IN MEMORY OF "Coach Curtis" ... Quest for a "Perfect" Cinema Interrupted by "C" Word

Updated 5 weeks ago by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
IN MEMORY OF "Coach Curtis" ...    Quest for a "Perfect" Cinema Interrupted by "C" Word

By Tony Rutherford

Former Regional Correspondent Boxoffice Magazine

When writing for BOXOFFICE MAGAZINE, a motion picture exhibitors trade publication,  in 1979, WV communities had not joined the multiplex revolution. By contrast, the ambiance of single screen houses stayed viable, including the enchanting, one of a kind, Keith Albee. (A historic venue we would not have but for sacrifice and caring by the Hyman Family.) However, one of my published blurbs mentioned the June 1 opening of Curtis McCall's CurBanBry Cinemas 1 & 2 in   Rainelle,WV, which opened to "exceptionally good" response as residents were pleased with the indoor entertainment complex.  




Hard work paid dividends, as "sell outs" were the rule. While maintaining an awesome screen experience, he helped others and former employees continue to remember their "first job" --- which one recalled as "a lot of fun."

Along a pathway of bringing first run movies to the state's fringe cities in southern and central WV, Curtis McCall perfected customer service and down home friendliness. From the twin cinema, he expanded to the Crossroads Mall  (Mt. Hope near Beckley), which became the initial "Marquee" cinema.

IN MEMORY OF "Coach Curtis" ...    Quest for a "Perfect" Cinema Interrupted by "C" Word
He moved into more underserved markets (often without a cinema) or tapped a growing area that needed a first class venue.

McCall attended the Appalachian Film Festival in 2007 where his sister, Dani Englander's, independent film, "Two Fireflies."  debuted at the Keith Albee Performing Arts Center. She co-hosted that year's festival along with D.B. Sweeney.

 

Although executive and C.E.O. came after his name (as well as WV President of National Association Theater Owners) , Curtis is one of a hand full of successful business people who stood up for integrity, faith, family and friendship. I learned about his integrity during a series of robberies at the Huntington theater. He placed the well fare of his employees first in crisis decision making. Only after the police made arrests did he reveal that about a year before at another one of his theater's a manager lost his life to a robber. 

IN MEMORY OF "Coach Curtis" ...    Quest for a "Perfect" Cinema Interrupted by "C" Word

The Huntington Marquee Pullman held a world premiere of "We Are Marshall" on 16 screens and he promoted "Frozen" with one of the first "Elsa" cosplayers, whose name happened to also be Elsa. 


Marquee  features 'state of the art' projection and sound, as well as expanded concession menus and cultivating WV friendliness throughout the chain's nine states with  Wall to wall screens, stadium seating, and concession  amenities .

Often ahead of the curve, McCall recognized early the social network revolution: 


“The savior or destroyer  is always Facebook or Twitter. Everybody’s on there talking about it and it goes off the charts. If it’s only decent or is terrible that word gets out too.  We’re tried, but you can tell by 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon what a movie will gross for the whole run. Give me two shows Friday and I can just about predict what it will do over eight weeks,” McCall explained. He  predicted “The Wolf of Wall Street,”  “Frozen,” and “Hobbit Desolation of Smaug.”  as blockbusters, though, not on the same level as “Hunger Games Catching Fire” or “Iron Man III,” the May release that remains the 2013 boxoffice champion.

IN MEMORY OF "Coach Curtis" ...    Quest for a "Perfect" Cinema Interrupted by "C" Word


 THE C WORD JOURNEY

Having not been “sick” a day in his vigorous 6 a.m. to 12 midnight lifestyle, a bout of inflammatory pneumonia in December 2012  slowed but did not stop the corporate executive who  mixed business with “family man” activity including coaching and faith.

A follow up "still not feeling well" doctor’s visit led to a blood test and a reverberating  phone call that contained the dreaded “C” word --- cancer.

 

“You’ve got to get to the hospital right now,” the doctor said. “We’ve caught it in a very early stage.”

Within 24 hours, McCall traveled from his Beckley, WV home to a Charlottesville, Va. hospital where he received his first dose of chemotherapy for AML - acute myeloid leukemia.

IN MEMORY OF "Coach Curtis" ...    Quest for a "Perfect" Cinema Interrupted by "C" Word

His hospitalization brought an adjustment to holiday traditions of the McCall family.

His sister, explained, “We were still together, just in a hotel room in Charlottesville and Curtis was in the hospital.” 

Unable to have much contact time, Dani and Curtis’ children devised a cute method of emotional support.

