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The greatest theater display EVER

One of the coolest side benefits of living in the L.A. area is getting to enjoy the art of the movie theater display. Go to the Arclight, and you can see the costumes from one of the films playing there on display in the lobby. These days the El Capitan on Hollywood Boulevard is the king - witness, for example, the Alice in Wonderland exhibit, with Johnny Depp's "Mad Hatter" costume proudly shown in the lobby, and a bevy of props, costumes, and art in the basement.

But the best one ever was the astonishing display the Egyptian Theater had for the opening weekend of Alien, way back in 1979.

While putting together some old pics for another reason yesterday, I stumbled across these photos I shot at the Egyptian on the film's opening day (keep that day in mind - it was a Friday. See below for the tragic surprise ending to this story.) This was back when the Egyptian, also on Hollywood Boulevard, was still a grand old movie palace, before the American Cinematheque demonstrated their love of cinema by subdividing the place (yeah, I'm still bitter about that).

Here's how it went:

Out on the sidewalk in front of the theater, you first walked through a row of alien eggs (I don't know why I don't seem to have a photo of those). Then, to reach the fore-court of the theater, you walked through a length of actual corridor from the film's spaceship "Nostromo", exiting through "Mother"'s chamber:

And now came the biggest astonishment: As you left the Nostromo and entered the fore-court of the theater, there, to your left, was this:

Yep, that's the real thing - the original, full-size set piece of the alien "space jockey", as sculpted by H. R. Giger. It wasn't even roped off or guarded - note my friend at the right of that photo, touching the damn thing - and obviously photography was not prohibited.

Once you'd managed to scrape your jaw off the sidewalk, stop staring in awe, and could move your feet, you entered the lobby, where there was a magnificent display of full-size props and art department models. Here, for example, is a vehicle that can just be glimpsed in the background of a few shots in the film:

And a few of the models:

And that was it. After that, you had the pleasure of watching one of the great science fiction/horror films of all time in the setting of a fabulous and historic cinema.

Now for the tragic ending: The "Space Jockey" was gone by Tuesday. One story I heard was that it fell victim to an arsonist in the early hours of Tuesday morning. I'd like to think that wasn't true, but that glorious sculpture has never been seen again, so sadly I believe that story may be factual.

At least we can all now enjoy a few last photos of it. And recall the greatest film exhibition EVER!


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 30th, 2010 06:02 am (UTC)
Wonderful pics! Too bad about the alien pilot sculpture. WTF?
Apr. 30th, 2010 12:37 pm (UTC)
That's so cool! We never had anything like that in NYC or Connecticut when I was growing up. The closest I can remember are ushers selling brochures before a showing of QUEST FOR FIRE, walking up and down the aisles shouting, "Learn the language of the cavemen!"
Apr. 30th, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC)
You had to BUY the brochures?! Man, that's cheap...

(Somewhere I still have the language glossary they gave out before DUNE...)
Apr. 30th, 2010 10:07 pm (UTC)
How awesome was that!? Sheesh, I feel deprived. I think I remember some gothic dude in a top hat when I went to see Interview with a Vampire, and I don't count parking lot lightsaber duels at Star Wars midnight showings as unusual (definitely not unique to one theater, for damn sure).
May. 3rd, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
Hi, Lisa! Great photos! I just included a link here from SCI FI Wire:


Maybe we'll be able to find out what really happened to the space jockey!
May. 3rd, 2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Scott!
May. 15th, 2010 06:23 am (UTC)
I have a new book coming out "It Came from the '70s" and, arranged in alphabetical order as it is, one of the first films reviewed is "Alien." It starts out with the reminiscences of (of all people) Sally Field as she appeared on the "Tonight" show talking about the film. I was looking through my 40-year-old scrapbooks of reviews I did between 1970 and 1985 for the Quad City Times and it occurred to me that these reviews were like tiny time capsules and could never be done this same way today. And (after 3 years), with 76 photos, 50 reviews, main cast and trivia following each review (with the answers to the questions upside down) this will be a new book in approximately 9 months' time (Strategic Publishing/AEG Group), either with the title "It Came from the '70s" or "Classic Cinema of the '70s." Next up: the 80s'.
Dec. 16th, 2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
Alien at the Egyptian...
Great pix. One thing you didn't mention is that the Space Jockey burned on the second or third night. Somebody torched it. Very strange.
Dec. 16th, 2010 09:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Alien at the Egyptian...
Dear Anonymous: If I may offer a friendly piece of advice: It's always a good idea to actually read an entire post before you comment on it, especially if you claim something isn't mentioned when it is. Thank you.
Apr. 7th, 2011 08:21 am (UTC)
Alien props
Thanks for posting the photos--my memory is kind of hazy so the photos bring it all back. I do agree with you-that was the greatest display of movie props ever! I do remember with crystal clarity the Mother display was so detailed. Each of the tiny lights had an inscription of what the button/light function was for. They put a lot of work into that set! The alien space jockey was quite a shocker to see. It was huge and so detailed. How did they get such a large prop in such a cramped area? Could it be that the eggs were displayed in more than one area which could be why you don't have a shot of them? I seem to remember some of them in the lobby but this memory is a little hazy. The space jockey appeared to be made of some kind of plastic so a fire does seem plausible. Man, they sure don't show or promote movies like that anymore! What a treat that was back then!
Apr. 7th, 2011 02:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Alien props
The central walkway leading to the theater front was actually pretty wide in those days, so loading in the space jockey first probably wasn't that hard. I don't remember seeing the eggs in the lobby (although you might be thinking of the miniature displays in the lobby, one of which did show the field of eggs inside the derelict ship); I do have photos of the full-size eggs, but for some reason none of those photos turned out well.

Thanks for the comment!
Nov. 19th, 2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
Good to see. Brings back memories. My friend Tim and I went to see this film soon after the weekend opening (Monday? Tuesday? We had both heard good things about it and decided on a whim to go see it). The statue was indeed most amazing. It was a heavy, foam piece and the line to enter the theater went directly past it, so it was hard to resist touching it. I know that I did. I had seen some of Geiger's work, and here it was in 3D right in front of us. This was a daytime showing that we attended, and either on the TV news that night or in the paper the next day I was shocked and saddened to learn that the space jockey statue had burst into flames when some idiot in line thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if he touched it with the flame of his cigarette lighter. Apparently what happens is that the whole thing turns into a fireball and goes up in seconds. It wasn't a hit job, nobody sneaked in after hours and dispatched the magnificent prop, it was just the vacant musing of a theater goer filing in to see the show. There's a whole lotta stupid in this world.

Brad Frost
Nov. 19th, 2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks for that, Brad. I hope that fool squirms now whenever the subject of ALIEN comes up.
Dec. 8th, 2014 08:44 pm (UTC)
Survey Buggy
This was really cool to come across! I actually have an auto museum and we have the vehicle in your pictures on display in our museum. So at least we know that exists!
Dec. 8th, 2014 08:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Survey Buggy
Wow, cool! Where's the museum?
Samuel Oldham
Apr. 27th, 2019 03:30 pm (UTC)
Alien Premiere
I was there! It was wondrous. The first showing had some problems but was still a memorable experience. I was working for Sherwood Oaks College at the time and my boss was Gary Shusett, brother of Ronald who co-wrote and executive produced the film. My first seminar at the school was on its making. I was also there when the Space Jockey was burned down. It was styrofoam so it went up quickly. Thank God filmmaker Bill Malone was there to take pictures. HAPPY ALIEN DAY!

Edited at 2019-04-27 03:32 pm (UTC)
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )