When The Bev Was Very New

As the New Beverly celebrates its 40th anniversary of operation, it’s worth looking back at the many loyal and diverse souls who have popped corn, swept the floor, ran the projectors, and amassed movie memories in the many the years since Sherman Torgan turned a shuttered theater into the repertory film haven we know today.

 

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Arica Reinhardt was one of the first of those souls, part of a small, tight-knit crew of friends discovering their personal talents while getting an ongoing film education under Sherman’s aegis. She has since distinguished herself in multiple disciplines of art, business, and public service. Ms. Reinhardt recently agreed to an email interview to share her experiences of those earliest days of the Bev’s history.

 

What would you like to say about your background, and what your formative years were like?

I grew up horsey. My grandmother bred and raised horses. She rented pasture land with a stable out on Imperial Highway (inland from LAX). My parents bought a few acres in Rolling Hills before it became hoity toity. Everyone had horses and a barn back in the early 1960s, and if you’ve ever seen reruns of “Mr. Ed,” that’s my memory of how life looked until I graduated high school. It was idyllic. All my friends rode. There were horse trails everywhere and they all led to a central riding and jumping ring where I spent hours with neighbors and friends. I was a bit of a tomboy. I loved climbing trees, and you rarely found me out of jeans or overalls. My main chores were feeding, watering, grooming horses and raking manure.

 

Did you have any previous interest in the arts in general, or movies in particular, before you started working at the New Beverly?

Since birth I think. My grandmother and mother encouraged and supported my painting. Any surface that didn’t move got painted in addition to canvas and paper. My mom taught me to design and sew my own clothes. My great aunt taught me to tat lace. I loved photography since I got my first brownie camera. I remember in elementary school after I watched a movie on TV saying, “wait…how did they get from one scene to another?”, and realizing what editing was for the first time. I loved to go to the movies, especially the summer programs with all the classic studio films. My favorite were the MGM musicals.

 

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What sorts of activities were you up to before you got your job at the theatre?

I was in the film department at Los Angeles City College, and pretty much obsessed with film. Most of my friends were film school folks. When we weren’t in class, filming projects, or in a big room of Moviolas editing a reel of “Gunsmoke” for an editing class, we’d go watch a film and hang out for hours after deconstructing it. We were a tight group, and these are cherished years of my life. I believe our motto at the time was “anything for film”, and we spent many a sleepless weekend working on projects for each other.

 

Before working there, had you frequented the theatre when Sherman Torgan started booking it?

If my memory serves, I started working at the “Fab BC” in 1978 when Sherman opened it. I’m not sure if I was an original hire or not, but it couldn’t have been open too long before I started working there. I’d been a hound at the Nuart and Fox Venice for years, but the New Beverly Cinema was some other type of theatre before Sherman owned it, and I never ventured in.

 

What were your initial impressions as an employee?

It was fun to be on the service side of the film going experience, and enjoy the brief little conversations you’d have with people. I had no idea what I was doing, but Sherman walked me through the process of making popcorn, and how to move a large line through quickly. The schedule was perfect since I took classes during the day, and I could get in a bit of study time while the movies were playing.

 

Besides the usual tasks of either working box or concession, were there other things you did in your position? 

Other than selling tickets and snacks, and keeping things tidy, I didn’t have any other job responsibilities. Occasionally an audience member would ask me to evict someone from the premises, like the homeless dude who thought urinating on the floor inside the theatre was OK. After asking nicely and having him take swing at me, I took a broom into the auditorium to keep him at bay and with the help of a few fellas from the audience we got him out. Life was never dull at the Beverly Cinema 😉

 

What was your relationship with Sherman like?

I didn’t get to spend a lot of time talking with Sherman. Either he was in the box selling tickets when I was at the counter, or during the show he’d step into his tiny office which was basically inside the right side of the theatre. Occasionally his wife Mary would drop by, and his son Michael. We’d chat in the lobby for a bit. I would have loved to have more conversations about Sherman’s love of films, but that would have required uninterrupted time and that didn’t happen a lot. People would pop out for a drink or candy or something during the movie.

 

What were your co-workers like? 

Fun! I’m referring to the projectionists, because I don’t recall any other co-workers except for Sherman. When he wasn’t there I’d often dash across the lobby to sell a ticket, and step back behind the concession stand to sell snacks. Jeff Rosen was the projectionist I remember being there the most when I was working. David Koenigsberg who also went to LACC film school, and James Ursini who taught some of the film department classes too. I was always fascinated by the projection room and those huge projectors, and would hang out in the projection room either before we opened or after we closed just to see how things worked.

 

Did you ever get to help program films or alert Sherman to stuff that he would play later on? 

I think I asked him to show La Dolce Vita, and Night of the Hunter but can’t recall if he did or not. I don’t remember seeing them screen there. The AFI was doing screenings of films at the time with either an actor or director to answer questions. I remember seeing Lillian Gish at the Wiltern Theatre for a screening of Night of the Hunter, and it made a big impression on me. I was hoping it would get shown more often.

 

Were there any particular favorite nights at the theatre, either films that played or events that happened during the screenings? 

William Atherton came in when we were screening Day of the Locust. Lesley Ann Warren and a gent came in for a show, but I can’t recall the film. After they left I could hear her singing outside, and propped one of the front doors open. She was on a bench with her gentleman friend in the twilight. That was delightful.

