By Carol Tannenhauser
People went about their usual business at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on the morning after Martin Luther King Day. The ticket-seller sold tickets and the ticket-taker took them. The customers came — mostly seniors, all bundled up — for the 11:30 show. The candy lady offered candy, pastries, and popcorn.
In his tiny, triangular office, the manager did his business — but here is where it veered from usual. Instead of scheduling films for the future, Ewnetu Admassu was figuring out how to stage a fitting farewell to the theater — which will close on January 28th — and to the man who co-founded it, 37 years ago.
“I’ve been here since the beginning,” said Admassu, 56, who is from Ethiopia. “I care about how things end. It’s important to me that whatever has to be done is done properly. Mainly, I respect and love the people I work for.”
He was speaking of Dan and Toby Talbot, who together turned Lincoln Plaza Cinemas into an influential and beloved institution, not just on the Upper West Side, but throughout the city. Dan Talbot died in his early 90s, on December 22nd. Toby Talbot, 89, is left grieving for her husband and partner of 70 years, and unsettled about the future of the theater. Since learning last year that their lease would not be renewed, she has heard nothing from the landlord, Howard Milstein. As the 11th hour approaches, hope of a reprieve is fading.
“I’m afraid I have no hope,” said Frank Rowley, 86, who gave himself the title of “administrator.” He handled the payroll and publicity, but, more important, in his 20 years at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, he sat beside Dan Talbot, screening films. “All the years, all the time, I watched movies with him. I didn’t go to the film festivals, but when we got DVDs and DCPs, we’d look at them together, discuss things, and come to an understanding. Our tastes were very similar. He was a kind and gentle man.”
“Mr. Talbot, he was so nice person,” said Rowshan Chowdhury, standing inside the ticket booth, on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Streets. “He doesn’t treat us as employees, but as a family member. He knows us by face and name; how many children we have. I’ve been here since 2000. I’m from Bangladesh. We have people from Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, all over. Everybody is like family. And we have so many regular customers who we know. Now, every day they come and they are so sad.”
Iberto Placido, the ticket-taker, is mournful. “I feel emotional very bad because I spent here all my life. I was very young when I came, and now I’m 62. We have 30 people who work here. About five have two jobs. The other 25 people, this is the only job we have. I don’t know why they closing. If Milstein let the people know here two years before, we could get another location and maybe get another job. But it was all done at the last minute.”
Susan and Steven Schneider (forgive any misspellings) are long-time customers of the theater. They had this to say:
Susan: “I’m devastated!”
Steven: “Well, we’re upset, because this place has good art movies, good movies that are not widely distributed.”
Susan: “Pleasant atmosphere, it’s lovely, it’s fine. It doesn’t have the hype; it doesn’t assault you when you come in; it’s just a place to go to see films.”
Steven: “And the service at the counter is fabulous.”
Emiye Mitiku has run the concession stand for 14 years. She, too, is from Ethiopia. “I feel very bad, very sad,”she said. “I started at age 15, part-time. I have green card. I like it. I like people here. Movie people is, like, different people, unique. I don’t want to find another job. I’m comfortable here.”
The farewell tribute will be held on Sunday, January 28th, at 11 a.m. and will be open to the public. Mrs. Talbot has not yet released the names of those from the film industry who will be attending — filmmakers, distributors, directors, actors — or who will be speaking about the theater and Dan Talbot. The program will also include “a highlight of films that were shown in our theater and distributed by the Talbots,” Admassu said. “Afterward, we’ll have a little reception in the lobby. And then, after two o’clock, we’ll do our regularly scheduled movies.”
What will be the last movie shown at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas?
“Darkest Hour is a safe bet,” Admassu said.
We’ll keep you posted on the details of the farewell tribute as it draws near.
Photos By Carol Tannenhauser.