‘The Express’ to have gala premiere Sept. 12 at historic Landmark Theatre in Syracuse
Kevin C. Quinn
Syracuse University and Universal Pictures have announced that the movie premiere of “The Express” will take place on Friday, Sept. 12, in Syracuse. The film chronicles the life and legacy of Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. “The Express” stars Rob Brown (“Finding Forrester”) as Davis, and Dennis Quaid (“The Rookie”) as Coach Ben Schwartzwalder. Gary Fleder (“Runaway Jury”) directed the poignant biopic, which opens nationally in theaters on Oct. 3.
Davis followed his hero, Jim Brown, to Syracuse University in 1958 and one year later led the Orange to the national championship. He was a pioneer for African American football players in much the same way one of his idols, Jackie Robinson, broke baseball’s color barrier.
The premiere will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the historic Landmark Theatre, a grand movie palace in downtown Syracuse frequented by Davis and his teammates during their days at SU. Quaid, Brown and other cast members and celebrities will arrive at a special “orange carpet” entry in classic convertible automobiles. Following the screening, guests will make their way down the Connective Corridor to the Onondaga County War Memorial for a gala theme party with entertainment of the late 1950s era.
Bleachers will be constructed on Salina Street for the public to view the orange carpet arrival program that will be shown on a large video screen at the corner of South Salina and Jefferson Streets, which will be closed to vehicular traffic.
Net proceeds of the premiere will benefit Syracuse University’s Ernie Davis Fund. The Fund’s purposes include sustaining academic and personal development programming for football student athletes and their involvement in the ‘Cuse Cares Community Service Program.
Tickets for the fundraiser are priced at $1,000 and include the movie premiere at the Landmark; the post-movie gala; and the opportunity to interact with the stars of the movie, SU athletic greats such as Jim Brown and Floyd Little, and other SU alumni from the sports and entertainment industries. A limited number of reduced-price tickets will be available through a lottery and promotional contests. Public sale of tickets for the premiere will occur in early August.
Additionally, plans are being formulated to create a community event on the night of Oct. 3, the date of the national release of “The Express.”
“We’re elated the studio has chosen Syracuse to host the premiere,” says Syracuse University Director of Athletics Daryl Gross. “We intend to embrace this extraordinary moment to honor the legacy of Ernie Davis and provide a unique, star-studded showcase to launch this extraordinary film. Ernie is the most endearing icon we have in a storied football program so rich in talent and tradition. It’s truly fitting that his life story will be immortalized on film.”
“I’m overjoyed that ‘The Express’ will have its premiere in Syracuse, where Ernie Davis was admired and revered — where he thrilled fans in his famous ’44’ jersey — nearly 50 years ago,” says Director Gary Fleder. “Our last day of filming took place on the SU campus, and I can say — without a doubt — that it was the most emotional of our schedule. Being there brought into focus why celebrating Ernie was significant. It mattered to the folks who knew him, and it will mean something to the millions who will get to know Ernie after the film opens in October.”
SU Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor says: “Ernie Davis is a true American hero. While his legacy is not as well known, he played an important role in shaping the American conscience, just as Jackie Robinson did. Thanks to ‘The Express,’ Ernie’s legacy and inspirational life story will find the audience and appreciation it deserves. We are delighted that ‘The Express’ will be premiering in Syracuse and so grateful for the support of the studio for this remarkable event for our community.”
In addition to the events of Friday evening, several special activities are scheduled in association with the premiere. Ron Meyer, president and chief operating officer of Universal Pictures, Fleder and others yet to be announced will conduct master class workshops with SU students earlier in the day on Friday. And they, along with cast members Quaid and Brown, SU football greats Jim Brown and Floyd Little and members of the 1959 national championship team, will take part in a Friday press conference on the Quad.
On Saturday, a special pre-game party will be held on the Quad prior to the Syracuse vs. Penn State football game; kick off is at 3:30 p.m., with the renewal of the classic rivalry televised on ABC. A star-studded tribute to Davis will be featured at halftime, highlighted by the unveiling of a specially commissioned Ernie Davis statue.
Members of the Davis family are scheduled to be in attendance for the weekend events, as are Schwartzwalder’s wife, Reggie, and their daughters.