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MATINEE IDLERS : Moms, Therapists and Other Daytime Denizens of the Dark Pursue One of Life's Guilty Pleasures

February 28, 1991|ZAN DUBIN | Zan Dubin is a staff writer for The Times Orange County Edition.

When duty calls, this Anaheim Hills man answers, morning, noon or night. Especially noon.

Just recently in fact, fortified with a 5-pound, $2.50 tub of popcorn, he went in for a little overtime, ducking in to a matinee of "Dances With Wolves" at Cinemapolis, a 10-screen theater in Anaheim.

"I'm a clinical psychologist and I treat entertainers," said the casually dressed moviegoer, who asked not to be named. "I go to matinees about three times a week.

"It gives me a better perspective on understanding their work and why it's important to them," he explained. "I treat film editors and other technical personnel too. Not just actors."

Actually, this psychologist made no pretense about the mixed motives for his habitual behavior.

Beside his work with the film industry, "it's pure entertainment," he said with a sheepish grin.

Typically, senior citizens, moms with young kids and salespeople dominate matinee audiences on weekdays and when school's in session. Waiters and others who work at night, or anyone looking for cheaper seats, go a lot, too.

But an assortment of unexpected regulars, such as the therapist with flexible hours and celebrity clients, also frequent daytime movies.

Celebrities themselves number among routine denizens of the dark, as do the less famous who spend their lunch hours surrounded by Sensurround, commuters avoiding gridlock and even homeless people.

The number of Orange County theaters that run matinees is increasing, and not just at mall movies, where owners who showed some of the area's first afternoon screenings hoped to grab shoppers on impulse, but at theaters that stand alone.

Part of the reason is simply population growth, officials say. Last year's opening of Cinemapolis, for instance, reflects a decision "to put a theater in the Anaheim Hills area because of the (growing) population there," said Gary Richardson, general manager of the SoCal Cinema chain, which runs the outlet.

In just the last 20 months, Edwards Theatres has added daily, year-round matinees (versus those shown only on more bankable weekends or school holidays) to the schedules at several venues, company Chairman James Edwards Sr. said.

"There seem to be more people looking for a matinee," he said. The Southern California chain, with 120 screens in Orange County, is the county's largest.

Edwards couldn't explain what has prompted the popularity upswing. He did say, however, that movies where matinees have recently been added are in "heavily populated areas, particularly where there are senior citizens."

Several county theater officials, who agree that matinees account for about one-third of the day's receipts during non-holiday periods, say seniors prefer the early shows because they feel safer going out during the day and don't have to face evening throngs.

Of course generalizations are always risky. Bernice Lieberman, 73, went to the 2:30 p.m. showing of "Three Men and a Little Lady" at AMC MainPlace Six in the MainPlace/Santa Ana mall recently.

"The early shows give you a chance to get out and go to dinner afterward," said Lieberman, who had come with friends. But even Saturday date nights don't daunt her. "I don't mind the crowds," said the energetic movie lover.

But Trish Jefferis, assistant manager of Super Saver Cinema 7 in Seal Beach, says she sees the same faces from the nearby Leisure World retirement community time and again. The theater, which charges $1.50 for every movie, has its first screening around noon.

Jim McKenna, director of theater operations for FSA Super Saver Cinemas No. 1 Ltd., the theater chain's parent company, affirmed that "well over half our audience in a matinee is going to be aged 50 or over or housewives with children."

Strapping her two preschoolers into the back seat of her Nissan, Pat Huffaker said she takes her son and daughter to G-rated matinees about once or twice a month.

"They enjoy the movies," Huffaker said just after seeing "The Nutcracker Prince" at Cinemapolis. She added with a look of harried fatigue: "It gives them something to do so they're not driving me crazy."

(In general, top quality, not comedy versus romance versus shoot-em-up, determines matinee success, officials say, and kid-toting mothers seem to be the only ones who have an afternoon preference: family-type movies, as might be expected.)

Salespeople break up their days with matinees, too. Cinemapolis manager Sherry Gartley says they hang out at pay phones in the theater's cavernous lobby.

"Between shows, they'll be at the phone with their date books lining up their next appointments," Gartley said.

One theater employee who didn't want to be identified said he knows of another unusual matinee population. He frequently lets in homeless people who "live out of dumpsters" nearby for a free movie, popcorn and something to drink.

"You've got to bend the rules sometimes," he said. "They just need a place to sit down for a while and take it easy."

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