Nat Bodian talks with Eddie Steinberg, theatre owner/operator, between 1938 and 1968

by Nat Bodian


BODIAN: Eddie, you owned or ran many neighborhood Newark theatres between 1938 and 1968. Would you tell us something about them?

STEINBERG: Gladly, I loved Newark and grew to maturity there. It was a wonderful place to be and through my movie theatre experience to interface with people from all parts of the City.

BODIAN: Okay, let’s first identify the theatres you ran in Newark, the time periods, and their Newark locations.

STEINBERG: First: The Strand Theatre on South Orange Avenue and 12th Street. I had that one from 1938 until I went into the Army in 1942 during World War II.

Second: The Ronson Theatre on South Orange Avenue and Littleton Avenue, in 1939.

Third: The West End Theatre on 16th Avenue and 18th Street in the 1950’s and early 1960‘s.

Fourth: The Avon Theatre on Clinton Avenue, below Bergen Street, from the mid 1950’s to 1968.

Fifth: The Elwood Theatre on Broadway in North Newark, mid 1950’s until 1968.

Sixth: The Cameo Theatre on Elizabeth Avenue, just beyond Hayes Circle, briefly in the early 1950’s.

BODIAN: Share with us some of your fond recollections of those theatres. Let’s start with the Strand on South Orange Avenue.

STEINBERG: The Strand was my first Newark theatre. I had been a film buyer and booker for the Island Theatre Circuit in New York City, which bought and rented films for showing in theatres. My territory included Newark, so I had an insight on knowing about the movies Newarkers liked in different neighborhoods.
When I took ownership of the Strand, I had been living in the Bronx, but I moved to 500 South 13th Street so I could be near the theatre.
The Strand catered to a mixed neighborhood. My customers were a veritable League of Nations, representing all nationalities.
My mother moved from New York at that time and worked in the Strand ticket office as cashier. She was quite on in years then and worked as cashier in various theatres I owned for more than 20 years until the age of 92. She died at 99.
What I remember best about the Strand was Tuesday nights. They were good nights for business because, besides low prices, we gave out free dishes on Tuesday nights. All the neighborhood people came to accumulate sets. The sets were service for eight, so it took over a year of Tuesday nights to accumulate a 72-piece set.

BODIAN: You said the Ronson was your second theatre. Anything special about that one?

STEINBERG: I had that theatre only a short time. Practically none of the old-time Newarkers even remember the Ronson. It was built and owned by the Newark industrial tycoon, Lou Aronson, who also owned the Ronson Lighter Company in Newark, one of the largest such firms in the world. Years later, I learned that even members of the Ronson family did not know that there had once been a Newark theatre that carried the family name.
At the Ronson, I tried showing movie films in midweek and vaudeville on weekends, using mostly black entertainers. It did not work out, however and oftimes, there were more entertainers onstage than in the audience.

BODIAN: When you closed the Ronson, you picked up the West End Theatre and had it from the 1950’s into the early 1960’s. What are your recollections of that theatre?

STEINBERG: It was normal, decent good neighborhood movie, and I had a policy of running double features and two or three program changes every week.

BODIAN: Anything ‘special’ that you recall about the West End?

STEINBERG: The one event that stands out in my mind about the West End was the showing of the Elvis Presley move “Love Me Tender.” The West End was an 800-seat capacity theatre. When we opened with Love Me Tender, there must have been about 3,000 people waiting in line outside. I’d never seen anything like that before in a neighborhood theatre. Of course we had to turn away most of them. I realized at that time how big Elvis was and it shocked me. No other screen star in my movie experience had drawn that big.

BODIAN: Then, by the mid 1950’s you took on the Avon Theatre on Clinton Avenue near Bergen Street. What are your recollections of the Avon?

STEINBERG: It was a good theatre, business wise, drawing predominantly Afro-American audience. I played pictures at the Avon that I felt had appeal for the black audiences and the Avon prospered when other Newark neighborhood theatres were closing.
I also ran double features, and three program changes a week. I ran the theatre until 1968. What had happened, were the 1967 Newark riots. After the riots, people were afraid to go out at night and, after several months of no business, I was forced out of the movie business.
I also remember, that when our nearest competitor, the National Theatre on Belmont Avenue, near Spruce, closed, business at the Avon jumped.

BODIAN: You took over your fifth theatre, the Elwood Theatre, in the mid-1950’s, another theatre that you were forced to close in 1968 because of the Newark rots. What are your recollections of the Elwood, and of its clientele?

STEINBERG: My main recollection of the Elwood is that it was one of the most beautiful theatres I had ever seen anywhere, with about 800 or 900 seats. I recall it as the perfect movie house. The sound was perfect, the vision was perfect and the seats were good. And even though television was rapidly competing for movie business, we were able to resist the competition from TV by playing double features with three changes of program every week.
The Elwood catered, 90% to Italians from North Newark and residents from Belleville. Besides being a beautiful theatre, my patrons got a bargain. I kept prices low and gave good value.
Unfortunately, after the 1967 riots, the streets were empty for months and that put me out of business1.

BODIAN: Eddie, you also mentioned the Cameo Theatre on Clinton Avenue. What was your experience there?

STEINBERG: The Cameo Theatre on Elizabeth Avenue had been shut down as a movie house when I took it over in the early 1950’s. I decided that if the neighborhood didn’t want films, I would go with stage shows only. We ran evenings and weekends and I relied on a man to assemble and direct the shows, relying heavily on local talent. The Cameo effort did not pan out, but I learned later that the man I hired to direct the shows went on to a career in Hollywood.

BODIAN: Aside from your Cameo Theatre show director, did anyone else associated with you make it in the world of entertainment?

STEINBERG: Just one. When I owned the Avon Theatre on Clinton Avenue, I had a partner, Allan Pinsker. Allan was the son of the owner of the Island Theatre Circuit in Manhattan. He later went on to become CEO of a 3,000-theatre chain, owned by a Hollywood conglomerate.

BODIAN: Thank you, Eddie, for sharing your Newark neighborhood theatre memories with me, and with the others who will be viewing it on the Virtual Newark NJ web site.


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