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Managing the Big Screen: a Hollis Family tradition

Frank Hollis’ name doesn’t gender the kind of name recognition that someone like Hitchcock, or Wells, or even Howard Hughes does, but make no mistake Frank Hollis has been in the movie business since the Forties.  He doesn’t make movies, direct, movies, or act in movies, but what he did was make movies available  too all for as little as 5 cents.

Frank Hollis was manager of Fox Vista Theater in Phoenix, Arizona in the 1940s. He knew a night out at the movies was magical and made sure it was all that and more. He was one of the first to require his ushers to greet patrons in a suit and tie.  Frank believed going to the movies was an “event” and did everything he could to make the night special.

Frank loved his job, loved movies, and loved his family.

The old Fox theater. Courtesy of the Hollis Family
The old Vista theater, part of the Fox Dynasty. Photo courtesy of the Hollis Family

 

Franks passion got him noticed.  He was offered a managerial job in New York City at Radio City Studio.  This was a big opportunity for a cinema manger from Phoenix and he thought long and hard about it.  About the same time, another opportunity arose when the chance to purchase the Alden and Globe Cinemas in Globe, Arizona came up.  Ultimately, Frank decided raising children in Globe would be better than New York City, so the young couple moved in 1951.

Eventually cable and satellite TV eroded the customer base and the smaller of the two theaters, The Alden, was closed.. The Apache Drive-in was built where the current Fry’s is now located. In 1976, the drive-in was relocated to it’s current site off of US Highway 60. Frank’s son, Bobby Hollis, remembers well the magic of movies and the impact it had on him. To no ones surprise, he took over the family business, managing the sole movie theatre within a 70 mile radius.

In deciding which films to show and for how long, Bobby hires film buyers in Los Angeles to preview movies, then report which movies they believe would do well. Bobby makes the ultimate decision after considering his audience and juggling how to feature new movies with limited space. An interesting fact not widely known outside of the industry, is that film companies demand almost 90 percent of ticket sales, and the snack bar is where profit is generated for the theater.  Once the movies are released, all Bobby can do is hope.

The Apache Drive In Theater on Hwy 77 is one of the last drive ins in the U.S.
The Apache Drive In Theater on Hwy 77 is one of the last drive ins in the U.S.

 

It’s uncommon to find an operating drive-in theater, making the one in Globe a rare gem. The Apache Drive-in sits on eight acres of land with F.M. radio and hanging speakers that suspend from car windows. The usual crowd consists mainly of families with small children and the elderly. “There is a very different atmosphere to drive-ins from a stadium” Hollis explained, “You’re either looking to relax, going out of nostalgia or doing the whole date thing.” Cost of the drive-in is $15 dollars per carload, so no need to sneak anyone in by way of the trunk. The decline in drive-ins is due to the tremendous upkeep and simply because they don’t yield the same amount of profit as stadiums with surround sound. However, it is refreshing to see that such an experience has not yet been entirely lost.

All was well with the theaters until things took a turn for the worse. On July 17 2005, Bobby received a late night phone call bearing the news of a fire in downtown Globe. The Pioneer Hotel, which sat next to Globe Cinemas, had caught fire and toppled onto the theater. Immediate response from five different fire departments, including the Globe Fire Department, contained the fire within a one block vicinity but the hotel and theatre were destroyed. The marquee was the only thing saved. The city began cleanup in September of 2006 by purchasing the lot the Pioneer Hotel had stood on.

The Pioneer Fire in July 2005 destroyed the Globe Theater along with the Pioneer Hotel. It would be five years before a new theater could be rebuilt in downtown Globe.   Photo by: LCGross  copyright.
The Pioneer Fire in July 2005 destroyed the Globe Theater along with the Pioneer Hotel. It would be five years before a new theater could be rebuilt in downtown Globe. Photo by: LCGross copyright.

 

With minimal insurance on the theatre, Bobby knew rebuilding would be an arduous task. He went to the Small Business Development Center of Gila Community College and found Ron Neilsen. “I walked into SBA, explained the situation and Ron looked at me and said he used to own a movie theatre in Washington. He understood the business. Ron Neilsen was a godsend”, stated Hollis. Neilsen helped devise a plan for the new theatre and secure finances. Bobby bought the lot next to the theatre and began reconstruction in January of 2009. It was important to Bobby to have the new building be aesthetically pleasing to the rest of downtown Globe. Nearly ten months later on November 20, the new theater, with the original marquee in place, reopened.Hollis recalled the opening day features where more than 1,000 people came to enjoy a movie for the first time in over two years.“Let’s see, there was New Moon, Michael Jackson’s This Is It, The Blind Side and A Christmas Carol”, he laughs. He also remembers how overwhelming and anxious he had been, and how he had asked his wife, “What have I done?” Despite all the jitters and butterflies, Bobby realized the revitalization Hollis Cinemas had brought to downtown and the magic of film he had reclaimed into the lives of moviegoers.

Nearly ten months later on November 20, the new theater, with the original marquee in place, reopened! Hollis recalled the opening day features where more than 1,000 people came to enjoy a movie for the first time in over two years.“Let’s see, there was New Moon, Michael Jackson’s This Is It, The Blind Side and A Christmas Carol”, he laughs. He also remembers how overwhelming and anxious he had been, and how he had asked his wife, “What have I done?” Despite all the jitters and butterflies, Bobby realized the revitalization Hollis Cinemas had brought to downtown and the magic of film he had reclaimed into the lives of moviegoers.

 


Guest Author:   Kate Peifer, a Senior in Communications at ASU



 

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