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
RICHARD SQUIRES, GUEST ESSAYIST
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
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
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.
James Card's final curtain has come down.
Squires is collection development librarian, LeRoy V. Good Library, Monroe
Section: Speaking Out Reader Essays
Index Terms: George Eastman House; James Card
Record Number: roc9941985496619
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