Three generations of Alhambra Theatre & Dining owners gathered at the theater for the first time last week to mark the release of a coffee table book celebrating its 50 years of entertaining local audiences.
Original owners Ted Johnson and George Ballis, former owner and current director Tod Booth, and current owner Craig Smith joined together to celebrate the legacy of the nation’s longest continuously operating dinner theatre and the publication of “The Alhambra Theatre & Dining: 50 Years of Memories.” Author Charles Day was on hand to sign copies of the book, which features 175 pages of history, photos and behind-the-scenes stories of the theater, its productions and the many celebrities who graced its stage.
“The Alhambra really is a treasure – it’s an institution,” said Day, adding that the challenge was condensing the theater’s storied history into the space available. “We easily had enough material for another 50 to 75 pages.”
Researched and written over 18 months, the book is broken into three chapters – or acts – each of which highlights a different era in the Alhambra’s history. In addition to interviews with the owners and staff, the book includes numerous anecdotes about the celebrities who appeared there – a list that includes everyone from Tony Curtis and Mickey Rooney to Loretta Swit, Barbara Eden and Mike Farrell. The Alhambra also is known as the scene of pin-up legend Betty Grable’s final performance: In January 1973, Grable starred in a production of “Born Yesterday” that was popular with Alhambra patrons so the original three-week run was held over an additional two weeks. Grable died of cancer in July of that year.
“Despite her illness,” then-owner George Ballis said, “she never missed a show.”
“The Alhambra Theatre & Dining: 50 Years of Memories” follows a scrapbook format, said Day, who praised designer David Parrish for capturing the key moments in the theater’s history.
“David’s grasp of what needed to be on display was near-flawless,” he said. “This is truly a curated collection of archives, photos, history and elegance.”
“The Alhambra Theatre & Dining: 50 Years of Memories” is currently on sale at the Alhambra for $39.99. For more information, call the box office at (904) 641-1212 or visit www.alhambrajax.com.