When the dark comedy “Harold and Maude”
opened in mid-1972 at the Westgate Theater (4500 France Avenue
), no one in the audience suspected that they would have another 1,956 opportunities to see the popular film that achieved a cult following.
For more than two years, “Harold and Maude” played at the Westgate – what seemed like a lifetime of missed Disney movies for a Morningside kid.
By the beginning of the third year, disgruntled neighborhood residents picketed the theater with signs reading, “Our plea to Westgate. Your neighbors want variety” and “Two Years Too Much.”
Robert Owen was at the protest. "My mom and two of her neighbor friends organized it. She said the protestors consisted of the husbands and kids of the three women," he wrote, in answer to a query I posted on Facebook. "
I remember booing at Ruth Gordon and the other actor when they showed up. My mom told me to stop that; the protest was not against the movie or actors but to get the theater to run some other films."
The Morningside record-breaking run of “Harold and Maude” brought it – and the movies’ stars Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort – national acclaim. Cort would say later that notice from the Minnesota run would boost his career.
In fact, both stars visited the Westgate Theater: Ruth Gordon attended the first anniversary showing, and both came for the second anniversary. (Picket signs protesting the movie’s long run can be seen in the background of one newspaper photo.)
In all, the movie played for a total of 1,957 showings from mid-1972 until June 1974 setting a new record for number of showings for any movies in the Twin Cities.
Another cult film, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” would break that record in the late 1970s, but the Westgate began the strategy of finding a market to stay alive in a time when multi-plex theaters took most of the movie business from small single-screen operations like Westgate."Harold and Maude" merely postponed the inevitable, and the Westgate finally closed in 1977. The building now houses Edina Dry Cleaners.
- For more on the Westgate Theater's history, see this story from Edina Historical Society newsletter, Issue 3, 2010.
- Count Edina native Jim Burke among the movie's fans. According to a recent story in the Star Tribune, the producer of the Academy Award nominated "The Descendants" spent many an afternoon at the Westgate Theater. The story, written by Colin Colvert, says: Burke, 53, says he didn't plan it, but there is a sense of inevitability about his career. He grew up in a movie-theater family, ushering at his father's theater in the basement of the IDS building and tearing tickets at the old Yorktown Cinema. He displayed symptoms of film addiction early on. While at Edina High School he attended countless screenings of "Harold and Maude," which spent more than 100 consecutive weeks at his neighborhood Westgate Theater on the corner of 45th and France (presently the site of a laundromat). In 1982 he graduated from the University of Minnesota, moved to Los Angeles and landed a film-studio job because "I didn't realize I couldn't do it.
- So, are you a lover or a hater of "Harold and Maude"? Were you among those kids who felt they missed out on years of children's movies? Did you carry protest signs? Or do you belong to the "Harold and Maude" cult following? Email me or comment here.
- For more about the library housed in the theater and librarian Elvira Vinson, see this post
If you didn't see "Harold and Maude" one of the more than 100 weeks it showed at the Westgate Theatre, now is your chance to see the movie cult classic on the big screen.
The Heights Theater in Columbia Heights will mark the 40th anniversary of Harold and Maude's historic run at the Morningside theater. Don't procrastinate: the movie will be showing only once
on Wednesday, March 21 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8.Go to see a cool restored movie house, even if you aren't a fan of the film.
The theater opened in 1926 and is (according to its web site) "the Twin Cities' longest continuously operated show house."
See The Heights' web site
for more information about the theater's history, location and movie schedule.