Decades after their employment at Loew’s Theatre in downtown Canton in the 1950s, a group of former ushers remains close, meeting regularly for coffee and conversation. We were “jacks of all trades,” said Ed Ferry, 78.
Apparently, you didn’t work at the Loew’s Theatre in downtown Canton unless you were fired from it.
“How many times did you get fired Vince?” former usher Mike DeComo of Perry Township asked Vince Sama of Plain Township.
“I got fired a couple of times,” Sama answered. “Mostly because I drove the bosses crazy.”
“Everybody did,” said Frank Morello of Canton.
Those volatile theater owners, brothers who were nice enough when they weren’t irritated, constantly fired the high-school-aged ushers. The workers didn’t worry much about their temporary unemployment.
“Usually it would be over some silly thing,” recalled Sama. “You just went back the next day and start working again.”
Decades after their employment at the Loew’s in the 1950s, the ushers remain close, meeting regularly for coffee and conversation.
Attending a recent gathering were DeComo, 77; Sama, 77; Morello, 82; Ed Ferry, of Nimishillen Township, 78; and George Michael, of Canton, 77. Missing from the group of ushers who have remained friends was the Rev. George Rados, a clergyman in Washington, D.C.
“I was the oldest,” said Morello, recalling after-work trips during which all the ushers piled into a vehicle to go for burgers. “I was the one who had the car.”
ABOUT THE LOEW’S
The Loew’s was among many theaters in Canton during a golden era of movies in the city.
“We used to have several different theaters,” said Morello, who at one time was an assistant manager at the Loew’s. “I was there about 16 years. I worked at Ford Motor Co. during the day, and then at night I worked at the Loew’s, the Ohio, the Strand, the Valentine and the Mozart. I worked about everywhere.”
Three grand theaters in the city’s downtown were the Palace, the Loew’s, and the Ohio, remembered the ushers.
“They say that the Palace was the most beautiful, but I liked the Loew’s, too, and not just because we worked there,” said Morello. “The lobby was bigger and nicer. It had nice restrooms. Good popcorn and candy. It was one of the nicest theaters I’ve seen, with a great big chandelier.
The chandelier was “right in the middle of the place,” said DeComo. Lights were bright when the chandelier was turned on. “Once people came in, you’d turn the lights down.”
The Loew’s existed during a time when “downtown Canton was really alive,” said Ferry.
“Mondays and Wednesdays it was packed. We’d always have to find seats for people those days,” he said. “One time, when we had ‘Showboat,’ they had a boat-type vehicle running around Canton promoting it. I was in the back playing the ‘Showboat’ music. That was really hard because in those days they had needles. They’d hit a bump and the needle would break and I’d have to replace it.”
Page 2 of 2 - BEING AN USHER
There was a familiar manner of dress for Loew’s ushers.
“We had uniforms,” said Michael. “They were a brownish color. We wore dickeys with bow ties.”
The ushers also wore special comfortable, yet sturdy, shoes, recalled DeComo.
“Everybody would come in and look at our shoes,” he said. “I still have my two pairs of shoes. They’re heavy.”
Ushers made 35 cents an hour, remembered Ferry.
“That was big money,” said Michael.
Ushers were “jacks of all trades,” said Ferry. They would clean the floor, change the marquee, and run errands for the owners.
“They had a little catwalk we used to walk when we changed the marquee,” said Morello. “I wouldn’t walk it now.”
In the moments before movies were projected, the duties of the ushers became the traditional job which the public likely remembers.
“I was the guy who greeted everybody when they came in,” said Sama.
“I can remember standing out in the lobby, directing people to different sides of the theater because the center was filled,” added Ferry.
One theater. One movie. Only so many seats were available to the public.
“Nowadays they have several theaters in one building,” Ferry noted.
MATTERS OF STYLE
Audiences also were different in the days of the ushers.
“They’d dress nice,” explained Michael. “Now they wear blue jeans. Some of them are in shorts.”
A perk of the job was that once the movie was being shown on the screen, the ushers — when not ordered by the owners to remind young moviegoers to cease kissing in their seats — sometimes became part of the crowd.
“I remember watching when they had ‘The Ten Commandments,’ ” said Morello.
“I saw ‘Ten Commandments’ three times,” agreed Michael.
Sama said he saw “Gone With the Wind” seven times — enough, said DeComo, that he could “say the lines.”
“I loved ‘Gone With the Wind,’ ” Sama admitted. “I enjoyed seeing all the movies, even though I worked there.”
Night showings included older audience members. “Most of them were high school kids,” recalled Michael.
But, matinees — often double features — included an abundance of younger children.
“You could be there for four hours. They’d have an intermission, a newsreel, cartoons,” explained Michael. “People would leave their kids there and go shopping and we’d baby-sit all Saturday afternoon.”
Usher or baby-sitter, whatever the job title, it appears to be employment that is remembered with fondness by all the ushers.
“I still go to movies,” said Morello. “I go to movies at least once a week.”