This article was originally published in the Idaho State Journal on April 4, 1993.By Robert Bell
If you’re looking for an elegy on the beauty and opulence that was the Chief Theater, forget it.
Aesthetics? Frankly, Anthony Rojas did not give a damn.
“I guess it could be called a nice theater,” says Rojas, who helped run the late Chief and two other Pocatello theaters for most of two decades. “But first and foremost with me the Chief was a business. And my job was to get people in there. I never really stopped to think about how nice it was.”
That’s not to say that Rojas, who helped manage the Chief from 1955 to 1975 wasn’t saddened to learn about last month’s fire that razed one of the city’s most treasured landmarks.
For 20 years the Main Street movie house, along with the Orpheum and The Capital Theaters in Pocatello served as a second home to Rojas and his family — each of whom worked at the Chief.
“The kids didn’t just work there,” says Rojas. “They practically lived there. Most people went to the movies for entertainment, but for us it was a way of life. I guess you could say it was another home to them.”
Indeed, the Chief’s employee files looked more like a family tree: Rojas’ daughters, Barbara and Jovita, doubled as usherettes and sales girls at the Chief’s snazzy candy counter while son Tony was left with the demanding task of maintaining the building’s upkeep.
“That meant everything from keeping the marble to the toilets absolutely spotless,” says Tony, who also kept a watchful eye on the celebrated Indian head to make sure each of its 270 light bulbs burned brightly on Main Street below.
“If something was out of place of a smudgy fingerprint was overlooked you heard from dad in a hurry. Dad was something.”
Actually, dad was everything. Sales. Projectionist. Janitor. Accountant. But for all his myriad talents. Rojas had a non pareil knack for gimmicks.
When “King Kong” premiers at the Chief, it was Rojas who decided to rent a guerrilla suit and have a man-ape run up and down the Chief’s aisles. And whenever a horror flick was showing, customers could always expect a tiny electric jolt from their wired seats.
“Hell, it was a horror film,” Rojas recalls unblushingly, “We wanted them to jump.”
Before the Rojas children were old enough to work, Saturdays followed the same routine: Catch the Orpheum’s matinee, hurry home for dinner and take in the Chief’s double feature later that evening.
By the time the children were teenagers nothing had changed. Barbara and Jovita wanted weekends off from their jobs to date. “But we didn’t dare ask,” moans Barbara.
“It’s a good thing they didn’t,” Rojas says, “That was the busiest time of the week.”
Even family vacations revolved around the movies. Like the summer Rojas and the family packed up the car and drove to California to see Rudolph Valentino’s grave.
“No big deal,” remembers Jovita. “He was stacked in a vault with the rest of them.”
Lest you think the children regret having spent their wonder years in a theater, think again.
“It really was a great way to grow up,” Jovita says. “We saw so many movies growing up . . . Nowadays I can’t site through a 30-minute comedy on television. I’ll watch that (American Movie Classics) station all day. That’s what we grew up with.”
And on occasion, even the elder Rojas, who, like any good Silver Screen actor, keeps his age a mystery, shows there’s still a tender place in his heart for the Chief. “At least we were always together as a family there,” he says.
Even now, Rojas, who lives on North Hayes Street within walking distance from where the theater and his second home once stood, has yet to stroll downtown to view the fallen Chief.
“I can’t do it,” says Rojas, eyes closed as if he’s trying to remember — or not forget — something.
“I just can’t do it.”