70mm World Premieres now listed in introductions of New York City movie palaces
Instead of Los Angeles, most World Premieres of 70mm movies were held in New York City in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Almost all of those premieres were held at just six Broadway movie palaces. Four of those theaters are totally gone, and the other two (Criterion and DeMille) gutted. I’ve now incorporated the names and dates of each 70mm World Premiere into the Introduction of each of those six movie palaces:
“Around the World in 80 Days” (1956), “West Side Story” (1961), “The Sound of Music” (1965), “Cleopatra” (1963), “Hello Dolly” (1969) and others at the Rivoli
“Ben Hur” (1959), “Becket” (1964) which was reissued earlier this year, and others, at the
“South Pacific” (1958), “My Fair Lady” (1964), “Funny Girl” (1968) and others at the Criterion
“South Pacific” (1958), “Spartacus” (1960) and others at the DeMille (aka Embassy 2,3,4)
“Doctor Zhivago” (1965) and others at the Loew’s Capitol
Shown again last month at the Ziegfeld “Peggy and Bess” (1959) premiered at the Warner (aka Strand) as did others
For simplicity, all movies premiered in 70mm were listed, regardless of whether filmed in that format or “blow ups.”
I hope I’ve added something of interest to the site. If not, then others can feel free to lash out like Warren.
View link (which makes it easy online to find 70mm World Premieres, but not 35mm) is uncertain whether or not the 70mm World Premiere on November 5, 1969 of “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” was at the Palace
or elsewhere. Same uncertainty regarding a reissue of “Ben Hur” in 1969 but I wasn’t concerned with reissues.
Was “Windjammer” 70mm or a different process?
Well during that time frame the Best way to present a film was in a 70MM Stereophic Sound format. The studios gave important films and some not so important films the BIG SCREEN treatment on 70MM it also gave a Big Boost at the box office. CinemaScope and Cinerama also offered large screens and stereo sound. But the studio found that Cinerama was limited at the start to a select few theatres. CinemaScope was a big draw and most every theatre could install it for a nice cost. But 70MM was the Rolls Royce of presentations in the film world. 70MM could offer bigger sound and clear pictures that the 35mm versions of the film. And 70MM engagements out grossed the 35mm engagements many times. That’s why people have a strange obsession with 70MM engagements. Work in the booth, I’ve played many 70MM shows.
Howard, “Windjammer” was the CineMiracle process. It’s like Cinerama but from one booth. Instead of three booth at the rear a theatre, it’s only one and has three projectors inside. National Theatres was the chain that offered CineMiracle as their Widescreen process during that thime and Cinerama company bought it from them.
Thanks, William, I didn’t think “Windjammer” was 70mm or true Cinerama, but wasn’t sure what CineMiracle is. Now, you’ve explained it! When cleaning up Philadelphia’s Boyd, we found a huge Windjammer poster. I took photos of it, but the poster was tossed (by the owner). It was too dirty and without any real pictures.
Warren, for projection the only special thing it used was two mirrors. The few theatres enlarged their projection ports and angled the two outer projectors. So you had three projectors in one booth, it’s just a a slightly different version of Cinerama in one booth.
I remember as a kid in 69 being amazed that a legit house was showing a movie…. but I am sure GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS did indeed have its first NY (roadshow) run at the “RKO Palace” in late 69. I’m not sure if it was the World Premiere, but it was the NY premiere, and I’d imagine MGM would have struck a 70mm print, because the throw was soooo long up above the 2nd balcony. I’ve been up there and it’s like he side of a mountain.
However, the UA Rivoli did not exactly (as stated on the Rivoli page) get converted to 70mm/Todd-AO for AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. The first picture released in Todd-AO was the first to play the Rivoli after the big overhaul, and a special crazy-quilt like curtain was created and installed specifically for OKLAHOMA! I have a copy of the Boxoffice magazine announcing the conversion and debut of Todd-AO at the Rivoli, and there are good pictures of the entire conversion process at American Widescreen Museum www.widescreenmuseum.com in the Todd-AO section.
Having said that, it is pretty nifty to see the extra details added in here.
Thanks for the correction. The modifications to the Rivoli and
the World Premiere of October 13, 1955 Oaklahoma! will be added.
Perhaps somebody can verify by a news clipping or something as to “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”
“Goodbye Mr. Chips” was a 70MM blow-up and had it’s World Premiere on Nov. 5th. 1969 at the Palace in NYC and a West Coast Premiere on Nov 7th 1969 at the Fox Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills.
“Goodbye Mr. Chips” had a 20 week Hard ticket run at the NGC Fox Wilshire Theatre.
I remember “Goodbye Mr. Chips” getting a nasty critical drubbing at the time of its release, and I avoided seeing it despite Peter O'Toole getting an Oscar nomination for it. What a mistake that was – I finally saw it many years later on Turner Classic Movies and enjoyed it very much. If only I’d gotten to see it in 70mm …
Thanks, Howard, for all your efforts. William was so right when he said 70mm was the Rolls Royce of film presentation, and any information about it or references to it are more than welcome on these pages.
Thanks Bill, Some of the history of film presentation is missing from the books. Sometimes it was the films and the places or even how it was presented that lives in all our memories about going to the movies.
A couple of notes: When I first came to New York there was a picture of taken in a booth showing Cinemiracle which I assume was the Roxy on the Local #306 meeting room wall. Cinemiracle used extremely large reels as did Cinerama, but in that case both were mounted below the projector.
A friend and colleague of mine Milton Olshin was the projectionist sent to run the test footage and dailies in a theatre in Westchester. Milt was short, and one of the Cinemiracle people told Steve D'Inzillo, the B.A. of #306 that Milton was talented but perhaps a little short to lift the reels to the top of the projector. Steve replied, “Oh we’ve got lots of TALL projectionists!” implying that Milt could be replaced, but not with the same results. As a result, according to Milton, they redesigned the magazine layout so that both reels fed from the bottom of the projector which actually made sense, since Cinerama later developed a large hoist system to lift the reels to the top magazine.
