BWW Book Review: MAGIC IN THE DARK by Charles B. Moss and Jonathan Kay

"Magic in the Dark: One Family's Century of Adventures in the Movie Business" is a living time capsule of the film industry.

By: Jan. 24, 2022

BWW Book Review: MAGIC IN THE DARK by Charles B. Moss and Jonathan Kay

When an Uber driver asked Charles B. Moss Jr. what area of the film industry he worked in, Moss responded with "the boring part". All I can say is, after picking up Magic in the Dark, I'm sure you'll agree that is a vast understatement. But you'll have to see for yourself...

Magic in the Dark is more a time capsule than a book, unlocking stories and histories about the movie industry that you won't believe have gone untold until now.

How did the modern movie come to be, and who were the main characters at play behind-the-scenes all along? How can a multi-generational business stay relevant while retaining the authenticity that drew its success in the first place? How has the core of entertainment changed-and how has it stood the test of time?

Magic in the Dark tackles all these questions and more in the multi-generational story of Jewish immigrant B.S. Moss, his son Charles B. Moss, and finally Charles B. Moss Jr.

Written by Charles B. Moss Jr. (a principal of the infamous Bow Tie Cinemas and direct descendent of the ambitious B.S. Moss) and Jonathan Kay, this book begins its tale all the way back at the turn of the 20th century. In under 150 pages and complete with a collection of photographs, Magic in the Dark packs a punch in capturing the past, present, and future of the movie industry: how it started, where it is now, and where it is headed.

As the reader learns, when Moss replied "the boring part", he was referring to the chain of movie theaters his family has run for a century: back when his family's movie houses provided support to the war effort in the early 1940's, when Times Square wasn't so Disney-fied, or when only one theater within an hour's drive was showing the iconic My Fair Lady.

It all started with cloth sponging. No, but really. Back before the movie scene called his name, Benjamin Moss was in the fabric supply business in New York. But that was just the beginning.

When Moss made the leap to the exciting realm of the motion picture, there's no way he could have known he was in the process of building "one of the largest and most prestigious theater chains in the New York area". Yet, he did.

Fast forward three generations, and Bow Tie Cinemas is still going strong, which is a feat in and of itself in the ever-changing entertainment world. At one point, the authors share an adage about family money: the first generation makes it, the second spends it, and the third blows it. While comedic, this sentiment seems to ring true as only 30% of family businesses make it beyond the founder's generation, and only a dwindling 12% make it to a third.

With that in mind, the ups and downs of this family's history hold all the more meaning. Magic in the Dark walks the reader through the timeline of the Moss family, from founder to son and grandson. From when movies cost just over $1.00, to when they jumped to a whopping (at the time) $5.00.

Many of your classic favorites, like Alice in Wonderland (1951), Pinocchio (1950), South Pacific (1958), or Funny Girl (1968)-just to name a very few-are a part of the Moss family history. Their rise to movie success parallels the Golden Age of Broadway, as the Moss family Criterion Theatre became the home of blockbuster premiere after premiere.

(Bonus for the logophiles out there, you'll also learn the initial origins of now commonplace words like "blockbuster" and "nickelodeon".)

Ah, yes. It was a different time. One that you'll gladly want to curl up with and immerse yourself in, as Moss walks you through the storied history of his family's pioneering work in the movie industry.

The moral of this story is this: there would have been no movies without movie houses. Plain and simple.

The individuals that took a chance on storytelling and imagination, accepting a life outside the spotlight, and continuing to persevere within the ever-changing landscape of entertainment-these are the individuals you'll tip your hat to after reading Magic in the Dark.

You might have never thought about how your Netflix subscription or Hulu account are impacting the box offices across the world, or if you have, you likely didn't give it a second thought. After reading through the adventures of this family, you will. Any movie-goer is sure to love this detailed telling of cinematic history, which has all sorts of facts and figures for the movie buffs out there alongside nostalgic storytelling.

Take a peek into the nitty gritty realities of the film industry. The humble beginnings. Journey throughout the business gambles and risks, the political strife, the fluctuations of real estate value, and the ever-looming threat of technological advances. Foster new gratitude for the fact that through it all, the movie stands tall.

Discover the unsung heroes of the movies you loved back then and the movies you love today. And next time you buy a ticket and sit down with your bucket of popcorn, you're guaranteed to have a new appreciation for the experience of movie-going.

Magic in the Dark is available for purchase at the following links:

Purchase at: Sutherland House

Purchase at: Amazon

Purchase at: Barnes & Noble