Silent movies finally made their premiere at the El Capitan Theater with a very successful screening of Peter Pan (Paramount, 1924) on April 29. The show, produced with a minimal budget for advertising, featured Dennis James on the Wurlitzer pipe organ and an Alice in Cartoonland short from 1924. This was preceded by a discussion with Virginia Davis, who portrayed "Alice," led by Scott McQueen (who has, thankfully, lead Disneys movie restoration programs). The theater was sold out (1050 seats) and 300-400 more were turned away at the door! This was a test by Disney to determine the feasibility of silent films at the El Capitan, and, needless to say, Disney plans to have more such programs in the fall and spring.
Although the theater was opened in 1926, it had never presented a silent movie before that night. Built as a legitimate theater, it included an organ loft in case it was converted to movies. But that didnt occur until Citizen Kane had its West Coast premiere in 1941, so an organ was never added until last year. With an overall restoration cost of $1,000,000, the former Fox-San Francisco Wurlitzer (built for a 4,500 seat theater) provides the ultimate support for silent movies.
Special thanks to Joe Musil, the El Capitan theaters restoration designer in 1990-91, who fought to keep the organ loft "free of air conditioning equipment"; to Dick Cook who wanted to get just the right organ and made its funding by Disney possible (as well as pushing through this type of special programming); and to Ed Collins who coordinated the successful evening. You can normally hear the organ on all weekend screenings at the theater, one half hour before the feature.