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In theaters' view, this guy gets top billing

Ginger Rogers would have danced cheek-to-cheek with Bob Mittleman.

Joan Crawford would have loved and then double-crossed him.

Humphrey Bogart would have fired a bullet into his gut, and blamed the mob. "Pretty Boy Floyd did it," Bogie would have said.

Bob Mittleman, 68, is the best news the movie business has had since John Wayne. He is a moviegoer's moviegoer.

He sees every movie that comes to town. Every movie! At least once!

Scarcely a day goes by when Mittleman doesn't leave his bachelor's room at the Bishop Hotel in downtown St. Petersburg, get on a bus and ride to his favorite complexes, the AMC Crossroads or Tyrone, to go to a movie or two or three. He has been known to see five movies in a day.

"I always liked movies," he understates. "They're my life, especially after I gave up cigars."

Mittleman has no more pretension than an alligator. He will never glaze your eyes with theories about cinematic naturalism. Pace is what he sees at the race track. His idea of mysticism is Sherlock Holmes.

He likes everything he sees. His favorite? He thinks deeply and finally comes up with Casablanca or "San Francisco with Jeanette MacDonald, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and . . ." He is still naming supporting players when I manage to stop him.

Has he ever hated a movie? He gives an uncomprehending look, then, after long thought, reluctantly names The Doors. Why would a man of his years and tastes attend a movie tribute to an acid rock band?

"It was at an AMC theater. I'm loyal to AMC."

Theater staffers are in awe of him. AMC awards frequent customers with points toward free soda, popcorn etc. Mittleman has had more than 1,000 points.

"No customer in the chain had anything like that," says Crossroads' Ken Boles. "So the people in the main office decided to reward him."

Last Sunday he collected. "Greatest evening of my life," Mittleman says. "I invited three beautiful young waitresses from Tangelo's Too, where I eat every day. AMC sent a limousine to pick us up."

Half a dozen senior female guests from Mittleman's hotel turned out to sing For He's a Jolly Good Fellow. Inside the limo, the celebrants drank champagne, provided by one of the waitress-guests.

They saw a new movie, Reality Bites, and had popcorn and a hot dog for Mittleman, all on the house. Then the limo drove them across the mall to Bennigan's for drinks and dinner.

Mittleman put in 15 years in the Merchant Marines, then worked at various jobs in the Broadway theater district in New York City _ a tempting area for a man with a movie habit. He retired to St. Petersburg five years ago.

Mittleman never married. "I'm a roamer," he explains. Anyway, he has other interests. He has attended 10 Super Bowls and eight Republican national conventions.

Proudly he shows a "sustaining member" GOP party card. "Dues are $25 annually, and a lot of little hits through the year. I don't mind. I love Republicans."

As much as movies? "It's a different kind of love," he explains.

Lest there be doubts, he adds, "They told me the limo, movie and dinner was because I've seen more movies than anybody in the AMC chain. And that . . ." He smiles proudly. "That is a great honor."

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