LOS ANGELES — The Vista Theater has weathered a lot of ups and downs since it opened in 1923. When the classic single-screen movie house closed up shop over a year ago, the film-loving community, including Stan Zimmerman, feared the worst.
A writer/director, Zimmerman's first job when he moved to LA was at the Vista as an usher. Zimmerman recalls how he fell, almost literally, into the role of assistant manager after a close call changing the theater’s marquee.
“I got up on this rickety ladder and I came down and said, ‘I'm not doing this again. Make me assistant manager,’ and they did,” said Zimmerman as he browsed through the handprints and signatures in the cement outside the theater. “And so that was the end of my days as an usher.”
When Zimmerman started working at the Vista in the '80s, it was a repertory theater where filmgoers looking for movies outside the mainstream could find community.
“Until one summer when I came up with an idea to turn this into summer camp!” Zimmerman said, producing the original proposal for the event that he had kept. The Vista’s Summer Camp had staff dressed as camp counselors and they screened off-beat cult movies such as the films of John Waters. But, soon after, Zimmerman landed a job as a TV writer. His Vista bosses told him to keep the theater keys…just in case.
“But I knew that I was never going to come back,” Zimmerman recalled. “I was passionate about being a writer in Hollywood, and that I was going to make it work.”
Recently, many Vista fans were excited to hear that filmmaker Quentin Tarantino had purchased and plans to operate the Vista as a first-run movie house.
Zimmerman explained his full circle connection to Tarantino.
“I was lucky to be a writer on the first season of 'The Golden Girls,'” he said. “…which is my little connection to Quentin Tarantino who was a guest star. Or an extra maybe? I don't know if he had any lines. I think he played an Elvis impersonator?”
He played one of many Elvis impersonators who appear at Sophia’s wedding in Season 4 of the Golden Girls—Zimmerman wrote three episodes for Season 1.
Tarantino has said in interviews that his Elvis appearance helped keep him going financially while he was in pre-production for his first film, "Reservoir Dogs."
“Maybe he'll invite me to the opening night party,” Zimmerman mused. “Then we can celebrate Golden Girls at the Vista!”
Tarantino already owns and programs the New Beverly Cinema as a repertory theater which over the years has become a hub for LA’s cinephile community, but the Vista is to be a first-run movie house.
“I hope he can still bring that community feel,” said Zimmerman. “But also have a place where people can come and have that experience of watching a movie, and not necessarily a Marvel movie, but some indie movie, or some comedy might be nice at this point in our lives.”
Plans are to reopen the Vista in December after some major renovations are completed, which brings Zimmerman to the theater’s current rusty orange exterior.
“Quentin, please, paint it another color!” he said.