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Moraga Launches Classic Film Hall of Fame

Mickey Rooney, Cloris Leachman, Abbott and Costello, and Boris Karloff are due to be inductees at Rheem Theatre May 12.

Film legend Mickey Rooney is coming to Moraga in May as part of a classic film weekend to launch a Classic Film Hall of Fame … and maybe make Moraga a tourist destination.

Rheem Theatre owner Derek Zemrak had a press conference Tuesday to communicate his vision of the theatre as a Classic Film Hall of Fame to showcase memorabilia from the film era.

"We want to preserve the history we're losing," Zemrak said.

He said numerous Hollywood people are commenting on what a good idea it is with studios struggling to know what to do with yesterday's film equipment.

"Everybody's putting it away and forgetting about it," Zemrak said. "Nobody is doing it and nobody has done it, all these years the film industry has been around."

This happens with a trailer of irony as the Rheem Theatre has just converted two of its screens to digital format and continues to raise money to convert a third screen — per the dictates of the film studios who insist on digital conversion for theaters to gain access to current-release films, Zemrak said.

The fourth screen at the Rheem will no longer show films. It will display memorabilia as part of the Hall of Fame, Zemrak said.

The vision of the Hall of Fame comes with plans for twice-a-year classic film weekends, with the first scheduled for May 10-12 to honor the following actor inductees:

  • Mickey Rooney, age 92, will sit for a Q&A after the showing of National Velvet.
  • Cloris Leachman won an Academy Award for best supporting actress for The Last Picture Show, and seven Emmies.
  • Boris Karloff will be represented by the late star's daughter Sara Karloff, sitting for a Q&A after a showing of Frankenstein.
  • Bud Abbott and Lou Costello will be represented by Costello's daughter Chris Costello.

The schedule of those showings and Q&As is still fluid, Zemrak said. An induction ceremony for Hall of Famers is scheduled for Sunday evening, May 12. 

Zemrak said other inductees would be announced in coming weeks.

Town offers help

Moraga Mayor Dave Trotter and Town Manager Jill Keimach attended Tuesday's press conference.

Trotter offered "to do what we can do to help promote this."

Trotter served on the Moraga Planning Commission in the mid-1990s. He was most proud of a vote back then against a plan to convert the theatre into a storefront church, which would have cost Moraga a "tremendous community asset," Trotter said.

The hall of fame will focus on the history of the movie industry, education, and actors and directors, Zemrak said.

"The Hollywood industry is really excited about this," he added, citing Leachman's support for the project.

Zemrak said that when he shows film equipment in classes, many schoolchildren are fascinated by the old technology — they thought movie always came on DVDs.

The vision is for corridors — upstairs and downstairs — with pictures on the wall of an inductee with an interactive station ("maybe an iPad," Zemrak said) where someone can sample film clips. And, of course, stars on the floor.

The Hall of Fame will include a section on Thomas Edison and his development of 35-mm film.

Bay Area focus

Zemrak said he wanted the Hall of Fame to have an exhibit aimed at the Bay Area's place in classic film history including:

  • Donald Rheem — the owner of a water-heater factory who has a school named after him in Moraga — built the Orinda Theatre in 1941 and the Rheem in 1957, and loved to hold parties for movie stars.
  • Charlie Chaplin had a studio in Sunol.
  • Abbott and Costello's filmed It Ain't Hay in Pleasanton.

Zemrak said there were no plans to charge a fee to see the Hall of Fame memorabilia.

He said the Orinda Theatre could be used in conjunction with the Rheem for classic film weekend activities, but there were no definite plans.

Here's the answer to the trivia question from our first announcement story: Mickey Rooney's real name is Joseph Yule Jr.

Ron Mangini May 06, 2013 at 07:27 PM
What a great idea and use for the Rheem Theater, a piece of history in its own right and a place of memories for many. My memories of Rheem Theater are from the '50's & '60's, probably one of the best era's in its history. Congratulations & best of luck! --- Ron Mangini (Orinda)

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