I also remember Bill Nafash my predecessor at Radio City talking about the “Chips” installation at the Palace. They built a special booth down in the balcony or mezzanine at about a zero degree angle for 70mm, both for the “Ben-Hur” re-release and the “Chips” premiere. As has been noted above, the throw was so short, and the focal length of the lenses was so short to achieve the picture size they needed, that every time a projector was threaded the lens had to be unlocked and slipped forward to allow the film gate to be opened, and then put back to show the reel in focus. There were times when it was forgotten to reinsert the lens to the proper position, resulting in a very out-of-focus picture at the changeover.
By the way, I was in the original spotlight/projection booth at the top of the Palace balcony during a legit presentation. The 35mm projectors were still there, and the angle was so steep that the projectionists would have had to sit down to thread the machines.
Just a heads up to everyone,youtube has a bunch of clips on cinerama,70mm,IMAX and 35mm.Some are quit good.
Just a quick note, unrelated directly but in a roundabout way: I saw “Blade Runner – The Final Cut” at the Ziegfeld Theatre in NY the other day. If you’re a fan of the above movies, that may not be your cup of tea. But it’s one of the last big-screen theaters anywhere, and the highly touted digital restoration of this movie is everything the critics said it was. So bright and sharp it’s almost 3-D. I don’t know if it was a film print or a digital disc, but it was really amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. So I’ve seen the future, and it’s looking good.
And I trust that future will be coming to Philadelphia’s Boyd as well, in the course of my trusting that Mr. Haas who created this Cinema Treasures page while simultaneously heading up
Http:/www.FriendsOfTheBoyd.org is doing all he possibly can to attract a suitable buyer for it now that it’s up for sale. For as movie palaces go, Philadelphia’s Boyd has always proven to be a great one for premieres, it’s highest calling, I feel.
I don’t recall when 70mm blowups became the norm. Originaly of course, movies were filmed in 65mm and the 70mm release prints were outstanding. later, sometime in the 60s I believe, more and more movies were shot on 35mm, and 70mm blow up prints were struck. The difference, at least to me, was rather obvious. Is there a list of films filmed in 70mm as opposed to those shot in 35mm? When was the last film shot on 65mm stock?
to the experts:
Which of these 6 movie palaces did the best technical job of showcasing 70mm films?
Regardless of 35 or 70mm, during this period-late 1950’s and 1960’s, which of these movie palaces brought the most pleasure to attend?
Vito, you are correct. There are a few websites including http://www.fromscripttodvd.com/index.html
from which you can review film by film.
Looks like 1st blow up around 1963 but they kept on filming some films in 70mm. I think “Hamlet” in 1996 was the last one filmed on 65mm; I saw it projected in 70mm at the Paris in NYC.
Looking at films filmed in English,
for the most part, very few films filmed in 65mm after 1970-1971.
Here’s Todd AO list:
MGM Camera 65 & Ultra Panavision 70 list:
Super Technirama 70 list:
Super Panavision 70:
Ron Fricke shot “Baraka” (1992) in Todd-AO.
Thanks Howard, I recall Ron Howards “Far and Away” having been one of the last shot in 65mm I forgot about “Hamlet”
As to the best theatres from a technical point of view, I would have to say the Rivoli was the best, hands down. The man in charge of UAs projection and sound was a fella named Joe Kelly. Joe was a friend of mine and I would often go to the Rivoli with Joe for his upgrades and tune ups. He was a master of the craft and the picture and sound at the Rivoli was hard to beat must less match. Of course the original design was done by Mike Todd, so Joe had big shoes to fill, but fill them he did.
I remember once when Joe was setting up “Hello Dolly” and he just could not satisfy himself with the quality of the presentation, I jokingly called up to the booth and said, “Joe, it’s Barbra (Streisand) on the phone; she wants to say thanks for the great sound.
I remember how devastated Joe was when UA tripled the theatre it took it like the loss of a loved one. Joe was also responsible for the best presentations on Long Island. The Syosset and D-150 were in a class by them selves.
Not meaning to rain on anyone’s parade, but I feel the film gauge
is not the criterion to be used in making the exhibition of a film “special.”
I am of the opinion that the criterion to use is if the run was a hardticket (reserved seat) one with limited showings (meaning one showing every night with matinee showings three days a week).
Historically speaking, are we to rank the musical version of “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” as higher on the importance scale because it was in 70mm as compared to such 35mm releases as “Gone with the Wind” or “Birth of a Nation”?
JAlex, I think you are missing the point of this thread.
It is not about the importance or specialty of any given movie, but rather the technical presentation with particular emphasis on 70mm.
Up until Digital and analog stereo sound was the norm, magnetic sound was the way for a studio to present a film in stereo. For those BIG studio releases on Roadshow. They presented the film in the Best way it could be presented in 70MM and Stereophonic sound. On this thread it’s about some of the technical aspect of the presentation when each theatre had a full-time projectionist that put on the show. Today it’s all done with an automated unit to do what a projectionist did. During that time there was one to two men in those booths for Roadshow presentations, and they made each show a First Class trip to the movies. Not all Roadshown movies were in 70MM or stereo. In each big city around this country and the world had their First Run district in the downtown areas. Alot of the presentation aspect has been lost or never told to the public. Some people think it was all done by machines. But no it was done by a group of people who knew their craft as a projectionist. Today it’s a lost art, as you will see.
No, I didn’t miss the point of the thread, which is why I made my comment.
If Cinema Treasures is about the history of theatres, I consider it just as important/interesting to mention that the Astor had the hardticket run of “GWTW” as the Palace had the hardticket run of
I updated each of these 6 movie palaces because there’s a website that tells where the World Premieres of 70mm features were held.
So far as I know, there’s not a website for 35mm World Premires, or exclusive runs of outstanding famous films like GWTW or 35mm Road Shows.
In other words, I did what I could. And, I thought it would be interesting since 70mm is the “Rolls Royce” of film presentation and many of the films mentioned are among the best beloved.
