When veteran actor Dabney Coleman was preparing to film his last scene for the 1982 comedy "Tootsie" with costar Jessica Lange in New York, he recalls how they looked at each other in dismay, both convinced they were making a terrible movie. "Jessica said to me, 'Thank God no one will ever see this,'" says Coleman, speaking by phone from his Los Angeles home.
Ten Academy Award nominations later (one going to Lange for supporting actress), "Tootsie" is now considered one of the greatest American comedies of all time.
It will be celebrating its 30-year anniversary with a screening next week at Last Remaining Seats, the yearly film event that celebrates classic cinema and the glorious movie palaces that once screened them.
A fundraiser for the Los Angeles Conservancy now in its 26th year, the series began as a way to draw attention to the historic theaters that line Broadway downtown.
A wide array of contemporary and vintage classics will be shown every Wednesday night through the end of June, including silent-era extravaganzas such as "Robin Hood" (1922) with Douglas Fairbanks, the film noir thriller "The Big Sleep" (1946), Mexican screen idol Cantinflas in 1942's Spanish language "Los Tres Mosqueteros" (The Three Musketeers) and perennial fan favorite "The Wizard of Oz" (1939).
The series opened Wednesday night with Peter Bogdanovich's depression era homage "Paper Moon." The director was on hand to introduce his film. "I don't usually like to go to screenings of my films but I couldn't resist seeing it in a picture palace with 2,000 people," says Bogdanovich. "It gives you a feeling of what it was like to go to the movies when it was really special, before they were not just part of a mall."
For "Tootsie," Coleman (who played the chauvinistic soap director Ron Carlisle) and Geena Davis, who made her screen debut in the Sydney Pollack film, will attend and participate in an on-stage interview at the Orpheum Theatre.
"We really had no idea when we were making the film how good it was going to be. At the time it just didn't seem that funny. No one was laughing on set," says Coleman of the comedy, which starred Dustin Hoffman as an out of work actor who dresses as a woman to nab a plum role on a soap.
But Coleman believes the comedy has stood the test of time because of the mastery of Pollack's direction. "He made the movie mean something. It wasn't just about seeing Dustin in a dress. It was about a man who learned to understand women better by getting a chance to live in a woman's skin for a while," says Coleman.
"The series has done a great job of straddling all eras," says film critic Leonard Maltin, who will be introducing Fairbanks' silent swashbuckler "Robin Hood" at the Orpheum Theatre, accompanied live by Robert Israel on the theater's magnificent Mighty Wurlitzer organ.
"What impresses me is the wide cross section of Angelenos that come," Maltin adds. "It's not just a typical turnout of old movie buffs. It's all kinds of people from young to old to whole families."
Although the movies may impress, it's the ornate and lavish historic picture palaces that really steal the show.
"We have a very loyal audience and a lot of people come to see these magnificent theaters," says Linda Dishman, executive director of the L.A. Conservancy. "Los Angeles is really unique. We have the largest historical theater district in the world."
Among the theaters featured are Sid Grauman's first L.A. venue, the Million Dollar Theatre (so named because of its exorbitant cost when it was built in 1918), the intricately detailed French Baroque of 1931's Los Angeles Theatre and the recently renovated Orpheum, which was built in 1926.
For the first time the series moves across town to Beverly Hills on June 30 with a Saturday matinee and evening screening of "The Wizard of Oz" at the Saban Theatre on Wilshire.
"We are excited to be able to showcase other Los Angeles theaters and their revitalization as well," says Dishman.
"No question there is a tremendous amount of convenience with the different ways we can see movies these days," says Maltin. "But there is no substitute for seeing these films with an audience the way they were meant to be seen."
The Last Remaining Seats
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays (2 p.m. matinee on June 30). Doors open one hour before each screening.
Cost: $20 ($16 for Los Angeles Conservancy members)
Info: (213) 623 2489; www.laconservancy.org
June 6: "Tootsie" (1982). Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway, L.A.
June 13: "The Big Sleep" (1946). Los Angeles Theatre, 615 S. Broadway, L.A.
June 20: "Los Tres Mosqueteros" (The Three Musketeers) (Mexico, 1942). Million Dollar Theatre, 307 S. Broadway, L.A.
June 27: "Robin Hood" (1922). Orpheum Theatre
June 30: "The Wizard of Oz" (1939). Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills