Now in its twenty-first year of operation, the University Theatre has become as much a part of the Harvard scene as the statue of Old Jawn himself in the Yard. Ever since the first and only movie house in Harvard Square opened its doors on October 29, 1926, many times ten thousand men of Harvard have whiled away their hours with its flickers.
From the beginning, its impresario has been Stanley Sumner, who serves as the manager and part owner (with Lindsey Hooper) of the incorporated establishment. Sumner initially had two obstacles to overcome--the deep-scated distrust of the University community toward so newfaugted a creation as the silver screen, and his own inexperience with a cap-and-gown audience. To help him during the first year of business, he hired a prominent undergraduate as floor manager, Roy H. Booth, Jr. '28, Pi Eta president and baseball team luminary, and, between the two of them, the U.T. got off to a roaring start.
Sumner, who picks his house's films personally, conceives the ideal movie program to consists of: (1) a travelogue, (2) a newsrool, (3) the feature picture, and (4) a comedy. Because of the demands of an articulate minority of his ticket-purchasers, however, he has substituted double-features in greater numbers for his ideal programs. Atypical weekly bill at the U.T. includes two separate show, usually double features, of three days' duration each, Review Day on Wednesday, and a Children's Movie at at 10 A.M. Saturday morning (Roy Rogers and Trigger in "Song of Arizona," and Chapter 13 of "Chick Carter, Detective" are featured this week). Because of booking arrangements, most of the U.T.'s pictures reach its screen 28 or more days after concluding their run at the Met or other downtown Boston theatres.
Two of the outstanding features of the U.T. are its reserved seat section (including 225 of its 1900 seats) and its unique usher formations. At the end of each portion of the program, two ushers stalk down the two center aisles, confront each other at the front of the house and then retrace their steps to the rear, meanwhile eyeing the audience and staring down curious spectators. Sumner insists that the sole purpose of the maneuver is to attend to the convenience and comfort of his audiences and denies all reports of morning drill sessions for his usher corps.
The U.T.'s customers are mainly Cambridge folk, but Sumner feels that the presence of college students with their quick reactions and greater responsiveness, helps put over his shows with the rest of the audience. Sumner, who believes that the present-day Harvard student is a great deal more serious than his predecessors, states that "the elimination of the tutoring schools around the Square a decade ago really changed the College man. You fellows have to work to stay around here."