As operator of one of the country's most successful independent movie-theatre chains, Dan Harkins prides himself on showing some of the most sophisticated, controversial and daring films ever to hit local screens. During any given year, the multiplex mogul can be counted on to present dozens of foreign films and art pictures that wouldn't ordinarily get any closer to Phoenix than a New Yorker review.
But as progressive as that film fare may be, there's one thing moviegoers are never going to see in any of Harkins' 17 Valley theatres:
Namely, a male employee wearing an earring.
That strange dress-code policy came to light during a preview at Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale last week--one of the frequent prerelease screenings held for the benefit of arty opinion makers on the local scene.
Baffled by what appeared to be a Post-it note that a young concession-stand clerk had pasted over one ear lobe, a guest quizzed him about the significance of his gummed earwear.
The clerk's answer? Because Harkins didn't think earrings were appropriate jewelry for men, a manager had ordered him to cover his piercing.
Surely he was joking, right? "I wish I was," replied the clerk, rolling his eyes.
Reached for comment last Friday, Dan Harkins initially laughed and dismissed the incident as some sort of comical misunderstanding.
"We have no such policy--maybe there's a manager who's [enforcing] our dress-code policy a little too strictly or something," Harkins theorized. "When it comes to personal things like earrings, makeup and so on, anything's okay as long as it's not too outlandish or faddish."
Promising to investigate further, Harkins claimed that the employee's explanation about his taped ear "doesn't make any sense to me, either."
But after checking company policy, Harkins did a curious turnabout later that day.
"[Male employees] can have earrings--they just can't wear them at Harkins theatres," the 40-something theatre president said. Explaining that the policy does not apply to women, Harkins stressed that an exception had been made in the case of the Camelview employee only because he'd just had his ear pierced and needed to wear a starter stud for six weeks.
In light of the perceived sophistication of his target audience (his customers were the first in town to guzzle bottled water while reading subtitles), isn't Harkins' ear-piercing ban more befitting a bijou in Mayberry?
Not according to Harkins. "If we had a theatre in, say, Santa Monica or Hollywood, the dress code would be different. We just try to mirror what goes on in society."
If anyone's tempted to surmise that Harkins views his customers as a bunch of rubes, well, draw your own conclusion. Characterizing his operation as "cutting edge," Harkins says, "Nevertheless, the people who walk in and see foreign films also reflect the general temperament of society, which is that earrings are more for women."
Harkins then suggests that he's only enforcing an "industry policy" already in place at the UA and AMC chains. "If you're going to razz us, razz everybody," he insists. "I bet if you [ask] Gammage and [ask] the Herberger and everybody in town, you'll discover that they all have a similar policy because, again, we gotta reflect what everyone's thinking about."
For the record, sources at both Herberger and Gammage theatres--neither of which has any policy regarding pierced ears--wonder what Harkins can possibly be thinking. Stifling a laugh, a spokeswoman at Herberger reports, "This is definitely not an issue here."
Meanwhile, another theatre-industry crony from Harkins' longhaired, hippie past wonders: "So what is Danny doing about pierced nipples, vulvas and scrotums? Installing metal detectors at the doors of the theatres?