Now, if people want to Comment at each theater’s page which World Premieres, and/or exclusive local runs (regardless of premiere) of famous 35mm (“famous” because there were so many 35mm)were shown, then eventually, it is likely that the Introductions could be so updated. The volunteers have better things to do than update ONE film at a time, but once there’s a nice gathering….
On a similar note, I’ve wondered how many, and which, cinemas at one time had true horizontal (‘lazy-8’) VistaVision projectors?
This process enjoyed some popularity in the late ‘50s/early '60s, however I understand it was meant to be a 'taking’ or filming format, not actual projection. That said, it’s been mentioned over the years that a scant few premiere theatres actually projected the large-format ‘horizontal’ prints.
(Understand, this is not 70mm per se). Any ideas?
Well, for starters, my former theatre Radio City Music Hall did “White Christmas” with horizontal VistaVision projectors. In addition, I believe both the Criterion and the Paramount installed them for the runs of the next two VistaVision films. It was Paramount’s proprietary process, so it would have made sense for them to do the initial runs with horizontal projection (I believe the two films were “The Far Horizons” and “Strategic Air Command”, but I’d have to check Martin Hart’s Wide Screen Museum site to make sure.) In Chicago I believe “White Christmas” premiered at the State-Lake with true horizontal projection. Theo Gluck of Disney found that there were probably more screenings in England than here (possibly because there was an additional tax on 70mm prints, and VistaVision was 35mm). Those machines are still running. I did VistaVision dailies on “Men In Black”, “Michael” and “Jungle2Jungle” a few years back. The problem of course was that a horizontal VistaVision projector could only run that process, while 70mm projectors could also run 35mm film.
I believe that Radio City and the Paramount Theatre in Times Square both had them at time along with the Warner Theatre in Beverly Hills had the Lazy 8 Century VistaVision projectors.
Gentlemen! Gentlemen! There’s no point rehashing how great 70mm projection once was unless it’s with an eye to the future of replicating that greatness with digital cinema.
Which Philadelphia’s Boyd Theatre, currently up for sale, is in the perfect line up for. In the past when it came to both 70mm and Cinerama it proved to be outstanding in this regard, while there’s no question that it demands to be brought into play in this way again. Only incorporating digital cinema technology this time around. Meantime, I think we ALL would like to hear what HowardBHaas — who heads up Friends of the Boyd — is doing to help bring this goal to fruition. So let’s hear it, Howard! We’re all ears!
For seriously, gentlemen, we can’t go back. But we can go forward. And this is forward. That is, let’s make this webpage relevant to the here and now.
That could very well be the case, as they were probably doing demos at the Paramount. The machines we had at Radio City were installed just for that premiere, and taken out after the run. They didn’t have soundheads on them, so they were interlocked with the end two 35mm machines. According to Ben Olevsky, who was head projectionist at the time, they almost didn’t use them and then decided the picture looked so good they had to. He said you could hear them running when you got on the Executive elevator and it reached the 2nd Mezzanine. Since they were outside the main booth in spotlight booths, the spot ports which were open had to be draped with duveteen to quiet the projector noise during the feature.
Well Howard, that brings to mind one of the last 35mm roadshows. “Fiddler on the Roof”, which I ran in June 1972 at the Syosett on Long Island in 35mm with four mag track sound.
70mm in New York lists the D-150 on Long Island as having played “Fiddler”, but as I recall we played the movie at the Syosset which we played day and date with the Five Towns theatre in Woodmere, Long Island. The Syosset played the movie in 35mm with four track mag sound and the Five Towns played it in 35mm with Optical(mono)sound. They did get a four track mag/optical print at the Five Towns but the theatre did not have mag capabilities and so it played mono
It was a significent event on Long Island because Prior to “Fiddler” most if not all roadshow engagements were 70mm which employed two projectionists on duty for every show. However when “Fiddler” played in 35mm, the projectionist union had a difficult time convincing the theatres owners to continue using two projectionists per shift. Century theaters, who operated the Five Towns, insisted only one man per shift was needed for a 35mm engagement, roadshow or no roadshow.
As much I try to promote the Boyd (which reopened as the Sameric with “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1971), this thread isn’t about the Boyd. Our website makes it clear Friends of the Boyd have been reaching out to secure new owners.
REndres, there has always been some confusion in my mind about VisatVision projection in New york.
I recall you teling us RCMH installed VistaVision for “White Christmas” but used the projectors for only that engagement.
I also remember the Paramount theatre installing VistaVision projectors. but That’s about all I can recall.
I always wonderd about the Criterion, did they ever install the projectors and how did they run “10 Commandments”
I was still new in the business, working the Paramount theatre on Staten Island in 1954, and can not recall where the projectors were actually installed. The Capital theatre played a few Paramount pictures, any VistaVision there?
By the way, what ever happened to the VistaVision projectors at RCMH,
and what was the configeration in relatinship to the other four 35mm projectors?
Vito, I think the Criterion may have installed horizontal VV projectors for “The Far Horizon”. I don’t think any of the “Ten Commandments” engagements were done with horizontal prints. The main advantage of VV was in reduction printing to standard 35mm prints, so I don’t think there were many “real” VV screenings after the first two or three features in this country. Theo Gluck in researching his Master’s Thesis came upon a few screenings of the Hitchock VV prints in London. I also saw a reel of “Vertigo” projected horizontally at the Boston Light & Sound shop in Boston. (They have two of the original VV Century projectors, albeit with Brenkert intermittents — one of those was the one I ran the VV dailies on here in N.Y.) As with Cinerama projectors, its possible that the Radio City machines went back out to Century for refurbishing as straight 35mm machines, although that would take a lot more work than converting the Cinerama heads. Of course the most notable use came when someone saw a used VV camera on the west coast and decided it would be a good device for plates for Industrial Light & Magic, reviving an interest in the process. In the years before digital effects there was probably more VV footage being shot for background plates than by Paramount in its heyday.
