The miles of neon outlining Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake make it difficult to ignore. That’s probably why it took me 20 years to pay a visit to the Falcon Theatre directly across the street. But when I saw their marquee blazing with oversized praise (It was louder than the neon at Bob’s!) for their show The Complete History of America (abridged), I changed my evening plans and dropped in. The three-man show was an all-singing, all-dancing tribute to 600 years of life on this continent, and it unfolded like a series of knock-knock jokes told by The Capitol Steps. The audience loved groaning at the puns, props, and Laugh-In style shenanigans. I should have expected such old-fashioned goofballism in the theater that Garry Marshall built.
The coolest thing I saw in the theater was an artifact from the career of Garry’s sister, Penny Marshall: the original Zoltar machine from the 1988 Tom Hanks movie Big. There it sat in the corner next to the snack bar, all dusty and sinister looking. I loved it and immediately googled “Zoltar machine” which revealed that a company near Jackson, Mississippi is churning out replicas. Allen Booth, an outfit that creates birdbaths and wooden spoons, also makes 40 varieties of fortune-telling machine, including models with Bill Clinton, Santa Claus, or Al Capone inside. They even make an Esmerelda that looks an awful lot like the one at Disneyland. Options on the “Premium Zoltar” include a breathing chest, animated hands, mouth, and eyes, and 2,000 fortune cards. Six-and-a-half feet of carnival fun will set you back about $9,000.
For an additional fee, the machines can have a microphone and voice-changing device. I should send Marshall my idea for a Falcon show entirely populated by animatronic characters in boxes. Ooh, and Marshall could play the knowing old janitor who wheels them around on a hand truck at night when they magically come to life and dispense sage wisdom to… I give up.