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January 2014 - Uncle George...Movie Buff Extraordinaire

By Joanna Paxinou

Uncle-George-125pxEveryone should have an Uncle George. He was my father's brother, and when my Dad passed away, Uncle George truly became my second father. Growing up in mid-town Manhattan, he was there for every crisis and for every good time. During those difficult teenage years, he was there with a good, encouraging word...always making me feel better and special. Most of all, he shared his love of movies with me.

He loved all movies—westerns, comedies, dramas, gangster films. He'd even sit through romances and musicals with me. He particularly liked westerns because he thought the country was so beautiful. He was born and raised in Greece on the island of Odysseus and Penelope—Ithaca. He came to New York City when he was 22 years old. He never traveled much and never got to see the beautiful country out West, but he did enjoy it through the movies.

Every Friday night and Sunday afternoon, he would take me to the movies. Sometimes we would go to the local movie house that showed a double feature. Sometimes we'd go to the grand movie palaces on Broadway—the Roxy, the Capitol, the Paramount, the Radio City Music Hall. In those days, when a new movie premiered in New York City, they'd open at one of these palaces where there would also be a stage show.

They were beautiful movie houses. Large, roomy, red velvet drapes, a lot of gold glitter on the walls, huge lobbies. Magnificent! You truly felt like you were stepping into a magic world when you entered one of these "palaces." And in a way you did. You forgot everything and the movie became your world for a short time.

One Sunday, we headed to the Paramount. A Frank Sinatra film that co-starred—wait for it—Gloria Vanderbilt was opening at the Paramount and he was performing on stage after the movie. Well, we got there early to make sure we got good seats and sat through the most boring movie I've ever seen. We were there for Frank Sinatra anyway. But after the movie, he didn't appear. An announcement said he was ill and wouldn't be able to perform for us—but Dean Martin would. And what a terrific show that was. He was great!

After Dean Martin left the stage, my uncle whispered to me, "Do you want to see if Sinatra comes next time?" That meant sitting through the boring movie again. The funny thing was that most of the audience thought the same thing. In those days, you could buy a ticket and stay in the movie house all day if you wanted. They didn't make you leave after one showing. So when a wave of new moviegoers rushed down the aisle, thinking people were leaving and they'd get seats, they were stunned when most of the audience—including me and Uncle George—stayed put.

So, yes, we sat through that awful movie again. (Thankfully, I can't remember one thing about that movie. Just the stars. All I remember is that it was the worst movie I'd ever seen.) And when it was over the second time, still no Sinatra...but Sammy Davis, Jr. gave a thrilling performance. What a talent!

We sat through that miserable movie again...and we saw Joey Bishop. After seeing that movie four times, the man himself—Frank Sinatra—finally appeared at 10 o'clock at night. Despite having not felt well earlier that day, he sounded great. What a performance! What a voice! And after being in the movie palace for 10 straight hours, we finally left the Paramount having had an unforgettable day at the movies.

We never forgot that day and we talked about it often. Uncle George passed away many years ago, but I still remember him vividly. He left me a wonderful legacy of love, of security, and a great love for movies. Today, when I'm at a movie house and the lights go down, I sometimes feel his spirit nearby. He was a wonderful uncle, a great movie buff, and a terrific buddy. That's why I think everyone should have an Uncle George.