The VV machines at Radio City were just outside the walls of the projection area of the booth. One in the high-intensity/Brenograph room which adjoined the Rewind Room, and the other in Center Spot Booth. If I remember correctly (not a given these days)there’s a picture of the machine in the high intensity booth on the AWSM VV site, taken looking across the high intensity spots. They would have been locked to machines #1 & #4 in the Projection Booth itself. They were so new that I still have a hand-drawn threading diagram in my collection of Music Hall memorabilia at home.
For the VistaVision Presentation of “Strategic Air Command” at the Warner Beverly Hills Theatre. It was presented using the Century Lazy 8 projectors on the new Curvilinear Screen and in Perspecta Stereo Sound.
Thanks Rob, I went to work for Fox in Manhatten in the 50s and had the differences between CinemaScope and VistaVision expained to me.
I was told at the time that Paramount never intended to run very many VistaVison prints, as you said, the main purpose of the format was for the reduction prints which of course produced an excellent image.
Paramount developed VistaVision because they wanted their own wide screen process. They wanted no part of CinemaScope, and would never entertain the idea of paying Fox for the right to film in Cinemascope.
Thanks also for allowing me to picture how the VistaVision projectors were laid out in the Music Hall booth, I always wondered about that. That interlocking of the VistaVision projectors and the straight 35mm must have been scary stuff. I can’t help wonder how many times that broke down. Poor Ben.
I remember that 70MM releases were so exclusive that in 1981 when “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was released here in Toronto, the ads proclaimed “FOR THE FIRST TIME, 70MM AT FOUR THEATRES”. After that, there were so many films released in the 70MM format, that the theatre chains kept adding more and more with 70MM capabilities. By the time that “The Untouchables” and “Stakeout” came out in 87, they showed at about 10 or 12 theatres in 70MM.
Well when the studios looked at the numbers for each engagement 70MM vs. 35mm, the 70MM engagements always outgrossed the 35mm. So the chains kept adding 70mm capable house to their chain and the studios released larger 70MM print runs.
William: I moved to the LA area in the late 80’s. As you know, during that time and until the mid 90’s, there was an unprecendented surge in 70 MM releases. Although I don’t have hard numbers, my experience tells me that given the choice between 70 vs 35 mm, patrons chose 70 mm consistently. So if we have 70 mm engagements out-grossing 35 mm, what happened? Were the earnings not enough to cover for the additional cost of blow-ups or shooting in 65 mm? Or was it a cost cutting issue within the theatre chains?
The economics of the existing motion picture industrial-complex baffle me.
Since it seems apparent to me that economics plus other factors prohibit us from returning to great film exhibition technology of the past, this doesn’t mean that the end result of the use of such must be looked upon as being in the past also. For I believe digital cinema’s potential is such that it is capable of replicating that end result for today’s and future generations, and even bettering on it. But little does this mean shy of a theater dedicating itself to proving it. And are there any theaters in NYC well positioned for taking on that challenge here and now? For most certainly the Boyd Theatre here in Philadelphia is. And with its close positioning to Philadelphia’s Penn Station, NY movie theater goers can certainly partake in this breakthrough as well, and would be most welcome to. I believe this webpage Mr. Haas has created to be a great lead-in to focusing on that goal.
I started to see the end of 70mm prints in the late 60s; then came Star Wars in 1977 and the resurgence began. People wanted more 70mm and prints began becoming available once again. I seem to recall the biggest 70mm releases came in the early 80s were just about every other week or so I saw the release of a movie with prints available in 70mm. Theatre owners were once again began installing 70mm.
Unfortunately it did not last, and by the late 80s once again, 70mm prints began getting scarce.
One of the problems steamed from the fact that Multiplex theatres with limited 70mm houses could not move the 70mm prints from house to house depending on how well they were doing. Many 10-12 screen Multiplexes had only two or at the most three 70mm houses and they were always the largest ones. So, if a movie did not do well after one or two weeks we had to switch to a 35mm version in order to play it in a smaller auditorium. I read Timâ€™s comment on theatres in Toronto having 10 or more auditoriums equipped with 70mm, but in all my travels I never saw anything like that in New York/New Jersey. Perhaps someone can correct me on that.
In addition, the prints could not be interlocked into two or more screens, and on a busy Friday or Saturday night popular movies needed more seats, but with the 70mm print we were locked into just the one auditorium. Then of course there was the cost, the 70mm prints were expensive and shipping a print was double the cost of a 35mm print. The studios began to wonder if that extra cost was worth it. I always thought it was because time and time again when ever we had two prints of a movie and played only one of them in 70mm the house with the 70mm print always did better. When a 70mm showing sold out people would often wait it out and see the next performance rather than settle for the 35mm version.
So it was not so much loss of interest by the movie going public that killed of 70mm it seems to me it was the studios reluctance to provide prints, and the theatre circuits shying away from them.
The company I worked for had for many years installed 70mm in at least two of the auditoriums in a Multiplex. Then in 1993 they stopped, and instead spent the money on Dolby Digital and/or DTS equipment. Other than IMAX, They have not had a 70mm installation since 1992.
I recall that as soon as digital sound was in movie theaters with Jurassic Park in 1993 (DTS), 70mm’s death knell had sounded! The last new film released in the US in 70mm blowup was Titantic, but it ran in 70mm only at NYC’s Astor Plaza and in Los Angeles. I was vacationing in LA, and trying to see as many movie palaces as possible, so I saw Titantic in 70mm in both the Village and at the Chinese. Titantic didn’t run in 70mm in Philadelphia or Washington D.C. and I don’t think anywhere else. There’s a comment on the web that only 12 prints in 70mm were struck and one went to the director. I guess the other prints went overseas.
Very true Howard, While Dolby Digital is not compatable with 70mm, DTS is, all that was needed was a 70mm reader.I thought Titanic was going to be the begining of a resurgence of 70mm, with Digital sound replacing the mag tracks. However it was not to be, the idea soon faded. In fact I would be concerned about the fate of both DTS and SDDS Digital sound, it’s all about Dolby now. We still have Quad prints with Dolby SVA, Dolby Digital, DTS and SDDS all printed on release prints, but for how long I wonder.
