Does this poster look familiar to you?
If you lived in Edina during the mid-1970s, it should. After all, the Harold and Maude movie poster hung in the Westgate Theater window for more than two years, from mid-1972 to June 1974. Yes, that's a record-breaking 1,957 showings. (For more on that and the Sunnyside and France movie theater in Morningside, see our previous post here.)
Steven Johnson worked at the theater and got the poster when the movie finally closed. The poster shows some age, but as Steve pointed out it was in use for much longer than the average movie run. He speculated that the poster may have first been on display at the Suburban World theater in Minneapolis when the movie opened in 1971.
This poster with simple text on a white background is the original poster. Later versions featured drawings or photos of stars Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort, who attended anniversary screenings at the Westgate. (Note that the movie rating predates the current system; instead of being rated PG, it's GP.)
Steve brought in the poster with his friend and fellow Harold and Maude fan Randy Greene, who helped organize the recent showing at the historic Heights Theater. Despite having seen the movie for many of those 1,957 showings as an employee, Steve still appreciates the cult classic.
Thanks you to both Steve and Randy for choosing the Edina Historical Society as a permanent home for the poster. They also brought in a group of newspaper clippings and ads that will be housed in our research files.
Do you have anything with an Edina connection that you think belongs in the Edina Historical Society collection? Please contact me for information about donating. We're a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization; the value of your donation may be tax deductible as allowed by law. The Society does not assign value.
A great majority of our items do not have a huge cash value, but they are priceless in terms of telling the history of our community. As I always say, we can't order Edina history from a catalog; our collection is a result of many years of donations from community-minded people.
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.
"Harold and Maude" showing to mark 40th anniversary of record run
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.
I am very fond of Elvira Vinson. While I have never met her (and won't since she died several years ago), Mrs. Vinson lives on at the Edina History Museum.
I often consult her scrawled notes documenting an interview with a pioneer resident or her history articles tapped out with a manual typewriter on lined notebook paper. Long before the Edina Historical Society formed in 1969, Mrs. Vinson was collecting, preserving and telling the history of Edina.
Residents knew her from her work as the librarian at Wooddale School or at the Morningside library housed in the Westgate Theater building on Sunnyside Avenue. She made children wash their hands before handling library books, and she carefully looked up new patrons in the phone book to ascertain that they were actually residents of the neighborhood.
What people may not have known is that Mrs. Vinson was working on a book of her own about the history of their community. While her writings never made book form, her research notes and articles are housed at the Edina History Museum and are often used by researchers.
Now I am working on documenting Mrs. Vinson, perhaps our city's first historian. While we do have some information about her in our files, I hope to talk to people who met her and know about her life. Please call or email me if you know anything about Mrs. Vinson's background. I hope to write an article for the winter issue of our newsletter.
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Jennifer Adam is the Executive Director of the Edina Historical Society. She welcomes your contributions. Comment on a post or send an email (see below). Traditional mail, of course, can also be sent to:
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