The marquee on the MET Cinema said it all - “Thanks for the MET Rusty. RIP.”
When I saw it, it brought tears to my eyes as Rusty and his wife, Sara, have been friends of Carol and I for many years. They have been a part of a dinner club with three other couples for a dozen or so years and we meet every month. What really struck me about the sign was that Rusty is one of those “One Name People” that we all seem to identify. Brando, Bogie, Garbo, Chaplin, and Rusty are all names we as a community know are connected with the movie industry.
Our community had a very real and close connection with Rusty. Years ago Rusty and Sara left Southern California to venture to Oakhurst with the plan of opening a theater in our wide spot in the road. Rusty worked at a lumber yard while saving the money to open a theater and getting to know the community.
When the Raley’s Shopping Center was developing the Murphys risked it all and opened The M.E.T. Cinema. M.E.T. stands for Mountain Entertainment Theater. Rusty hated small seats that most theaters were using because he, like this writer, were larger than many and so they installed fewer but wider seats. They also hated sticking to the floor so from Day One they made sure that the MET staff cleaned up the theater after every show. The big theater companies don’t treat their customers so nicely.
Rusty and Sara kept the prices low so that the families in the area could afford going to the movies. They charged the lowest rates in America and frequently had arguments with the studios over the low fees. You need to understand that theaters keep only about $0.50 from a ticket and all the rest goes to the studios. Out of that fifty cents the rent, utilities, salaries, and other expenses are subtracted. That is why the concessions are so high and why theaters don’t allow outside food. Rusty described the MET as a “Concession Stand with a Draw.”
What really made the MET different was Rusty and his movie reviews. Weekly we would all call in to 683-1234 to hear Rusty’s take on each movie. We learned that Rusty would be honest about each flick. His phrases and his honesty were compelling and we would judge which movie to see based upon the Rusty Review.
What was discovered years after we were all listening to Rusty’s reviews was that several top Hollywood studio executives were calling the MET each week. Somehow one heard of the reviews, others stared listening and soon meetings of top studio heads were listening in Board Rooms to the Rusty Reviews. He was usually reliable to my likes and dislikes but I always thought he was wrong on, “The English Patient”. He liked it and said it would win major awards. I hated it and reminded him often that I felt he was wrong. I’ll miss razing him on that issue. (He was wrong!)
Rusty was more than the MET Cinema. During Heritage Days after the parade Carol and I went to the Sierra Sites Historic Center to enjoy a stroll through the past of Fresno Flats. Many folks have contributed many dollars and countless hours to that organization but there were some pretty lean years and tough times for that treasure and without Rusty and Sara’s dedication and drive I believe it would have faded into history itself.
Many school children were treated to movies at the MET for rewards that schools could offer for great grades or behavior. Kids were bussed to the MET and received a small drink, popcorn and movie for a very low fee and then they enjoyed a current movie. Many times during the first week run of that particular movie. Rusty and Sara refused to open the snack bar during those trips because they did not want the event to be seen as a money maker for them but as a reward for the students. Rusty and Sara always worked those shifts alone.
Then they decided to retire and travel more often than they could while working. Many cruises were enjoyed and Rusty was on his last cruise three weeks ago. Many times they treated all their employees to cruises during the week-long MET shutdowns each fall after the tourist season. The pictures on the walls at the Murphy home tell the stories of the adventures of the Murphys.
And now he is gone. Like every great movie the story must end and the credits follow. Rusty was a credit to this world for a number of reasons; Loving husband, devoted dad, loving grandfather, honest businessman, community supporter, reliable friend, funny guy, loveable, and smart.
In the movie industry, a top hit usually is followed by a sequel. We won’t get to enjoy such a treat. Sometimes you just know that a sequel or remake just won’t suffice or even come close to the original.
Too bad the Oscars don’t have a category for best theater owner reviewer but if they, did then the presenter would have the following to say, “The envelope please. And the winner is … Rusty.”
Rest in Peace my friend.