30 Days of The Plaza, Day 13: Smokin’ at The Plaza, A Flashback to The Plaza’s Racy Past from Torchy Taboo

Posted on: Jun 5th, 2012 By:
From the 1960s into the 1980s, the Plaza Theatre screened adult entertainment and hosted burlesque shows. The art-deco marquee proudly declared XXX. Torchy Taboo remembers…
I have a dozen or so stories I love to tell that are set at the Plaza Theatre. I think the one that follows is the earliest. And in some ways in my thinking, may very well be where it all began for Torchy Taboo…
        Growing up in DeKalb County  in the 70s, part of any trip to the Atlanta Zoo or Aunt Etheline’s house near the GMHI always included a soda fountain milk-shake from the Plaza Drug Store on the way home at night-fall…”We never close.”  The vintage Plaza sign blipped on my glittery little girl radar right between the fancy 1940s kitchen at my Aunt’s & Willie B.‘s  cage at the Zoo.  “Daddy, Daddy'” tugging on my father’s sleeve, “Can we go to the movies?!” I’d sing, gazing at the glowing word “theater” and envisioning the velvet chaise in the opulent ladies’ lounge at the Fox. “Not here” was the only answer I ever got…
         I was a sheltered child so when the early ’80s brought me the freedom of “adulthood,” I quickly moved as far as my saved-up mall-job dollars and my blossoming sense of adventure dared to go. The call of “We never close” rang from my memories, and I soon found myself in the Virginia-Highlands. Within a month’s time I’d seen the inside of the 688 club, The Cove after-hours leather bar, the Classy Cat strip club and the Plaza Theatre. My position as an Exotic Dancer afforded me a glamorous grown-up lifestyle: all the after-hours acid and cocktails I wanted. The childhood entertainments of Willie B and Aunt Etheline were replaced by a nightly string of uncaged animals at the Classy Cat; 5 a.m. counter-seat Majestic Diner specials took the place of the soda fountain milkshakes. And I could go to the movies when I dang well wanted…wherever I wanted.
        For all my daring proximity to the hell-bound and hedonists, truth was my roots grew in a garden of slow bloomers. I could have worn a white robe down the aisle to collect my high school diploma, and at the tender age of 19, I was still content to witness the visceral as a voyeur. Add my 23-year-old boyfriend’s tenuous grasp on heterosexuality…..shall we say, I was in the Colosseum, but I was sittin’ in the Plebeian seats. Lured by the promise of glory toward the center of the arena and the threat of Daddy’s foreboding words, “Not here,” the mystery of the Plaza Theatre whispered something this burgeoning gladiator needed to know.
        Sexually ambiguous sidekick boyfriend at my heel, we took our place in line for tickets. The marquis overhead read EMMANUELLE (1974) and EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK (1976). The lobby card that caught my attention prominently featured a sensual ’70s  nude woman poised in front of several Siamese buildings – perhaps temples. Her bronzed skin & up-turned face suggestive of a sun worshiper, she sat cross-legged, flowers in hand strategically placed to render her publicly viewable. “Hmm…pretty,” this is what I knew of the film, other than the smirk that crossed the faces of the Classy Cat customers I’d asked about it. For me at the time, naked women and Siamese buildings conjured vague images of B-movies I’d seen with native island girls wildly dancing around a fire or Yul Brynner as the King of Siam…both favorites! Clearly I’d come to the right place.
        In hindsight, having no idea which of the two flicks on the marquis I actually saw seems almost beside the point. I remember very little about the plot, other than the fact that it left me feeling much the way I do when I find myself in a dance class three levels beyond my ability to follow. The only detail I can relate had something to do with a cigarette smoked by a woman on a stage….not with the lips of her face. As I pondered the particulars of her skill, my sexually ambiguous mate who was the pretentious sort that carried his smokes in a 1960s cigarette case and even used a stem holder from time to time, remarked, “I wonder if that’s a menthol or non-menthol?”

As I said at the start, I carry many stories of the Plaza Theatre with me. Yet in an attempt to effect the level of cynicism I learned that very night to be so necessary a part of my arsenal of worldly weapons, it was my lead story for years to come. I hope to top it with a new story, something much less cynical sometime soon. If I do, you’ll be the first to know, *wink!*

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