“We made our crazy family video that made Curtis and Toni (his wife) laugh until they cried,” Englander said. Importantly, “the kids had fun despite the circumstances.”

As treatment progressed, they visited him both at the hospital and at home during breaks in  chemo treatment.

Despite the “you don’t want to eat or walk” side effects,  a critical decision still faced McCall. Chemotherapy brought remission, but the aggressive cancer had a strong chance of reoccurring. His chance of a longer fuller recovery with greater life quality meant a risky stem cell transplant which itself had a 25% risk of death and 50% risk of complications.

All during the treatments McCall told of “keeping the faith” and “staying positive.”

A former nurse ,  filmmaker ,  actress, model and cat rescuer, Englander,  explained that a combination of strong faith and social media brought support for what would become Team McCall.

“An amazing network of family, friends and co-workers “through prayers, support and love his way,” she said.

Facebook friends from Germany and all over the world formed a prayer chain.

“It’s amazing how many people have this disease,” McCall said, noting that while undergoing treatment a  thirteen year old teammate of his son was diagnosed. “They found it early,” McCall said.

IN MEMORY OF "Coach Curtis" ...    Quest for a "Perfect" Cinema Interrupted by "C" Word

Social networking integrated with faith supporters, particularly during  his three months at a Duke University hospital for the stem cell procedures, which required an in hospital team of a dozen workers. The transplant procedures allow for chemo and radiation to kill a larger portion of cancer cells along with good cells. New cells mature following the transplant, which is a period when the patient is most susceptible to infections and rejection.

Actually, when he would be discharged to return home in August, the physician warned: No hugs. No kisses. No handshakes. His immune system remained infection susceptible.

His church friends made a prayer blanket for him and he saw its making through an incredibly touching  Youtube video, Englander said. “Caring Bridge posts kept everyone up to date. We were able to talk, email and text through everything. I’m sure we drove  him crazy sometimes but we wanted him to know how much we care and how hard everyone was pulling for him.”

When this story was originally published, McCall was six months past the stem cell transplant. He had  about five months before he would be considered cancer free . During his stem cell recovery, you would hardly believe he had a compromised immune system. Instead, he’s busy coaching, getting back in shape, and stepping up his business activities. 

He remained involved throughout the ordeal with the weekly bookings (i.e. movie choices) of the  18 venue circuit which stretches from Connecticut to Florida, with West Virginia locations in Beckley, Charleston, Huntington,  Summersville, Tridelphia (Wheeling), and Welch.

He had a dream of building a "perfect cinema." Construction began of his "perfect theater,"  Pinnacle 12   in Bristol, Tennessee, which introduced  Marquee Extreme premium formatted auditoriums.

Looking back at  treatment and remission, he gained  a deeper appreciation for “how short life is” and empathy for the many sufferers of cancer.

CurBanBry opens  in Rainelle from Boxoffice
CurBanBry opens in Rainelle from Boxoffice

 

LEGACY

 

Four  years ago, on July 15, 2015, following a thunder storm that painted a beautiful sky at his hospice room in West Virginia, Mr. Jordan came to escort McCall up the Stairway to Heaven. He did not see the grand opening of his final project  Pinnacle 12 in Bristol, Tenn. which introduced the Marquee Extreme premium concept. But throughout his ordeal ---- isolation, stem cell transplant, rehab, IV in arm , pain --- his wife, Toni, said he had more determination in "one finger" than most individuals. 

Upon his death, Pam Haynes, then director of the WV Film Office, wrote:   "He was such a warm and caring and generous soul and will be greatly missed."

Leo Pniewski, who now lives near Cleveland, Ohio, and a former high school football player and youth coach, teared up . 

From the moment he first met Dani and Curtis at the Appalachian Film Festival, he was accepted and treated as a "friend." His personality was down to earth, caring and treating people respectfully, Peniewski said. 

Following a screening in Beckley, Curtis asked for his opinion. "I'll never forget that a man of his stature valued my thoughts on  the movie theater itself including seating, food and drinks. "

To this day, Pniewski regards Marquee's supreme customer service as a national standard. 

A Facebook writer stated: 

"I have read many posts on how he has coached and helped form many lives over the years. Little did we know when we were 9-10 years old and he was in his 30's, he was making such a lasting impression in our lives. What a legacy he has left behind!"

Ironically, Hannah Caserta on her first Saturday night of cancer freedom , choose to visit Marquee Pullman Square, whose founder and CEO,  walked the stairway to Heaven's Gate after a valiant struggle with a rare form of leukemia that included chemo and a stem cell transplant. 





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