What the Fabulous Fox Says

In 1904, then twenty-five-year-old William Fox bought himself a nickelodeon in Brooklyn. Born in Hungary as Wilhelm Fried, Fox worked largely in the fur and garment industry before catching the movie bug. And it turned out he was pretty good at it his new chosen profession. As the popularity of silent films grew, so did young Fox’s influence. By 1913 he had opened a string of nickelodeons and was making a name for himself with his own production company.

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He had a keen eye for the future of entertainment and a knack for discovering and developing the next big trend. As head of the Fox Film Company, William Fox pioneered organ accompaniment during film showings, promoted a number of bright stars, acquired patent rights to the Swiss-developed sound-on-film process, built great movie palaces, and generally rocked the cinematic world.

Alas, his success was not to last. Just as he was attempting to take over MGM, Fox became the center of an anti-trust investigation and when the stock market crashed in 1929, his domination of the movie industry began to crash along with it. When he died in 1952, not a single representative of the movie industry turned out to mourn him.

But, of course, Fox’s name lives on. His production company merged with 20th Century Pictures to become 20th Century-Fox and later mergers led to the formation of the Fox Network. Also the name of William Fox can still be found gracing the marquis of several movie palaces he had built at the height of his career in the late 1920’s, each decorated in what he called the“Eve-Leo” style.

The ceiling in the lobby. "Eve Leo" style at its best.
The ceiling in the lobby. “Eve Leo” style at its best.

Because his wife Eve Leo Fox had a flare for ostentatious décor, placing side-by-side objects reminiscent of artwork found in Hindu temples, Egyptian sculpture, and pretty much anything else that struck her as glitzy on her travels.

It might be fair to describe these theaters as gaudy. Or garish. Or kind of gorgeous if you’re into sensory overload and aren’t terribly concerned about the general consensus of good taste.

Clearly I will not be ascending the stairs this guy is guarding.
Clearly I will not be ascending the stairs this guy is guarding.

Which brings me to date night this past Saturday. My husband and I enjoy live theater. Now that we live close enough to grandparents to make an occasional late night possible, we’ve tried to make it to several shows, including some really wonderful productions of Broadway musicals and other such highfalutin entertainment. Some of these fancy date nights have been spent at St. Louis’s Fabulous Fox, built by William Fox in 1929 and restored in 1982.

I love fancy date night!
I love fancy date night!

The venue rarely functions as a movie palace these days, instead offering a range of upscale shows in the performing arts and, as we learned this past weekend, the occasional flatulent sock puppet.

We went to see Alton Brown, famous science-y, gadget-y, know-it-all food expert of Food Network fame. His tour Alton Brown Live! made a stop for a sold-out show at the Fox and I was lucky to have purchased tickets for my husband’s birthday way back last summer.

This man taught me everything I know about yeast. And sock puppets. Alton Brown Photo By Lawrence Lansing [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]
This man taught me everything I know about yeast. And sock puppets. Alton Brown Photo By Lawrence Lansing [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D
To describe this show to you would be next to impossible, except to say that the gaseous nature of yeast represented by unapologetic sock puppets played a smallish part. And that the show was charming, funny, occasionally juvenile, sort of educational, and gorgeous if you’re into sensory overload and aren’t terribly concerned about the general consensus of good taste.

I admit, the chandelier is just whimsical and fun.
I admit, the chandelier is just whimsical and fun.

I don’t know that the visionary that lent his name to the industry he loved long after it had left him behind and who ushered sound into the movies and the movies into grand palaces had this in mind when he lavishly decorated his “Eve-Leo” style theater. But I suspect that the echoes of belching sock-puppet “yeast” bouncing off elephant carvings and gargoyles might have made him smile. You know, because it’s obviously the next big trend in entertainment.

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8 thoughts on “What the Fabulous Fox Says

    1. Thank you! There were five Fox “movie palaces” built around the same time in 1928 and 1929. Two have been demolished, but the ones in St. Louis, Detroit (its architectural twin), and Atlanta have all been restored and currently function as theaters. I’ve only been to the one in St. Louis, but judging by the pictures, the other two are every bit as ornate.

  1. Hi Sarah, I really enjoyed this post, you covered a lot of ground & told a really good story. BTW I’m pretty sure that, just like Fox Network, William Fox’s name also lives on in the name of Australia’s pay TV corporation, ‘Foxtel’. Incredible that 100 years after Fox bought his first Nickelodeon, his name lives on and on and on!

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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