It is too late for 70mm, all attention is focusing on Digital Cinema which is growing at lightning speed. The use of film in motion picture theatres is in danger of going the way of Vinyl records and video tape. It’s a whole new world.
Progress? well, I suppose.
This link says how incredibly long these Road Show 70mm films played in NYC movie palaces:
The studios were going for the bigger sound that only 70MM print could offer. The picture have was just extra. So the advent of Digital sound on 35mm print could give the film maker that BIGGER sound and the studio only has to spend for 35mm prints. So CDS was the first out of the gate, it gave you 70MM picture and Digital sound. But it had no back-up analog track to save it. (Failed) Dolby did many test runs on their system and how the print would run after X many runs on it. (Passed) DTS offered a cheaper way of Digital sound and it works, but you need the depot to ship the disc for Digital sound (Passed) SDDS the last out of the gate and the most expensive to install and great when it works right. But has problems with worn prints, splices switching it back to analog for a few seconds and repairs from SONY now. (just waiting to fail). And the one that never made it out of the gate DLS (Digital Laser Sound) which also used a disc for playback.
William, you hit it exactly, the studios feel there simply is no need for the wide gauge film and magnetic tracks now that we can have the big sound with Digital. Add to that the advances made in lenses which have improved the 35mm image considerably, the interest in 70mm has waned.
It was a rocky start for Digital to be sure, the first Dolby Digital systems came with penthouse readers and the quality and reliability was excellent. Soon a new cheaper version, using basement readers, located in the optical sound head came along, and the troubles began. Suddenly the actors on screen sounded like they were speaking under water and music was distorted. The problem steamed from the duel LED readers in the optical sound head, which could read both analog and Digital tracks. They needed constant recalibrating, at first it was decided that the light output was insufficient, so they made them hotter. But then we learned that by doing that we lowered the life expectancy of the LEDs, so that did not work. Another problem was in the actual printing of the digital encoding on the print; Reel one might play fine but then reel two would give you problems. Scratches on the track area also caused failures. Eventually things got better, improvements were made and now they run rather well.
DTS had its own problems, the CD-ROM disk carriage began to fail or the sound would skip. Often the system would switch back to default (analog) several times through out the running of the print. I experienced a lot of DTS breakdowns in the early days in 1993
SDDS was DOA as far as many of us were concerned, just too many problems some of which you outlined. Of course Sony was no help at all and I donâ€™t think gave enough in the way of support. Typical of them, remember Beta? Another system they simply allowed to just die.
Howard, I hope you don’t some of us hijacking yor thread with this Digital stuff, did not mean to get away from the topic of 70mm.
Vito, I’ve noticed I’ve seen more films recently in theaters with Dolby Digital, but until reading these comments, I didn’t realize that Dolby Digital had won out over DTS & SDDS. Dolby sound had previously set an excellent standard, but at the onset of digital sound it often seemed as if the others were superior.
I know there won’t be new 70mm films, but I do hope there will be some life in restored and vintage 70mm classics. New films will all eventually be digital, and many classics, too. Digital isn’t up yet to the quality of 70mm. I would’ve preferred the new revisions of Apocalpse Now and Blade Runner in 70 mm prints.
For those who haven’t stated their opinion yet, which of the 6 movie palaces mentioned on this thread was your favorite to see 70mm?
Well Howard you are in good company when you said DTS may have offered best quality sound.
When Steven Spielberg was preparing â€œJurassic Parkâ€, he tested all the digital systems available at the time. When he heard the ambient sounds playing in such rich manner, coupled with the impressive stereo separation he knew he was on the right track. Then when the first tests were done of the dinosaurs roar, Steven said â€œThatâ€™s my Dinosaurâ€
Itâ€™s true that Digital may have a way to go, but our friend REndres put it very well when he wrote, â€œDigital is still in the Edison stageâ€.
Sorry, I was of course referring to DTS with the Spielberg story
when it began, for Jurassic Park, DTS was terrific and seemed better than theaters that (later) had Dolby Digital.
SDDS seemed to be the best of all. Years later, I heard Dolby Digital EX at the Chinese (Hollywood)and that seemed better than anything.
Well it seemed to be the best, but SONY no longer sells new SDDS units and theatres are replacing the old units since they do not repair them.
“For those who haven’t stated their opinion yet, which of the 6 movie palaces mentioned on this thread was your favorite to see 70mm?”
That would have to be the Capitol, and all on account of the one and only film I saw there, “2001: A Space Odyssey”. That was 39 years ago and nothing else has ever come close.
I’ve also seen “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and “Nicholas and Alexandra” at the Criterion and “Krakatoa East of Java” at the Warner, then called the Cinerama. All excellent 70mm shows. I was born too late (1954) – if I were only about 10 years older I would’ve seen ‘em all!
Bill, I too am sorry that you are such a young whipper snapper, if not you would have had a chance to fully experience the magnificent presentaion at the late,great Rivoli.
William we have had similar problems getting service from DTS.
You can’t beat the Dolby return and repair policy. Just put the Cat card in a bag ship it off to Dolby, and they repalce it.
Dolby also provides in house installation which includes EQ and all the fixins.
You said it, Vito. “West Side Story” at the Rivoli 46 years ago would be my very first stop if I had access to a working time machine. Come to think of it, I did see 70mm there once: a revival of “2001”!
Om my God Bill, it’s been 46 years!!
I better go take a nap.
Howard, your dream of seeing more classics returning in the Digital format should be easily done. The cost is so much less than striking and shipping 70mm prints. At least it will give a new generation a chance to see some of the great films of days gone by in a theatre.
I can see that happening.
Actually, Vito, I suggested classics going digital is the inevtiable future.
My dream would be to see more 70 mm 6 track prints- excellent ones, and some restored ones. I saw the restored Lawrence of Arabia, but missed color corrected restored print. Robert Harris doesn’t like the “restored” Dr. Zhivago so I’d like to see a restored 70 mm print of that. I’d like to see restored 70mm prints of Ben Hur and The Bridge over the River Kwai.
