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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bad Ideas from the 1970s: Jerry Lewis Cinema Franchises Were a Nutty Disaster

Posted By on Thu, Aug 25, 2011 at 10:00 AM


At the dawn of the 1970s, the vague-sounding National Cinemas Corp. approached Jerry Lewis about lending his name, likeness, and reputation to a mom 'n' pop movie theater franchise. Jerry himself wouldn't have to do a whole heck of a lot other than sit back and let the big bucks would roll in. Are you beginning to see where Krusty the Klown gets his ideas?

As Cinelog explains, the idea was that mom 'n pop would put down tens of thousands of dollars and would run the theater by themselves, thus keeping the overhead low. They would also show only second-run, family-friendly films ... and therein lay the Achilles' heel of the Jerry Lewis Cinemas.

Well, one of them. The whole thing was a raw tendon.

Hey, who wouldn't want to take a date to see Bedknobs & Freakin' Broomsticks or other dire family fare when the new James Bond movie had just opened?

Also keeping people away in droves was the assumption that "Jerry Lewis Cinema" meant it only showed Jerry Lewis movies, so many of them did as about as much business as a theater only showing Robin Williams movies would do now.

There are no commercials for the Jerry Lewis Cinemas online -- and I suspect none were ever made, not even for the Bay Area locations listed by Cinema Treasures -- so instead, please enjoy some behind-the-scenes footage of Jerry's concurrent boondoggle, The Day The Clown Cried.

The cinema franchise collapsed by the end of the decade. Many of the theaters stayed afloat by showing porn, and it makes me happy to imagine that a former Jerry Lewis Cinema somewhere, maybe this one, showed The Farmer's Daughters starring Spalding Gray.

Hey, a girl can dream.

Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

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