It’s back to the future Friday night at the Blue Mouse Theatre when the movie house celebrates its 86th birthday with the same silent film that opened the theater in 1923.
That film, “The Green Goddess” starring George Arliss, follows three Brits who crash their plane in a kingdom near India, where they are held prisoner by the Rajah. His subjects believe that their Green Goddess has delivered the lives of the three fliers in return for the lives of Rajah’s brothers, who soon will be executed in India. Plot twists and intrigue abound.
Dennis James, a Tacoma resident who is considered one of the top silent movie organists and historical revivalists in the world, will accompany the film on a recently refurbished 1940s organ. He wrote the score for the “The Green Goddess” in 1988 as a commission by the film print’s owner, David Packard of the Packard Humanities Institute.
Only 17 percent of silent films still exist, James said. “They were just thrown away,” he said. Others were lost to fires and neglect. If not for a lucky purchase of a group of films by Packard, “The Green Goddess” might have been lost as well.
Adding insult to injury, only 1 percent of the original scores for silent films still exist, James said. The score for the “Goddess” has been lost to the ages. However, James was able to use cue sheets (notes for theater organists to create their own scores) to create one.
For theater co-owner Cherlyn Pijanowski, the event represents a year of planning and hard work.
“We’ve been trying to get this film for years,” Pijanowski said of the restored print that’s housed at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. To show the film, the Blue Mouse had to modify its projector and bring in a projectionist qualified to show archival films, Pijanowski said.
At Friday’s celebration, co-sponsored by Historic Tacoma, hors d’oeuvres donated by Alfred’s Café are being served with Green Goddess salad dressing.
In addition to the movie and James’ performance, Bainbridge Island performer Tim Tully will sing the 1919 tune, “Take Your Girlie to the Movies (If You Can’t Make Love at Home).”
But why all the hoopla for an 86th birthday?
“This event bookends what we think is a significant year in the life of the Blue Mouse Theatre,” Pijanowski said. 2009 saw the theater being added to the Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission’s register of historic places, and in May the theater was awarded the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation award for stewardship.
And the theater is now under review by the National Parks Service to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, an announcement of which is expected as early as Friday, Pijanowski said.
“When ‘The Green Goddess’ played in 1923, the theater was packed – standing room only,” Pijanowski said. A Tacoma News Tribune story from Nov. 14, 1923, said, “Every one of the 420 seats was occupied and a good size overflow greeted the management of the new Blue Mouse on Proctor street at the opening of the theater Tuesday night.”
The day before, another story said the Blue Mouse was the 20th show house in Tacoma. “As a community theater, the new Blue Mouse stands right at the top in the matter of appurtenances, et ceteras and et als.”
Today’s Blue Mouse might lack the cutting edge et ceteras and et als that modern theaters have, but it still retains the homey feel of a neighborhood movie house.
Co-owner Babe Leherer (the theater has 17 owners) said Tacomans have a sense of ownership in the theater. Leherer’s relationship with the theater is life long. Recalling memories of when she was a student at nearby Mason Middle School in the 1930s, she said “We paid 10 cents to go to a movie and popcorn was a nickel.”
Those days – and prices – may be long gone. But when the house lights go down Friday night, a Green Goddess will make a journey through time to once again grace the Blue Mouse Theatre.
What: “The Green Goddess” silent film and Blue Mouse birthday party
When: 7 p.m. today
Tickets: $35 at the Pacific Northwest Shop, across from the Blue Mouse.
Where: The Blue Mouse Theater, 2611 N. Proctor Street, Tacoma
Info: 253-752-9500 or 253-752-2242