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Shirley Jones, Robert Wagner discuss their careers at El Paso classic film fest

El Paso's Plaza Classic Film Festival, dubbed the world's largest with more than 80 movies, is Aug. 7-17 at the historic Plaza Theatre.
El Paso's Plaza Classic Film Festival, dubbed the world's largest with more than 80 movies, is Aug. 7-17 at the historic Plaza Theatre.
El Paso's Plaza Theatre, site of Plaza Classic Film Festival Aug. 7-17. Photo by David Sabal

El Paso's Plaza Classic Film Festival, dubbed the world's largest with more than 80 movies, will star Oscar®-winner Shirley Jones and Robert Wagner discussing their careers at the majestic, historic Plaza Theatre Aug. 7-17.

Shirley Jones at 3rd annual Jerry Herman Awards in Hollywood June 1, 2014
Photo by Chelsea Lauren

The 7th annual festival's films range from 35-millimeter silents -- with accompaniment on the Plaza Theatre's original 1930 Mighty Wurlitzer Organ -- to new digital restorations of major classics.

"El Paso is such a great American city, about to pay tribute to two great American motion pictures, 'Oklahoma!' and 'Elmer Gantry'," Jones said in a statement. "I am very proud of these films and honored that I was invited to be there for their screenings."

The 80-year-old actress will discuss her seven-decade career and introduce "Oklahoma!" on Aug. 8, and "Elmer Gantry" on Aug. 9. Although famous for musicals, Jones won her Academy Award for her dramatic role as a vengeful prostitute in "Elmer Gantry". On Aug. 9, she'll sign autographs, and perhaps her recent steamy autobiography, "Shirley Jones".

"...(B)ring out the smelling salts, hang on to your hats, and get ready for the surprise of your lives!" she writes in its intro.

Jones, named for Shirley Temple, is best remembered as the piano-playing matriarch of "The Partridge Family" 1970s sitcom that co-starred her stepson, David Cassidy.

Wagner, 84, will appear Aug. 15 at the screening of "The Towering Inferno", and Aug. 16 at the film noir "A Kiss Before Dying". He'll sign copies of his new book, "You Must Remember This: Life and Style in Hollywood’s Golden Age".

And what must people remember? "...(N)othing lasts forever -- except the movies," he writes.

He is less remembered for his movies than for his TV roles, like "Hart to Hart", and recurring roles in hits "Two and a Half Men" and "NCIS". Now married to actress Jill St. John, Wagner had been married twice to Natalie Wood.

For the list of other special guests at the Plaza Classic Film Festival, click here.

Additional highlights of the fest (for full schedule, click here):

  • "The Wizard of Oz" (Aug. 9) for its 75th anniversary.
  • "Rear Window" (Aug. 10) for the 60th anniversary of Hitchcock's thriller, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly.
  • "Crimes of the Heart" (Aug. 12) -- Playwright, screenwriter, actress Beth Henley will talk about transforming her tragicomedy from a Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play to the film starring Sissy Spacek, Diane Keaton, and Jessica Lange.
  • "A Hard Day’s Night" (Aug. 13) -- This new digital restoration honors the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' film and U.S. debut -- in Washington, D.C.
  • "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (Aug. 14) -- This is the 30th anniversary of the second Indiana Jones flick.
  • "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" (Aug. 16) -- It’s 50, so celebrate the golden anniversary of Sergio Leone's spaghetti Western, starring none-too-ugly Clint Eastwood.
  • "All the President’s Men" (Aug. 17) -- Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman star as journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who broke the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation 40 years ago, Aug. 9, 1974.

A companion exhibit, "No Subtitles Required: The Art of the International Film Poster", featuring three dozen posters from 12 countries, continues through Aug. 31 at the El Paso Museum of Art (housed in a renovated Greyhound bus station).

The posters, dating from 1952-1984, and loaned by Plaza Classic program advisor Charles Horak and his wife Ann Horak include:

  • A Japanese depiction of the Beatles' "Help!"
  • A Belgian poster of "North by Northwest".
  • A French take on Fellini’s "8 1/2".
  • A Polish version of "Bus Stop" -- about a third of the exhibit is devoted to posters from Poland while under Communist rule.
  • Images of Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, and John Wayne.

As much an attraction as the museum exhibit and the film festival is its venue, the exquisitely restored 1930 Plaza Theatre, on the National Register of Historic Places.

Its exterior resembles a Spanish mission, and its "Spanish Atmospheric" style interior is like a hacienda courtyard -- complete with faux foliage, and clouds and stars in the ceiling. The stars light up just before the curtain goes up. True to celestial patterns in the Southwest, they "shine bright" in this Lone Star State theatre.

Other features, reconstructed based on archival photos and interviews of people who had worked at the theatre, include hand-painted, intricate, geometric designs on the lobby's walls and domed ceiling; ornate deco fixtures; ruby red floral patterned carpet; red velvet setées; original film posters of "El Paso"; "El Paso Stampede"; "El Paso Kid"...

By 1986, the Plaza had been abandoned for about two decades, and was scheduled to be razed for a parking lot. But the El Paso Community Foundation and private citizens saved it, and the renovated building reopened in 2006. Today, it's one of only five or six restored Spanish Atmospheric theatres among the 13 that exist around the world.

Its renovation, by the Washington, D.C. firm Martinez + Johnson, Gary Martinez and Tom Johnson, was the first restoration and the catalyst for the spectacular restoration of downtown El Paso. Their work won the 2009 National Trust for Historic Preservation Honor Award, and the 2010 Preservation Texas Preservation Honor Award – Historic Restoration Award.

The Plaza Theatre is a bright shining star of El Paso's Arts Festival Plaza. May it, and movies, last forever.

For more info: Plaza Classic Film Festival, www.plazaclassic.com, El Paso Live, www.elpasolive.com, and Destination El Paso, www.destinationelpaso.com, One Civic Center Plaza, El Paso, Texas, 915-534-0600 or 800-351-6024.