Thursday, October 10, 2019

Turner Classic Movies in St. Louis

The Tivoli Theatre
Each year TCM Backlot holds a "TCM in Your Hometown" contest, in which Turner Classic Movies selects a city in which to hold events. TCM Backlot members submit pitches arguing why Turner Classic Movies should hold an event in their home town. This year's winning entrant was Lisa Buchhold, who sent in a pitch for St. Louis, Missouri. It was then on September 26 2019 that Turner Classic Movies held a free screening of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis. The screening included a special introduction by Ben Mankiewicz before the movie, followed by a Q&A with Margaret O'Brien (who played Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis).

With Turner Classic Movies in my home state and St. Louis only about two hours away, there was no way I was going to miss the TCM in Your Hometown in St. Louis. I got two tickets to the event as soon as it was announced. I also entered to win an entry to the VIP Meet and Greet, in which one would get to meet Margaret O'Brien and Ben Mankiewicz in person. I had a good fortune to be one of the people to win an entry to the VIP Meet and Greet.

With two tickets for the screening of Meet Me in St. Louis, I used the other one for my friend Meredith of Vitaphone Dreamer. Meredith also happens to be the TCM fan who lives closest to me, and graciously chauffeured me to the event. We met up with the local St. Louis TCM fans at the Three Kings Public House, which is right there on Delmar across from the Tivoli. Sadly, I couldn't stay long as I had to get to the VIP Meet and Greet. It was nice finally getting to meet fellow TCM fans from my home state (Meredith is the only one I've met in person before). For those unfamiliar with University City (the neighbourhood where the Tivoli Theatre is located), it is home to the St. Louis Walk of Fame. On the way to the VIP Meet and Greet I was able to see the stars for such St. Louis notables as the Rockettes (which was formed in St. Louis in 1926) and Sally Benson (the author of the novel Meet Me in St. Louis upon which the movie was based).

Moonrise Hotel
The VIP Meet and Greet was held at in the Twilight Room of the Moonrise Hotel just down the street on Delmar Boulevard. Upon entering I was greeted by an employee of TCM, who automatically knew I was there for the Meet and Greet. From there I made my way to the elevator to get to the Twilight Room. Here I have to point out that the Moonrise Hotel has a Space Age theme, so it is a dream come true for a sci-fi fan like myself. Throughout the hotel there are displays filled with sci-fi merchandise. The Twilight Room itself is located on the eighth floor, so that one gets a good view of the University City skyline.

I have to say that the VIP Meet and Greet was absolutely wonderful. I had talked with Ben Mankiewicz on video chat when I introduced A Hard Day's Night (1964) with him in one of TCM's Fan Favourite segments. He was very nice on video chat and is even nicer in person. As to Margaret O'Brien, what can I say. She is incredibly sweet and very personable. One would not think she is a genuine movie star from the Golden Age of Hollywood! I talked to her a little bit about her guest appearance on Perry Mason, which she said she loved doing.

As if meeting Margaret O'Brien and Ben Mankiewicz wasn't enough, at the VIP Meet and Greet I also got to meet many people with whom I have been in contact with online for years. Among them was Annette of Hometowns to Hollywood, who came all the way from Chicago for the event. Annette is as sweet as can be, and very enthusiastic about classic film. I also got to meet Diana Bosch of the blog Flickin' It and currently with TCM. Diana is charming and has great tastes in movies (Christmas in Connecticut is one of her favourite holiday movies). I also got to meet Yacov Freedman, who runs TCM Backot. I got my exclusive collectable pin for TCM in Your Hometown in St. Louis from him. Yacov is very friendly and enthusiastic about classic film. I have to confess I was almost as excited about finally meeting him in person as I was meeting Margaret O'Brien!

After the VIP Meet and Greet I met up with Meredith and we made our way to the Tivoli for Meet Me in St. Louis. We sat with Jeff from St. Louis, who like Meredith and I are part of the #TCMParty crowd. Jeff is in person exactly as I expected him to be, congenial with a love of classic movies. Ben's introduction was both funny and informative. At one point he asked how many people had not seen Meet Me in St. Louis. Only two people hadn't. Of course, here I have to point out that Meet Me in St. Louis is not only the unofficial movie of St. Louis, but the unofficial state movie of Missouri. It is then no surprise that only two people had not seen it! As to the Q&A with Margaret O'Brien, it was wonderful. Margaret is so funny and witty, and she has a bit of mischievous streak just like Tootie has in the movie. Before the movie they showed promos for TCM, one of which was the one for TCM Backlot that includes KC of A Classic Movie Blog. I later teased KC on Twitter that this makes her a movie star. As to Meet Me in St. Louis itself, it was incredible on the big screen. I have seen it many times since childhood, but never in a movie theatre. What is more, this was a perfect print of the movie, crisp and clean with no flaws.

The Tivoli sign by night
As to the Tivoli Theatre itself, it is beautiful. I wish I had gotten some pictures of its interior. The Tivoli opened on May 10, 1924. It closed in 1994, but fortunately it was rescued when Joe and Linda Edwards (owners of Blueberry Hill Restaurant and Music Club, also on Delmar) bought it. The theatre was then renovated and restored back to its glory days in the Twenties and Thirties. It reopened on May 19 1995. The Tivoli Theatre is a true movie palace, and hence it was the ideal venue for Meet Me in St. Louis.

Of course, here I have to say that Vanessa was on my mind for much of my time in University City. She was a huge Judy Garland fan and Miss Garland was much of the reason she became an actress. As might be expected, Meet Me in St. Louis was one of her favourite movies. As an enormous sci-fi fan (I have never known a bigger Star Wars fan), she would have adored the Moonrise Hotel. So she could be present for the event after a fashion, I wore the pinback button I designed in her memory for this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

Over all, I have to say TCM in Your Hometown in St. Louis was one of the most wonderful experiences in my life. The various employees of TCM were all very friendly, and it was wonderful getting to meet in person many people with whom I have been in touch online for years. Of course, it was an incredible pleasure meeting Margaret O'Brien and Ben Mankiewicz. One sometimes hears horror stories of people who meet their idols only to learn they aren't very nice in person, but both Margaret O'Brien and Ben Mankiewicz were wonderful. Given the amount of attention TCM gave to the TCM in Your Hometown event, I can only imagine the amount of attention they must devoted to the TCM Classic Film Festival and the TCM Classic Cruise. I only hope I can make it to those one day!

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