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

 
  Box 5: A Pictorial Appreciation

What was the Box 5?  In the 1925 Lon Chaney classic The Phantom of the Opera, Box 5 was the Paris Opera House box from which Erik -- the phantom -- watched his beloved Christine.  In 'reel' life, it was the name James Card gave the theatre he opened after retiring from the George Eastman House.  It was his dream to spend his retirement years doing exactly what he'd spent his working years doing...without the politics!  In September of 1978, he leased a vacant commercial theatre in nearby East Rochester's failing Village Mall where he started showing his private collection of films, along with others he'd rent from a distributor.  Gloria Swanson was flown in to attend the gala premiere, where she was awarded the newly-christened 'James Card Award.'  The next day, Esther Ralston arrived to attend a showing of her 1924 classic Peter Pan.

Card was overjoyed by the apparent enthusiasm people had for his dream come true.  Unfortunately, reality would rear its ugly head soon thereafter.

[Left] A typical schedule for Card's East Rochester Box 5 Theatre.  He tried to avoid a 'series' mentality, instead hoping to appeal to a broad range of patrons through a variety of programs. Click the image for a larger view.
Card's letterhead [right] from about the time of the East Rochester Box 5 saga included a fabulous image of Dr. Caligari.  Click on the image to see the entire letter, written in typical Card fashion.

James Card and his wife Jeanne Marie were the only employees of Box 5.  He was projectionist and general handyman, while she sold tickets and popcorn -- always with a smile.  One night I remember watching a prominent local journalist use his name to try and get free admission for his party.  When he realized it was Mrs. Card herself who he was talking down to, his manner became, shall we say, unctuous.

The audiences grew smaller and smaller, leading to articles like this one in the local press [Rochester Patriot, December 7 - 20, 1978. Photo at left].

Here's another, with the ultimate bad news [Democrat & Chronicle, December 30, 1978].

This note [right], with accompanying film schedule [below], was a sight for sore eyes!  Click to see a larger image.

As for 'Grampian Hills,' the back cover explained that, to John Barrymore, it meant "a final retreat where all would be wonderful and right."

 

The schedule included the following films: Black Orpheus, Mysterious Lady [Garbo, on the cover], Robin Hood [Fairbanks], 42nd Street, Pandora's Box, Great Expectations, Steamboat Bill, Jr., Idiot's Delight, The Last Trail [Tom Mix and Tony], The Penalty [Lon Chaney for Halloween became a tradition!] and The Big Parade!
This later schedule [right] featured a color photo of one of Card's prized posters...Dr. Caligari!

In the meantime, James Card kept busy writing, teaching and receiving well-deserved praise for his film preservation efforts.  Here's an article about a tribute held in Syracuse, NY in 1986.
Another article, this time from the Rochester, NY paper, caught people up on his latest exploits.

   


Site created February 24, 2004 by Richard D. Squires [richarddsquires@gmail.com]; page updated September 19, 2008.
All written content and arrangement of materials copyright Richard D. Squires, 2004 - 2008.
All images copyright the James Card Estate.