Are you dreaming of a white Christmas?
Richard Gwinn has been since last year.
As one of three directors at the Warren Center for Communication and Learning in Bangor, Gwinn was looking for a fund-raiser that would increase the center’s visibility in the community. When a friend returned from Buffalo, N.Y., last year and told him how a group showed the 1954 classic “White Christmas” as an annual event, he thought it could work here.
“The response from the community there was just phenomenal,” Gwinn said. “We wanted to do something that wasn’t being done everyplace.”
This year, Gwinn’s holiday wish has come true. To benefit the not-for-profit professional speech and hearing center, the film will be shown at the Bangor Opera House at 7 tonight and at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets cost $5 and are available at The Grasshopper Shop, Patrick’s Hallmark shop, and at the Opera House a half-hour before showtime.
“This is the first time in almost half a century this film has been seen on the silver screen,” Gwinn said.
“White Christmas” premiered at the Opera House in 1954. For many, this will be the first time they’ve seen the film on the big screen. But Steve Robbins of Bangor was lucky enough to see it the first time around, and he’s excited to see it again.
“I remember the lines up the street,” Robbins said. “I was 7 or 8 and my grandmother was all excited about it. She was totally deaf and at that time they had the loge boxes on the side. … She’d put her hands on the railing because it would vibrate and when we got out, she said, ‘Doesn’t that Bing Crosby have a great voice?”‘
The loge boxes are long gone, but Robbins said there’s still something special about seeing “White Christmas” on the big screen.
“It’s one of those movies you have to see on the silver screen,” he said. “It just doesn’t cut it on the VCR.”
Bringing Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye back to Bangor was no easy task. For starters, Paramount Pictures, the film’s producer, only leases out five copies of the original 35-millimeter film a year.
“We are very lucky to get it,” Gwinn said.
Getting the film was only the beginning, though.
The film projector at the Opera House went the way of the loge boxes, and though Gwinn thought he could easily find another one, he was mistaken.
“They’re as rare as dinosaurs these days,” he said. “There are very few in working order and the technicians that know how to use them are just as rare.”
He found help at Boston Light and Sound. They had a “portable” projector – one part of it alone weighs 300 pounds. Then he worked with the Penobscot Theatre Company to find a time that wouldn’t conflict with “A Christmas Carol.”
“We wanted to show it in the Opera House. There’s something about the Opera House this time of year,” Gwinn said. “I was just so pleased that they found time for us.”
It was a lot of work for a two-day fund-raiser, but Gwinn was looking for a way for friends and family to get into the holiday spirit – while promoting the Warren Center – and he found it.
“We want to make some money, but we also want a community event,” Gwinn said. “We wanted to do something that hopefully would be a fund-raiser but the focus would be getting our name out there.”
Since it became The Warren Center in 1998, it doesn’t have the name recognition it once did. Many people still refer to by its former name, the Bangor Regional Speech and Hearing Center. The Junior League of Bangor founded the facility in 1961 to help children who had gone deaf after a measles epidemic in the area. Two years ago, it was renamed in honor of Bangor Daily News publisher Richard J. Warren, whose family has been involved with the center since its founding.
Today, the center provides screening and therapy for people in the area with hearing loss, along with programs to help caregivers communicate effectively with patients with memory loss.
“We’ve changed to meet what the needs of the community are,” Gwinn said.
The center recently added Maine’s only auditory-oral education program, which helps profoundly deaf children learn to listen and speak with the assistance of cochlear implants. The implants need to be programmed monthly. Until recently, people in Maine had to travel to Boston or Vermont to have their implants reprogrammed. Now they can go to The Warren Center.
Funds raised from the event will benefit the center as it expands its services. In the process, Gwinn hopes, “White Christmas” could be the gift that keeps on giving.
“We do have high hopes that this could be an annual tradition in the Bangor area,” he said.
“White Christmas” will be shown at 7 tonight and at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Bangor Opera House. Tickets cost $5 and are available at The Grasshopper Shop, Patrick’s Hallmark shop, and at the Opera House a half-hour before showtime. The 2 p.m. Saturday showing should end as the holiday parade is starting, and the 7 p.m. showing starts an hour after the tree-lighting downtown.