Comedian Pete Davidson and actress Kate Beckinsale were spotted holding hands while leaving Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles on Friday night, sparking a new wave of press for the rumored couple, who were seen flirting at Golden Globes after-party in January. People, E!, TMZ, W, Cosmopolitan, and even Fox News have weighed in on the suspected celebrity romance. Why can’t we stop talking about Pete Davidson and Kate Beckinsale’s big night out?
As usual, it all comes down to eccentric film collector, distributor, and sometime preservationist Raymond Rohauer, whose shadow has only grown longer in the years since his death in 1987. Rohauer, of course, was the proprietor of the Coronet Theatre in the 1950s, when it was a crucial part of the Los Angeles cinema scene, and his legacy—particularly when it comes to the work of Buster Keaton—is an irresistible peg to hang a celebrity romance story on.
A native of New York, Rohauer attended Los Angeles City College, and after a few excursions in theatrical production—he put on a Miliza Korjus concert at the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1948—he founded the Society of Cinema Arts and ended up programming movies at the Coronet Theatre. The films he showed ran afoul of the obscenity laws of the time, and in 1957 he was arrested after a program of experimental films that included Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks and John Schmidt’s The Voices. (His conviction was overturned on appeal.) At the same time, Rohauer aggressively pursued not only prints of classic films, but also their copyrights, which he aggressively enforced, sometimes on dubious legal grounds. A contemporaneous distributor offered the following assessment of his strategies in a letter to Variety:
Rohauer actually owns only the merest handful, at best, of clean-cut original silent film “copyrights” (no Fairbanks, no Griffith, few Keatons and maybe one Sennett, for example) but simply keeps making these claims and having lawyers write threatening letters.
Rohauer’s habit of festooning old movies with new copyright notices, intertitles, and supplementary material was notorious enough that one wag created a “Raymond Rouhauer presents version” of the 1894 film Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze. Here’s the original film—which, in fairness to Rohauer, has also been hilariously bookended by new material from the Library of Congress:
And here’s the “Rohauer version”:
But although Rohauer’s aggressive legal strategies made him a lot of enemies—Jane Wodening said she “wanted to wash the walls” after he met with her and her then-husband Stan Brakhage—it’s also true that he helped preserve countless silent films at a time they were being lost, while bringing contemporary experimental work to Southern California audiences. At the same time, some of his “preservation methods,” like editing and copyrighting a new version of The General right before the original version entered the public domain, had nothing to do with film history and everything to do with Rohauer’s ability to make money from other people’s work. And yet by demonstrating that there actually was money to be made from decades-old Buster Keaton movies, Rohauer’s example helped fuel studio interest in preserving and exploiting their libraries. Also, Rohauer quit a job as a film curator at the Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art when the owner requested a screen test for his wife from a director whose work the gallery was screening, which seems like it ought to count for something.
It’s a fascinating and complicated legacy, in other words, and it’s built into the very walls of the Coronet Theatre, where Kate Beckinsale and Pete Davidson were recently spotted holding hands. It’s no wonder we can’t stop talking about them!