By Mary O’KEEFE
Moviegoers of the past were channeled to the present as the Andersen’s Pet Shop parking lot filled with people and popcorn last Friday and Saturday nights. The occasion was the inaugural Montrose Film Festival held at the former site of the Montrose Theater in the 2200 block of Honolulu Avenue. The Montrose Theatre was a popular local venue from 1924 to 1987 when it was destroyed by fire.
For the weekend’s event a giant movie screen was inflated at the south end of the parking lot. Audiences ordered dinner from a variety of local restaurants and volunteers from the Crescenta Valley High School Prom Plus Club popped the popcorn, took dinner orders and acted as ushers throughout the nights.
In movie theaters of the past, live music was played to keep the audiences entertained before the main show. The Maestros’ band kept that tradition alive as they played Dixieland jazz. Some audience members got up and danced as the band played on.
“I love home towns,” said a woman who had just been passing through Montrose on her way to her Los Angeles home. She saw the movie screen and stopped.
“We had a pretty good crowd,” said Steve Pierce, one of organizers of the event.
The idea for a Montrose Film Festival had been a topic of conversation for some time between Pierce, fellow organizer Tony Smith, Glendale Councilmember John Drayman and Mike Lawler, president of the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley. Through the efforts of these men along with the support of the City of Glendale, Andersen’s Pet Shop, the Montrose Shopping Park Association and the historical society, the festival was finally planned.
On Friday the movie screened was “My Wild Irish Rose” released in 1947 and starring local actor Dennis Morgan (whose real name was Stanley Morner).
Montrose, Crescenta Valley and Morgan have strong ties. He was the honorary mayor of Montrose, before it became part of Glendale. It was his celebrity presence that brought stars to Montrose for the annual Rodeo Days and Christmas Parade. He also was the key player in establishing Two Strike Park.
On Friday before the main movie, Drayman treated the audience to a restored film of Montrose in 1949.
“Welcome back to the Montrose Theater,” Drayman said. “This movie is a terrific piece of footage that I don’t think has been seen in a very long time. It is the 1949 [Montrose] Rodeo Day Parade and the rodeo. The parade was a regular activity and this was the last year it was held.”
The rodeo was held at a ranch that had been sold in 1949 to the Oakmont Woods development. No ranch meant no rodeo.
In the past a Dennis Morgan film was shown at Two Strike Park as a celebration of his roots. Pierce and Smith wanted the event to be more like a film festival so they moved it to Montrose. Dennis Morgan’s family attended last weekend’s screening and liked the new venue. “This is wonderful,” said Betty Morner, daughter-in-law of the actor.
She, along with husband James and their children Kristina and her husband Jason, sons Austin and James and his fiancé Jessica, sat in the front row for Friday night’s showing.
“We have always attended the Two Strike Park movie but this is the first time our whole family has come together for this,” she said.
Morgan had two sons, James and Stanley, and daughter Kristin.
“We love this movie,” Morner added. “At the very end [Dennis’] daughter Kristin is in the movie. She sits on her dad’s lap and he sings to her.”
Kristin was 8 years old at the time.
Both Friday and Saturday saw a full house with people spilling onto the sidewalk and even watching the film from across the street. On Saturday night the movie screened was “The High and Mighty,” released in 1954 and starring Glendale resident John Wayne.
During both nights many asked Smith and Pierce when the next movie night was going to be.
“I’d like to do it every weekend,” Smith joked but added that would not be practical. Both would like to have it more than once a year but have to work on the schedule.
If last weekend’s audience was any indication, they will have plenty of support for another hometown movie night.