Being younger than Bill, I’ve seen 70mm classics in their restored or rerun appearences at theaters especially Uptown in DC, but arrived too late for the 6 NYC movie palaces that I’ve updated. I could’ve gotten into the chopped up Criterion or DeMille, but that was after Road Show years.
I believe the two films were “The Far Horizons” and “Strategic Air Command"
I have a copy of International Projectionist from July, 1955 with a full page ad for the Peerless HyCandescent lamp stating they were "selected by Paramount for all horizontal V-V"
The films listed are "Strategic Air Command”, “the Far Horizons” and “the 7 Little Foys”. I believe that “SAC” played the Paramount and the other two played the Criterion.
So which American theater will dare to take digital cinema out of the “Edison stage”? Just as SINGING IN THE RAIN depicted Hollywood’s transition from silents to talkies, will there someday be a musical about what’s going on now as well? I look forward to the theater that really takes the lead and runs with digital cinema. America-wise, will it be in NY or Philly? Back when the Beatles sought to make there American debut, Philadelphia, with its “American Bandstand” TV show at the time was given first choice, but host Dick Clark didn’t see anything to them. So NY stepped in and grabbed them up, premiering them on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and Philly’s been kicking itself ever since.
The death of 70mm had nothing to do with cost cutting from distributors nor exhibitors.
Audience demand to see films on opening weekend made it possible to sell every seat in any format, so 70mm eventually meant nothing financially to blockbusters. The multiplex just added auditoriums on 35mm interlock and non-discriminating teenagers filled them. Since multiplex screen sizes did not vary much, few noticed the difference.
1980’s kids would never wait months to see E.T in 70mm at Movieland Broadway when their local plex had it on several screens in 35mm.
Al, you are correct in that multiplex exhibition did play a big part. However, 70mm 6 track prints were produced UNTIL DTS digital sound began. Then, studios & operators abandoned the format. As William said above, the sound was important, and once digital sound arrived….then combined with your multiplex rationale, both reasons together caused 70mm to go bye bye.
Because the individual auditoriums of multiplex theaters were much smaller, to say a movie was being exhibited in 70mm meant nothing suddenly. At least regarding the multiplexes. For when the screen size is small, so what if the movie’s being shown in 70mm or standard 35mm? But a large single-screen theater with a large screen still carried a lot of clout when it billed a film as being shown in 70mm — at least if the film in question was an epic. For come on. If you have a choice of seeing TITANIC in 35mm on a small screen at a multiplex, or a giant screen in 70mm at a sizeable single-screen theater, who in their right mind would opt for the multiplex in that particular case? 70mm has its place, and that’s never gone away. Only the theaters capable of making it mean something. And the types of movies that do, while every once in a while along comes a movie like TITANIC — which demand to be seen in 70mm on a big screen while anything short of that is a total joke. Even the least discriminating teenager would tell you that.
Perhaps some multiplexes, applying a bit of innovation, can find a way of combining two or three auditoriums into one when epics come out, and with digital cinema’s capabilities, exhibit them in virtual 70mm format? Why not the idea of retractable walls and expandable screens in such instances?
Al, I am sorry, but I cannot agree with your comment “The death of 70mm had nothing to do with cost cutting from distributors nor exhibitors”. I would also disagree with the idea that with respect to the difference between 35mm and 70mm, that “few would notice the difference"
As a film exhibitor I can tell you they most certainly did notice, and in fact performances in 70mm were always more popular than those in 35mm. I state my claims based on my regular dealings and discussions with film buyers and studio people. That coupled by my first hand knowledge by having been there. Obviously a blockbusters gross was not affected by whether or not it was in 70mm, people were going to see the movie either way. Which is the whole point, and is why the studios (distributors) and exhibitors abandoned 70mm.
I agree with Howard, who wrote, the big sound helped kill 70mm.
Vito, your statement, “Obviously a blockbusters gross was not affected by whether or not it was in 70mm, people were going to see the movie either way,” comes across as sad but also very true. When it comes to blockbusters, audiences do settle for less than the best if that’s the only choice they have. And in recognizing the truth of your statement it really gets down to art v. making money. Traditionally, no question it cost more to exhibit films in the 70mm format which is why it was abandoned when the contest came down to being between the two — art v. making money. But I DO see digital cinema’s versatility potential as being able to change that. Right now I see digital cinema as being in a position quite similar to when the first electric guitars came along. Many right now are treating it as if a mere surrogate to conventional analog film projection, and thus not quite as good but more costly. With money strictly being the bottom line, there’s very little in the way of imagination. Theaters under existing monetary pressures don’t have time to experiment and the risk of losing audiences en route from Point A to Point B. And so long as all theater operators throughout the U.S. are more or less in that same position, the current status quo is pretty much locked in place for now. At least U.S.-wise. At the present time the development of digital cinema is with very little audience participation which is vital to its growth and development. It’s like how do you train to become a star without that? To have to guess at what audiences might or might not like prior to the big debut.
TheatreBuff, You articulated some very interesting thoughts regarding Digital projection.
Keeping in mind that the skies the limit with what the future holds in motion pictures by way of this new medium, Digital cinema has given the theatres a new breath of life. Digital projection is being installed around the country at a much faster pace this past year, many multiplexâ€™s now have better than half their screens equipped with Digital projectors sitting along side the film projectors. Exhibitors are beginning to see the potential for putting more people into their theatres.
Originally it was the studios that had the most to gain, by way of savings in print costs and shipping.
I am not sure how many realized the full potential of Digital or the impact it would make on the theatres.
70mm did originally bring people into the theatres, as did Cinerama and 3-D. These were new and exciting movie going experiences and the audiences loved them. However people grew bored with 3-D and it quickly died away, In addition, although not many may realize it, we had a lot of problems in the booth with 3-D, breakdowns were all to frequent, causing audience dissatisfaction.
