With the kind permission of Brian Bukantis (Arena Publishing) and the author Dr. Vollin (Freddie Poe), I'm happy to be able to reprint Dr. V's article, They Tore Down Paradise...And Put Up a Parking Lot, which originally appeared in the May issue of Movie Collector's World, No. 683, 2005. Here's Part 5.
I asked John “Who was the most impressive movie star you ever met?”
He told me he was never in awe of the actors or actresses he met. He always conducted himself as a professional and kept his cool around Hollywood bigwigs.
“Freddie, I always knew my place around these people. I was Johnny Dee, manager of the Poli Palace in downtown Worcester and they were Hollywood movie stars. I just always kept that perspective in mind. I catered to them and entertained them, but I didn’t throw myself at them. Get the picture?”
I asked John if he could remember a specific story he could tell me. He told me a lot of stories, but the one that stuck out in my mind was the day he spent entertaining Anthony Quinn who was doing a promotional tour in New Haven Connecticut.
“Loew’s contacted me and told me I would be taking Anthony Quinn around town. They told me to show Quinn some sites and see if there was anything special he wanted to do. So I asked Mr. Quinn if there was any place special he would like to go. Quinn asked if there were any art museums in the area? I brought him to the Yale Art Museum. He looked at all the artwork and then we left. On the way back, while crossing through the city’s commons, Quinn said, "Hey John, do you mind if I lie down under this tree for awhile?" I said, "No, of course not." "Quinn sat down on the grass under an elm tree, I sat down beside him and we just shot the breeze for awhile. Not that it was a big deal, but it’s a nice memory.”
“John, who was your favorite actor of all time?” I asked.
Next came the big question. “John did you save anything from the old Poli Palace, like the posters or stills, or anything like that?”
“No, I never did. I should have but I never did. One kid used to come to the Poli all the time and ask me for the movie posters. He wanted all the horror ones (Dr. V note: I know who that was). I used to give him stacks of the stuff. I mean, what did I care. I had piles of them all over the place and giving them away just meant that I would have smaller piles. Why? Are they worth anything?”
“Oh, yeah," I told him, "they bring a pretty penny on today’s market. Some collectors pay thousands for certain posters and sometimes hundreds of thousands.”
“John, one more thing: I was sick when they destroyed the Palace to make the Showcase. I can imagine how you felt.”
“You were sick, I was heartbroken. After all, that had been like home to me for almost 40 years. I had a lot of great memories there.” said John with a tear welling up in his eye.
The next morning I was sitting in Honey Dew waiting for John to show up. When he arrived he was carrying an old file folder. I greeted John as he entered. John put the folder down on the counter top.
“Freddie, I found these old photos I thought might interest you.”
I reached into the folder and pulled out a pile of black and white 8x10 photographs. John wasn’t kidding when he said he had met a plethora of stars. Here he was, Johnny Dee, rubbing elbows with Jayne Mansfield, Tina Louise, Ann Blythe, Denise Darcell, Rosemary LaPlanche, Lauren Bacall and others. Not to mention an autographed still of Cary Grant, personally inscribed: To Johnny Dee, Cary Grant.
I was in awe, especially with the photo of John with Jayne Mansfield; that blew my movie loving mind. That photo was too cool. How many of us can even say that we saw Mansfield in person, nevermind having your picture taken with her! These were some serious photos John told me I could take home and copy for my article. However, the photos were not in the best of condition. Many were cracked and splitting with age. Without asking John (and I should have), I repaired the photos the best I could with archival tape, placed them in plastic sleeves and put them in a black three-ring binder. On the cover I inscribed, using a silver paint pen, Johnny Dee - Poli Palace.
A few days later I gave the photos back to John. John thanked me for fixing them up and putting them in the binder. I told him the photos were well worth preserving as they are a part of movie history, not to mention evidence of his illustrious career as Worcester’s premiere theater manager. I asked him if he ever regrets leaving Connecticut and settling in Worcester. John said he loved Worcester and was glad he came here. He said he met many lovely families from Worcester and raised a family of his own here. John, along with his lovely wife of 50 years, Patricia, live just two streets down from me. Johnny Dee assures me as soon as the weather breaks, he is going to stop by and visit the House Of Poe to see my collection. I meet with Johnny Dee everyday now at Honey Dew and we reminisce about Worcester, easier times, classic movies and all the grand old movie theaters of a bygone era.
AFTERWORDS: Meeting with my new old friend Johnny Dee every morning is a great pleasure. John is certainly a Worcester icon and an important part of its historic past. Many mornings, over coffee, I have observed just how popular he really is. John is constantly acknowledging or saying “hi” to people. Many of them are old friends from his days at the Palace and some are new friends, who have no idea of his colorful, interesting past. People just see Johnny Dee as a “sweet little old Italian guy”.
His showbiz-style personality still shines through, making everyone he greets feel like an old friend. I always believed people meet for a reason and not by chance. The reason for me finding Johnny Dee after all these years was not just to do this article, although it has connected us in a special way. I believe the fate of our meeting lies in the future. I not only found the former manager of the Poli Palace, but a new friend, and a very special human being.
With the completion of this piece I found myself longing for the old days. I suppose living in the past is not a healthy life to live. But like a Twilight Zone episode, I can’t help but wanting to go back, if not forever, at least for a day, an hour, or perhaps for a few minutes. I guess it’s just time slipping through my fingers. But I can still visit those old theaters in my mind, where no wrecking ball can ever reach them, where I sit peacefully watching movies for all of eternity.
I want to thank THE WORCESTER TELEGRAM for their old theater photos, and photos of the ELM, POLI, CAPITOL, PLYMOUTH, PHILLIPS, WARNER and FINE ARTS, are property of the WORCESTER TELEGRAM photo archives and may not be reprinted without permission of the WORCESTER TELEGRAM editor. I also would like to thank the staff at the WORCESTER PUBLIC LIBRARY for their help and putting up with my many visits. And, of course, a very special thank you to Johnny Dee for sharing his memories and making me feel young again, sitting in the dark, watching the movies of my dreams.
“I’ll be seeing you in all those old familiar places”
– Freddie Poe aka Dr Vollin MD