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.
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