As for Cinerama, when 70mm came along, that to seemed to disappear. Running Cinerama was a royal pain in the butt and with the quality of 70mm and the cheaper cost to produce and exhibit; I think film makers lost interest in Cinerama. Donâ€™t get me wrong, I believe Cinerama to be far greater than 70mm, but audiences were satisfied with 70mm and did not seem to care if Cinerama survived or not. At least thatâ€™s the way I recall it.
Digital cinema gives the theatre owners something they have desperately needed for quite a while now, and that is new ways to fill the theatres. Digital 3-D is outstanding, and much cheaper and easier to present the 3-D of the past. Through Digital projection, Theatres can now present live feeds of sporting events, and concerts. National Amusements, for example presented live Boston Red Sox ball games and live opera performances.
We have just begun to scratch the service with the potential of Digital Cinema. This time unlike 70mm, 3-D and Cinerama, Digital is here to stay and will in fact eventually replace film all together.
I never want to see film go the route of Vinyl records and video tape, but on the other hand I support any medium that will keep motion picture theatres alive and thriving.
We are a dying breed I am afraid, the new generation of movie goers do not know much, or care much about 70mm, unfortunately I donâ€™t see much coming down the pike to change that. However we must work hard to preserve the few 70mm venues we still have and continue to present 70mm film classics.
I would hope there will always be a few theatres still showing the 70mm films we all love for many years to come. 70mm simply can not be allowed to die and completely disappear; we must teach the young folks to embrace 70mm and help keep it alive.
vito, Remember the real labor cost of 3-panel Cinerama vs. Cinerama (Ultra-Panavision 70MM). The theatres saved money on that change of format. And the studios licensed the Cinerama name for select presentaions (Grand-Prix, Ice Station Zebra, 2001, Battle of the Bulge, etc.) It was all about giving the film maker the BIG screen treatment for their egos. 70MM was the way to go and the film makers were happy. The studios had to pay the extra costs, but HOLLYWOOD accounting formulas made it easy to covers on prints. So the film maker had to wait alittle longer for their profits. And now it is harder to make 70MM mag prints because of the striping and EPA laws for the labs. And the need for the BIG sound is covered by Digital sound formats and now they release on 3000 plus screens for that new braging rights of the first weekend grosses. By keeping threads like this going about past presentaions vs. new gives the new generations of movie goers an idea of how and what it took to put on some of these shows. With the stories who all can relate through this site on CinemaTreasures. There are many people here that worked in many aspects of this wonderful business, that people never knew. Many things are published and many other things are lost history of this business. I hope we can keep threads likes this going. There is so much more history to learn here.
William, Oh yes, the cost of running 3-strip Cinerama was high. We had up to five projectionists on duty per shift. A 70mm engagement generally maintained two projectionists, as did 3-D.
Later on some theatres went to one man who received an increase in salary while running 70mm.
The 70mm booth ran for the most part without problems, which was not always the case with 3-D or Cinerama. With 3-D projection, the sync motors would occasionally fail causing the left/right images to run a couple of frames out of sync. While Cinerama did not have that problem, film breaks would occur meaning the same number of frames damaged of removed from the left print would have to be removed from the right print. In order to keep the integrity of the sound track we would usually not cut frames or footage out of the undamaged print but rather insert a black slug the same length of the film removed from the damaged one. So when that scene went by the movie suddenly went 2-D (flat) for a few seconds. So projectionists became film editors, we kept a three gang synchronizer in the booth on the make up table. Incidently many may not realise that the term “flat” was coined back in the 50s when movies wher either 3-D or flat(2-D) Today it is used to destinguish between anamorphic and non anamorphic prints. Hense, flat or scope.
You are correct when you wrote about the replacement of Cinerama with 70mm Ultra Cinerama. This was caused by on going problems with the three-strip technology and its expense, many thought that the audience would not notice the difference anyway, I think the switch began sometime around 1963, as I recall the single strip Cinerama was called by some as something like Super Cinerama, but it lacked the impact of the original process. Many Cinerama theatres took the three strip process out replaced it with 70mm.
I was glad you brought up the EPA ruling for film labs, not too many people understand that was another nail in the coffin that added to the demise of magnetic prints.
It is mindboggling from the perspective of today’s world when you describe the hard work and commitment that went into exhibiting films in the past, and all the quick-fix innovations that projectionists working as a team incorporated to make sure the show went on as scheduled. For that type of conscientiousness and dedication is a rarity in today’s world. There have been countless movies made about all that goes on behind the scenes of putting on live performances and the making of films, while I would say that one that shows what went on behind exhibiting Cinerama, 70mm, 3-D, etc., back in motion pictures golden era is long overdue. We’re only starting to see now in hindsight how there was a time when movie theater owners and their dedicated crews were as much a part of the history of motion pictures' advance as everyone else in the movie business had been. And that critical leg of motion picture history should not be forgotten as digital cinema comes into more prominent usage. For that past is indeed very facinating. In my looking back, I can only ask, how did they do it? It’s akin to walking around the giant structures that comprise Athens' Acropolis or Rome’s Colosseum and trying to fathom how such could’ve been created at a time over a millennium before there were such things as deisel-powered cranes and trucks and bulldozers and so on. But did it they had, and we all just took it for granted at the time, assuming that running a movie theater was much simpler than it really was. What we didn’t know, and those exhibiting the films at the giant theaters were clever enough not to let on about.
Theaterbuff, well obviously I loved what you wrote, most folks were not aware of what on behind the scenes. I had a great feeling of accomplishment and joy at the end of the day after running a perfect show. I t was very important to me that no one in the audience be made aware of what was going on in the booth, and you did that by making perfect changeovers, keeping those carbons aligned to maintain perfect light, and of course exact focus. Today the boys simply thread the film, push a button and walk away, then what ever happens, happens. Todayâ€™s projectionists will never know the thrill of running a 70mm roadshow. The excitement began when the print arrived and you opened the cans, put on your white gloves, and reel by reel gave the print a loving inspection, looking carefully for any imperfections.That print was going to be your responsibility for the next few months, it was important that it be given loving care.