The strangest time was the peculiar dude in a salmon colored polyester suit with a mustache, sideburns, dark glasses and the weirdest accent. I didn’t know what to make of him and his oddness…but this was Hollywood. You just sort of rolled with it. He hung out in the lobby talking to me for a while before going in to see the movie. The woman he was with was giggling the whole time. It wasn’t until later I realize he was Andy Kaufman’s alter ego Tony Clifton.

 

Did this environment spur you to pursue other creative activities, and if so, what sorts of things did you do?

I can’t say that it spurred me exactly. I have an almost pathological need to make art, and associate with people who do the same. This may sound strange, but to me if you believe in a creative source of the universe, then the best way to live our lives is to honor that. The Beverly Cinema was certainly supportive of creativity, and allowed me to be mired in filmmaking when I needed a part time job to support me during film school, and I remain grateful for the experience.

 

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How long did you work at the Bev?

I don’t think I worked at the theatre more than two years. I remember I was there at least six months before one of the projectionists, David Koenigsberg, told me about a short-term seasonal job at the Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Filmex). I worked that festival in 1979 and 1980 and didn’t return to the Beverly Cinema after the 1980 festival if memory serves. My Filmex crew and I briefly met Lawrence Olivier who was screening A Little Romance at Filmex. For some reason Gary Essert included our shipping and receiving department deep in the bowels of Century City in his tour with Sir Larry. We all waved to him with our white cotton gloves we used when handling film. It was a somewhat surreal moment.

 

Why did you ultimately leave the theatre?

The most mundane of reasons really, I needed to make a more substantial income and medical insurance. I think I’d moved from 8mm to 16mm at school, and that was not an inexpensive habit to support.

 

Did you ever make return visits after you ended your employment there?

I don’t think I ever did. I moved out of state for a while, and when I came back to California I moved to Redondo Beach. I’d come into West Hollywood to visit friends, but on those occasions, I’d want to spend time catching up with them, and talking in a movie theatre to me is sacrilegious. I’ve been known to get up and move away to a distant seat from a friend who comments during a film and won’t stop.

 

Did you maintain any further contact with your former co-workers?

Not from the Beverly Cinema, but the circle of film school friends that crossed over into that world, yes. Thanks to email and Instagram and such there’s still some virtual contact, even if the in-person visits are slim pickens.

 

Did you learn anything from your experiences that helped you later in life, in any kind of field or moment that is not necessarily artistic?

It was my first public-facing job experience, and that was a terrific thing. I loved the little vignettes of conversation. The moments you interject a question about why they came to see that particular film while you’re adding butter to their popcorn. The way you get a snippet of insight before they walk away and you exchange a moment with the next person. I’ve heard this referred to as “getting into relationship” with a person. Like in an elevator or a shared cab ride. There’s these moments of candid conversation when you assume you’ll never see that person again that are like precious bits of writing. I’ve rarely experience this kind of work since then, and truly enjoyed it.

 

If you’re willing to share, what have you been doing over the decades since your time at the Bev?

In 1982 when I had my first son I gave up the notion of working in the industry. My youngest son was born four years later. They are everything to me. I was the first in my group of friends to have kids and it changed my life in big ways. I feel so blessed to have my sons in my life, and that they have creative pursuits. There are times when my relationship with them mirrors my film school days. We will see a film together and spend hours over dinner or lunch talking about every aspect of it. This is joyful time for me.

I never lost the filmmaking “bug” completely. I taught myself video editing, bought a camera, and made a few little videos for non-profits to aid their fundraising efforts. In the past few years I’ve learned animation and motion graphics in After Effects, but haven’t done much more than play with it. I recognized that the art work and illustrations took much more time than the animation key framing. So for the past two years I’ve been focused on painting techniques inside of Photoshop. I hope to retire from the working world in a year or two, and turn my energies almost fully to digital painting and animation.

 

Do you remember the circumstances of when you found out about Sherman’s passing?

I was living and working in San Francisco. It was one of my film school friends who emailed me. It was sad news. I hope that Sherman knew deep in his core the goodness he had done for his community, and how much he was appreciated for it. I don’t believe he ever enjoyed much financial reward, but what he did for the neighborhood, and for Los Angeles area film lovers when he opened The New Beverly Cinema was immense.

 

What is the most unusual encounter, conversation, or life event that has taken place when someone recognized you from the Bev, or when the subject of the theatre has come up? 

I don’t recall anyone ever recognizing me from working there. Kind of the other way around. One night while I was working there and standing outside, a car screeched to a halt and two people got out yelling “Laraine, Laraine!” I was skinny, a slightly hooked nose, and had long frizzy-wavy hair. If I had a nickel for every time someone thought I was Laraine Newman from SNL in those days, I’d have a couple of bucks.

 

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What will you remember most fondly from your time working at the New Beverly?

Those were truly golden years for me. My pack of friends, the shared love of this medium that to us was like every art form rolled into one ultimate one. The fun of working at a theatre and seeing the people coming in excited to see a double feature of great movies, and overhearing their conversations on the way out. The way I could work at this wonderful theatre and it fit into my film school life so beautifully. It was a wonderful experience.

(All photos courtesy of Arica Reinhardt)

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