“Obscenity of the Worst Kind!” The Exorcist Comes to Marion

Though most of us think of the Palace Theatre as a venue offering up mostly family-friendly entertainment, there was a time when the management was willing to show something a little more daring.

It was 1974 and The Exorcist was causing a stir all over the country. The film, based on the bestseller by William Peter Blatty, concerns the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl. Even more disturbing, the events depicted in both the book and film are reputedly based on actual events. Even after almost four decades, the film still has the power to shock:

When the Palace began running previews for the film in the spring of 1974, a lot of people around town were unhappy with the thought that the Palace might actually show a film that, to quote a petition prepared by local church leaders, was “obscene, blasphemous and sacrilegious.” These church leaders eventually presented this petition to Marion City Council along with a letter urging Palace manger William Hatch not to run the film. They were hoping that Council members would sign the letter before they sent it to Mr. Hatch. In the end, five council members did just that. Council President Thomas Fetter was quoted in The Marion Star as saying the film was “obscenity of the worst kind.” Still four other council members didn’t sign the letter. In voicing his reason for refusing to sign such a letter, councilman John Maniaci said, “I have no right as an elected official to tell people they can’t go to the film if they want to.”
Exorcist Film, Marion, Ohio, Palace Theatre
The Exorcist is now generally considered an American classic. In 2010 it was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant.

In the middle of the controversy was Mr. Hatch, and one can sympathize with the tough position he was in. The film was, after all, already a blockbuster, and he stood to make money by showing the film. (According to Todd Berliner’s 2010 book Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema, the film was the third highest grossing movie of the 1970s. Only Star Wars and Jaws earned more money.) Of course, Mr. Hatch also must have felt a great amount of pressure not to show the film: The petition presented to Marion City Council had an estimated 8,000 signatures.

In the end, it seems Mr. Hatch decided to go ahead and run the film since a number of Marionites remember seeing it there. Ironically, because of the film’s terrifying portrayal of the devil, it may have actually caused an increase in the number of people turning up at church around that time. As Mary Ann Grimes Witt puts it, “My brother, Al Grimes, saw it at the Palace. I remember he came home and was so moved by the movie [that] he re-found his religion that day!”

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