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May 29, 2013

Movie Memories, The Finale: Leo Mickey ran a tight ship with a heart of gold

NEW CASTLE — Picture yourself as a teenager, popping in a wad of gum as you enter a movie theater in New Castle.

About halfway through the film, the gum becomes stale and you have nowhere to put it. So you pop it out and stick it underneath your chair.

Like clockwork, a thin, bespectacled man strides purposefully down the aisle, whispers, “no, no, no,” and provides a piece of paper in which to deposit said wad of gum — which is given up without incident.

And on his way back up the aisle, the man reminds some other young theater-goers to get their feet off the back of the chair in front of them. With no hesitation or back-talk, the youngsters comply.

If you spent any time in New Castle theaters from 1954 to 1993, you probably are nodding your head right about now.

That had to be Leo Mickey.

LEO’S WAY

“I ran a pretty tight ship,” said the longtime New Castle theater manager, now 83. “I treated everyone with respect when they came to the theater and I expected them to treat the theater with respect in return.”

Mickey, who oversaw seven local theaters during an illustrious career, literally seemed to be everywhere at once — if you were at the Hi-Lander, he was there; if you were at the downtown Cinema, he was there as well.

“People used to tell me there had to be more than one of me, because whenever they went to a movie, no matter where it was, they saw me. I would go from place to place. I liked to have a hand in what was going on because, ultimately, I was responsible for what happened,” he said.

“I did what I had to do to make the experience a good one for our customers. If we were short a ticket-taker, I took tickets. If we had a rush at the concession stand, I sold popcorn. If we had a problem in the projection room, I headed there. But I always had an eye on the theater itself.”

Mickey kept movie-goers on the straight and narrow during his 39 years as manager at local theaters. But his businesslike exterior belied a man who had a heart of gold and loved to make people happy — especially the children — for whom he would host kiddie matinees and parties on a regular basis.  Now, 20 years after he called it quits in the local theater business, “Mister Movie,” as Mickey was known, remains one of the city’s treasures.

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