the early 1960s was organized, to a great extent, around supplying these picture palaces and neighborhood theatres with widescreen biblical and historical epics and musicals, which were usually shown in the aging picture palaces as reserved seat "roadshow" presentations.

It was into this context--the increasing spread of the suburban shopping-center theatre, the continuing prominence of the drive-in, the central role of roadshow presentations in studio-era picture palaces--that another exhibition trend began to emerge in 1962: the twin movie theatre. Launched with the opening of the Cinema I-Cinema II theatre in New York City in June 1962, the twin movie theatre trend was one in which an individual theatre with a single identity and usually with shared box office, entrance, lobby, and amenities such as restrooms and concession stand, had two separate auditoriums for exhibiting movies. The phenomenon of multiple auditoriums in a single movie theatre complex (now known more commonly as a "multiplex") became the mainstream of American film exhibition by the 1970s, but the practice was a novel one in 1962, one that trade publication Boxoffice in February of that year called "a revolutionary concept in screen entertainment" ("Twin Cinema" E-1). This essay will trace the emergence of the twin movie theatre in the United States between 1962 and 1964 by discussing, first, some earlier, pre-1962 examples of twin movie theatres in North America; secondly, the opening of the Cinema I-Cinema II in New York City and its place in art-house exhibition of the period and in the development of movie theatre design; and finally, the early twin theatres opened by the Durwood theatre chain in Kansas City and by the General Cinema theatre chain nationwide between 1962 and 1964, which both chains used to establish themselves as innovators in American film exhibition.

"A REVOLUTIONARY CONCEPT IN SCREEN ENTERTAINMENT": EARLY TWIN MOVIE THEATRES

Boxoffice's pronouncement notwithstanding, by the 1960s the twin theatre was not all that revolutionary. There had been several prior twin, or dual-auditorium, movie theatres dating all the way back to the 1910s, and the twin-screen drive-in theatre had become somewhat commonplace by the early 1960s. A look at some of these earlier examples of twin movie theatres provides some context for the likely familiarity that alert and knowledgeable 1960s exhibitors might have had with the twin theatre concept.

The earliest known instance of a dual-auditorium theatre is the Duplex Theatre in Detroit, opened by exhibitor Charles Porter in 1915. With two 750-seat auditoriums in the same structure, each with its own projection booth and limited stage area, served by a common box office and entrance, the Duplex is a striking early innovation in movie theatre design. Little is known about how or why Porter decided to open a movie theatre with two auditoriums, although the title of a Moving Picture World article from 1916, "Detroit, Michigan, Home of the Famous 'Duplex,'" suggests that the theatre had achieved at least some notoriety as a result of its unconventional format. …

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