Some stories are so out there, they could only take place in Hollywood. This isanother one of those “You Couldnï¿½t Make It Up” stories, starring a man named Laurence Austin, and the famous Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax. Filmmaker Chris Perkins described it as, ï¿½Sunset Boulevard meets Fargo.ï¿½
The Silent Movie Theater opened in 1942, and I remember hearing stories of Clara Bow and Charlie Chaplin sitting quietly(not together) unbeknownst to the other patrons, watching their own films. Especiallybecause it’s here in LA, this place deserves to be here forever. I also remember Austin, he really creeped me out. Plus the organist – and I know he’sa Hollywood Treasure – still alive actually(not any more – died in 2009) – they were both right out of Phantasmas far as I am concerned. Creep-o-meter in the red.
It was January 17, 1997 and the Silent Movie Theatre was showing the 1927 film, Sunrise. The owner LaurenceAustin greeted everyone at thedoor as usual, shaking hands. There were between 60 and 70 people in the theatre at the time.Austinï¿½s(considerably younger) lover of seven years and also the projectionist James Van Sicklewas up in the booth, and MaryGiles was behind the candy counter aswell.
There was another attendee, 19-year-old Christian Rodriguez. He was no doubt greeted by Austen himself with a smile,(Greetings, man about to murder me!). Rodriguez entered the theater andwaited patiently in the back for the films to begin. He was wearing a golf hat andpacking a .357.
When the second short, School Days, began, Rodriguez went to the lobby and askedMary Giles if he could buy advance tickets. She took him to see Austin in the ticket booth, where Rodriguez demanded money.Austin turned it over, but Rodriguez dropped it and started shooting.
Austin was shot three times including once in the face at close range. One report stated, ï¿½his head [was] blown half off ï¿½ he was showing the inside completely. It was pretty gruesome.ï¿½ Dead. Giles was shot twice in the chest. She survived.
Laurence Austin was 74 years old.
There was a memorial for Austin at the Largo Restaurant on Fairfax on Wednesday March 8 at 8 and 10 pm.Seriously.
He is buried in Forest Lawn, Glendale.
So here is the scoop. Boyfriend/projectionist Van Sickle was reported to be heavily in debt, and stoodto inherit about a mil from Austin when he died. Van Sickey didn’t want towait, so he hired Christian Rodriguez for $25,000.00 to kill Austin, and an additional$5000.00 to kill Giles and make it look like a robbery. He thenmasqueraded as the grieving lover until the police put it together.
In April of 1999,Christian Rodriguez was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life without hope of parole. He was also convicted of the attempted murder of Mary Giles, the concession girl. Van Sickle was spared the death penalty as well, and sentenced to life without parole.
On January 17, 2000 ï¿½ the new owner of the theater decided to screen the samemurder night shorts and Sunrise, in tribute to Austin. He thought screening them wouldgive the place some sort of closure, and probably also conjure up a bit ofpublicity as well. Good on him. Of course one or two gadflies had to crawl out of the woodwork proclaiming it ï¿½tasteless.ï¿½ Whatever. Piss off.
I think a lot of locals were worried about the fate of the Silent Movie Theater, and I believe if they continued to show only silent films, they should be worried. Iï¿½m actually thrilled to see theyï¿½ve expanded their repertoire to include just about everything. See a show where a murder occurred. I would, I have and I do.
Trivia: Austinï¿½s mother Ethel had been Cecil B. CeMilleï¿½s personal tailor.
I’ve heard a rumor there might be a film produced aboutthis event.
PS: were those pics filled with orbs orwhat? A very dusty place!
Kudos to Stephen Saban and his article for GLUE magazine, November 1999