From the moment I saw the crowd lined up outside the Sheridan and winding around the block, just standing there in the sleet and rain, I knew this was the real thing. As I walked along 12th Street across from the movie house, I passed a couple of middle-aged women who were also peering through the wind and rain at the crowd. One said: "They look just like ordinary people." She sounded both scornful and a bit disappointed.
Apparently she had heard the kicked-around phrase 'Night People.' In a way, I was glad she sounded disappointed.
The crowd itself didn't look particularly cold. The just milled around a little, shuffled occasionally, and talked and talked. It was almost midnight. Almost midnight, and here was a carnival seen through the bottom of a Coke bottle. It was that sort of night.
Began to go in
They began to move through the doors and into the theatre itself. A large grey-haired man dressed in an usher's uniform looked at the invitations at first, but he gave up after a while and just sort of stood there with a rather silly grin on his face.
In the lobby, more milling, and oddly enough a couple of guys kept popping off flash bulbs. No one knew who they were or why they were taking pictures of nothing in particular.
The crowd kept coming in, wet and still talking. A motley crew. Distinguished-looking couples and beardless youths in blue jeans. Everyone in the throng seemed to be looking a everyone else incredulously.
After more than 1600 of them had been seated it was about 12:15 and they were ready. I was watching from the wings, and finally got the signal from a stagehand to go out and say something. The PA roared out a couple of blasts of feedback, the crowd roared back. We were under way.
At first there was a good deal of noise and general confusion as the credits unreeled and as the mob tried to tune out the feelings of gaity in order to swing with the picture. Finally, comparative silence. As the film moved on, it became obvious that the audience was with it, although the usual movie-house juvenile commentators were with us. This is a breed that is found anywhere a picture of any sort is cast upon a screen. A fact of life.
What to expect?
Eventually the film ended, but the crowd stayed in place for a few moments and the applauded. At this point I was backstage, getting signals from the engineer that the air show would start in about 10 minutes. The stage lights went up as soon as I got out on stage with the PA mike as well as the WOR mike.
Chairs were put in front of the dead screen for thew objects of the question-and-answer period that was about to begin. Before the showing I had talked to the people who were to appear on stage, but none of us knew what to expect, so we were ready for anything. I guess the crown was too. The star of the picture, John Cassavettes; the director, Martin Ritt; the author, Robert Alan Arthur; the producer, David Suskind; as well as Jack Warden, a featured player, were introduced to the crowd, which showed varying degrees of enthusiasm for each. The film's makers appeared singularly small, just sitting there on the stage. The signal came from the studio and we hit the air.
A Confused Hour
The following hour is very confused in my memory, since I have a recollection of things that started but didn't end, and of many things the ended but didn't seem to start. I seem to recall a short stout
(...lines missing - illegible...)
as did the questioners, who in turn became bolder and sometimes more inane. It takes a special sort of person to get up on stage before 1600 others and ask questions of movie-makers. There was no shortage of these. One person who watched from the audience told me later that the procession up to the stage had a kind of "Alice in Wonderland" quality about it, and that he wouldn't have been surprised to have seen Tweedledee in the gang, awaiting his turn.
As for the air show, I have no way of telling how it sounded except to say that several listeners, including Ben Gross of the Daily News, seem to feel that it had some remarkable qualities. This could mean anything. I do know that as I worked I had a sense thar this particular deal didn't sound at all similar to anything else I've ever been involved with. All in all, a peculiar evening, and one that anyone who was there won't be able to forget easily.
The picture was "Edge of the City." We all feel you should see it.