The Dryden Theatre at the
George Eastman House in
Rochester, New York

After James Card passed away,  I felt a deep sense of loss, even though I had not seen the man for nearly 15 years.  As I had done when Vincent Price died, I composed a letter to the local newspaper.  Happily, they published it.  Here it is.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (NY) - February 9, 2000
His starring role: setting Hollywood scene in Rochester


James Card, founding curator of the George Eastman House film collections, like the films he cherished and promoted, was larger than life. Card died on Jan. 16.

As a teenager in the 1970s I remember him at the podium the Eastman House's Dryden Theatre weaving his unique introductions to whatever treasure he'd chosen to show that evening (the introduction often being more spellbinding than the film itself).

And as we filed from the auditorium into the lobby, there he'd be in his fedora and cape watching the faces of the audience, hoping to see some sign of awe or enchantment. His powerful gaze was almost frightening, and kept me from approaching him there.

And then he retired the film introductions post-Card were but pale reminders of the fabulous tales he'd treated us to.

I knew little about his career at Eastman House at that time, but had read incredible accounts of fabulous awards presentations he'd hosted there beginning in the '50s featuring the likes of Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, Boris Karloff, Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd and (one of his favorites) Gloria Swanson. James Card succeeded in attracting the very best of Hollywood's pioneers to our noble city, putting us on every film scholar and historian's map.

His coup in convincing the legendary Louise Brooks to relocate here in her later years achieved likewise.

In the late 1960s, when the new regime at MGM was literally burying the original prints and negatives of its classic films, Card was diverting them back to Rochester, where he kept them safe until their true value was known once again. He was at the very grass roots of film preservation.

After he retired, Card and his lovely, equally talented wife, Jeanne, toured the country in search of a place to open a theater of his own so that he could keep bringing the classics and unknown gems he was so good at finding back to the public.

Incredibly, he ended up back in East Rochester, where he leased a movie theater, naming it ``Box 5'' (after the Phantom of the Opera's opera house box).

He was manager and projectionist wife Jeanne sold tickets and popcorn. His grand opening featured an appearance by silent film star Esther Ralston.

Later he would show a vintage Gloria Swanson film, with the temperamental star in attendance!

For several months, Card treated the public to rare gems of the cinema: widescreen prints of Love Me or Leave Me and The Haunting, as well as many of the silents that otherwise would go unseen.

The audiences were small, however, and Card was ready to call it quits. I am proud of the fact that a letter I wrote to this newspaper those many years ago, in which I warned that we'd lose this unique resource if it continued to lack support, succeeded in causing him to keep the projector rolling a while longer.

He was generous to a fault to those who showed an interest in his beloved cinema, and spent hours sharing the wonderful details of his life with young and old. When Box 5 finally did close, he continued sharing his love of cinema, first at his home in East Rochester, and then at a house he used for entertaining on East Avenue.

Eventually he built a cabin near Bristol where his projector continued to bring the likes of Lon Chaney, Vivien Leigh, Conrad Veidt and Pola Negri back to life every week for an invitation-only crowd. (Of course, anyone could come. He was certainly not an elitist.)

When he sold his beloved hillside home, he continued showing films in a converted barn at the base of the hill.

I'm sorry to say that I lost touch with James Card in the early '80s, but I'm thrilled that for a significant part of my young life I knew this complex man and was allowed to share the experiences, however vicarious, of one of the world's foremost historians of the cinema.

Sadly, James Card's final curtain has come down.

Squires is collection development librarian, LeRoy V. Good Library, Monroe Community College.

Section: Speaking Out Reader Essays
Page: 11A
Index Terms: George Eastman House; James Card
Record Number: roc9941985496619
Copyright (c) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.

Site created February 24, 2004 by Richard D. Squires []; this page added September 19, 2008.
All written content and arrangement of materials copyright Richard D. Squires, 2004 - 2008.