While most modern movie fans take their pre-film entertainment from the trailers, the posters in the lobby, and snacking on candy, film goers of the past had other delights ahead of the main entertainment.
There was a cartoon short, a news reel, and maybe some songs on the Wurlitzer. And, of course, the theatre's design itself, all swirls and velvet curtains, was very much a part of the show.
The El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood is one of the last remaining movie palaces to follow this wow-'em-start-to-finish traditions. But while mini stage shows featuring Disney characters -- Disney reopened the Hollywood Boulevard landmark in 1991 -- and cartoons and the Wurlitzer are well-known to regular attendees, the story of the spectacular theater may be more of a mystery.
What to do, where to go and what to see
But it'll mystify no longer: A new tour -- actually make that two tours -- has launched to give Hollywood history buffs, Disney mavens, and lovers of old flicks a peek behind the proverbial curtain.
The Disney Movie Palace & Backstage Tour is a 30-minute docent-guided tour through the high-ceilinged gem. You'll wander the lobby and by those upstairs historic photos, yes, but you'll also peek backstage at the Sherman Brothers Star Dressing Room (the Sherman Brothers wrote the music to "Mary Poppins" among many other films, as every Disneyian knows).
It's $15 and begins at the rise-and-shine-y time of 8:30 a.m. daily. Nope, 8:30 a.m. isn't the crack of dawn, but call it an early hour for a theatre tour -- you could fit one in before work.
As for the quickity tour around the El Cap? That's called the Express, it's 15 minutes long, five bucks to join, and it happens throughout the day. Call it a fast overview, with no backstage peek but some solid history in the mix.
For example, the El Capitan wasn't always named the El Capitan, for one. Yes, it was in "The Muppets" a few years back. And it has hosted a raft of big Disney premieres, as well as live stage shows starring Tinseltown's brightest lights, back in the day.
With all of that pre-show entertainment we focus on inside the landmark, isn't it satisfying to know some more about the building that started it all?
And hey, docents -- why are there are so many curtains at the El Cap? We never change, but we're coming with questions to ask.