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Popcorn? No, a pacifier

Theaters are finding eager audiences of baby-toting moms for early screenings.

August 07, 2003|Michael Quintanilla | Times Staff Writer

Boy, oh boy. Ditto for the girls. Cuddly, cherubic, chubby babies are everywhere -- in mommies' arms, on laps or just hanging out on their mamas' hips.

They've taken over the Broadway Cinema 4 on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. Strollers are parked in the lobby, and others have been wheeled into Theater 2 for the debut of the first Reel Moms morning movie screening.

The weekly screening series is sponsored by Loews Cineplex Entertainment and Urbanbaby .com, a Web site that provides time-consumed parents with information about planning for and rearing children. And now, added to that list is a way for parents -- dads are welcome too -- to attend first-run movies with children in tow and not get shushed out of town.

So here they are, 32 moms (and a couple of dads) who have paid $7, and their kids (newborns to 1 year), admitted free. Barefooted babies with big bald heads and big ears and powerful lungs to match the horsepower of "Seabiscuit," which clocks in at two hours-plus on the silver screen.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 08, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Moviegoers' names -- A photo caption accompanying an article in Thursday's Calendar Weekend about morning movie screenings for parents and their babies misspelled the first name of mother Lynda Gorov as Linda. And her baby's name, Raziel Gorov-Lee, was mistakenly given as Raviel Gorov Lee.

That's plenty of time for these tykes to do their thing: eat, nap, cry; eat, nap, cry; eat, nap, cry. Oh, did we mention crying?

So is talking -- you know, that ga-ga speak that begins in a whisper and suddenly roars to earsplitting volume. Gurgling gets the green light too. So does coughing. And loud burping as well as other rumbling bodily functions.

But that's OK. These babies are going for broke because their parents don't have to head out to the lobby or the baby-changing station in the restroom to put a fresh diaper on a kid, to wipe a messy face, to breast-feed in private, or to quiet a screaming child.

Everything goes because from now on, every Tuesday morning at this movie house, parents -- many of whom haven't seen a movie in more than a year -- and their babies rule.

The first Reel Moms was born in New York, the brainchild of Hope McCauley and her husband, John McCauley, Loews marketing senior vice president. The couple have a 20-month-old daughter, Jane.

These days, about 200 moms a week are showing up at the New York screenings, which began about three months ago drawing crowds closer to 50. The program is now in 18 cities and growing, proving that if you screen it, they will come.

"From the rational side, the movies make the moms feel current, and from an emotional side I've heard moms talk about how they don't feel isolated because they're connecting to other adult moms," John McCauley says.

On the revenue side, he adds, "we're not making tons of money doing this" because staff has to be brought in earlier for the late morning show. "But we're hoping to build a longer-lasting impression with the moms."

Not to mention the babies. "For many, this is their first movie, so hopefully they'll keep coming back when they're older," he says.

The idea is clearly taking hold. At the Los Feliz Cinemas in Los Angeles, known for screening more independent fare, owner Lance Alspaugh was encouraged by neighborhood moms to set aside a morning day of the week so they could bring their babies to the theater, which any other time doesn't admit kids younger than 4.

Three months ago, Alspaugh began a "Mommies and Me" program every other Wednesday. Now he's thinking about screening movies, at $4.50 per ticket (babies free), every Wednesday, realizing that "this is a great service to our community of moms" -- moms who, he adds, also want to see spicier fare.

"We don't do Nemo here," he says.

Back in Santa Monica, moms from across the L.A. area have scattered throughout the 380-seat theater, some staking claim to several seats for their gear: a backpack, a car seat carrier, blankets, pillows and rattlers that, well, rattle throughout the movie.

Other moms are just as comfy on the floor at the rear of the theater, babies asleep on blankets or playing or trying to crawl.

The addition of babies definitely changes the theater experience, with moms standing in front of their seats to hold a baby, walking up and down an aisle to calm a child, swaying a baby to sleep.

That is, until one baby -- and that's all it takes -- starts crying. Pretty soon there's a chorus of criers (too bad "The Crying Game" isn't playing) with varying styles: slow criers, fast criers, wailers, snifflers and sobbers. And then, just as suddenly as it starts, it's over.

Theater manager Maria Olivas has taken care to accommodate the special audience. The movie's volume is turned down to a moderate level, and the lights are dimmed so the theater isn't completely dark, the better to see all the babies in the house, especially one who manages to perch atop her mom's shoulders for a better view.

There's Gemma Lanfontant, 7 months old, on top of a padded blanket in a spot usually reserved for a wheelchair. Her mom, Charlene Lafontant, 35, keeps her entertained with stuffed toys as Seabiscuit races across the screen.

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