Next would come the technical rehearsal (dry run) where we got a chance to see the movie on the screen for the first time, deciding how best to run the lights for the overture, and checking the curtain cues to be sure the curtains closed at the right time and speed. Often when the overture had several short segments from songs in the movie, like for example in â€œSouth Pacificâ€, the house lighting could be dimmed in stages, dancing with the music if you will. Occasionally the director or studio would send cue sheets with suggested ways of handling the overtures, and sound levels. I always loved when we would get input from people who made the film, basically saying â€œtake care of our baby; itâ€™s in your hands nowâ€. Itâ€™s important to know that the film makers cared a great deal about how the movie was projected. They recognized the fact that all the hard work they put into making the movie could be ruined by a bad presentation in the theatre. But trust me when I tell you, those of us who were in the booth in those days cared about the presentation as much as the film makers did. When something went wrong in the booth and the movie was interrupted or the showing flawed in any way, whether it was a mechanical problem or through my own carelessness, we would feel I had let the film maker and my audience down.
Now comes opening night, the house is full and itâ€™s five minutes to overture. You have checked with management about the starting time and wait for the clock to hit the time to start. The blood starts pumping as you look out over the audience and go over the music cues in your head one last time.
Itâ€™s Showtime!, I can not describe to you the feeling you get as the film begins to roll and the music starts. Itâ€™s simply, as the kids say today, â€œawesomeâ€.
When the show is over and all the lighting and curtain cues went without a hitch, and every changeover was executed perfectly, you would go home felling good, and anticipating tomorrow, when you get to do it all again.
Thatâ€™s what it was like for me to run a 70mm roadshow.
That is an amazing account you’ve given us, Vito! While there’s no question that as many fondly look back now to that magnificent movie theater era they do so because of the commitment of highly skilled projectionists such yourself. For when it comes to exhibiting movies right, there is a tremendous artistry to it, while I would love to see that expressed in a motion picture somehow. What most readily comes to my mind as I say that is the 1967 movie, HOTEL, starring Rod Taylor. And my thinking is, why not apply that same approach to show what all went on behind the scenes of running those classic theaters we so fondly remember? For if such a movie could be made I have no doubt it would go a long way in escalating the current public interest in the movie palaces of yesteryear. And you know how so often it is. Every new trend starts with a movie. In this case the film I’m envisioning would end with the start of the motion picture exhibition after all the hard work and dedication that went into leading up to that point, with the audience left imagining and hungry for the splendor that comes next, and wanting to experience it for real. In my case I have vivid memories of what that was like. But we have a whole new generation now that has no idea what it’s missing. And some might say, “Well, they have other things now.” To which I can only say, “Oh really? Like what?”
Theater buff, you got that right! and what a great idea. I loved that movie, â€œHotelâ€ itâ€™s one of my favorites. The public may not appreciate how much hard work goes into running a theatre, the hours are long, and the holidays are just another working day. Then of course there is the drama; in the front of the house you have staff that does not show up, the ice machine or HVAC (heat/ac) that breaks down
And of course all those charming customers (bless them) who have absolutely no patience or interest in the problems that you may be facing, screaming â€œI want to speak to a managerâ€.
In the booth, we have mechanical breakdowns big and small, like when a take up belt breaks and you have to turn the reel by hand for 10-15 minutes, or when the exciter lamp blows in the middle of a reel.
Then there is â€œOh my god, what is that burning smell coming from the generatorâ€?
I could go on and on, my point being I think it would make a great story.We could not leave out the great tales that would come out of live theatre as well; like drunken talent,and all the backstage madness. Imagine the fun of running a theatre in the days of the old NY Palace with 8 acts of vaudeville and a movie, or the NY Paramount running movies and a live stage show. There has to be some wonderful stories there. I wonder if anyone here can relate any.
Meantime, should anyone have questions I might be able to answer about my experiences during my 56 years in the biz, both in front of the house or in the booth, please ask away.
The topic is 70mm World Premieres now listed in introductions of New York City movie palaces. I have often thought about starting a thread about running a theatre, but perhaps Howard would be gracious enough to let us share this one, keeping for the most part to his original thought. Surely there must be others out there who have movie palace stories to share.
Vito, this is all very interesting. 56 years! Of course, I don’t mind, especially as you are writing, more or less, about the Road Show procedures.
I don’t own the thread, merely started it, but I will speculate that you probably could also write more specific recollections about 70mm films (regardless of world premieres) in the New York movie palaces. Regardless, thanks for all your contributions to this thread.
Here is one for you. REndres is going to love this one.
We had a near nightmare when I played â€œSweet Charityâ€. The print arrived two days before the opening, and later that day I inspected the print to find I had 2 reel twoâ€™s and no reel three.
The manager quickly notified his home office and the search was on to find a reel three. The thought was that some other theatre must have received two reel threeâ€™s and I had their reel two.
After investigating, it was discovered that was not the case, and no one had called in with a similar situation. So a rush was put in to find a reel three to complete my print. Early the next morning, the day before the movie opened, a new reel arrived by special courier. There was just one problem, it was another reel two. So now I had
3 reel twoâ€™s and still no reel three.
At this stage of the game all they could do was to supply a 35mm print in time for the opening.
I got to thinking why not run the bulk of the movie in 70mm and the third reel in 35mm. After all, to switch the projectors from 70mm to 35mm only took a few minutes. (at this point I can see REndres nodding his head in agreement as he reads this) I went to the manager with my idea and he agreed.
Think that was it? Well think again, later that day the 35mm print arrived, but it was a mono print. Once again I went rushing to the manager â€œthe print is mono, we at least need a four track printâ€. Well one source told us there werenâ€™t any mag prints struck and another said even if there are any we would never get it to you in time for the opening.
Well, by now I am this close to taking the gas pipe, but the manager and I agreed, letâ€™s run it in 70mm and see how the third reel in 35mm looks and sounds. Well of course the difference in the print and sound quality was very noticeable, raising the sound two points did not help much. But we decided to go that way anyway;
after all, it was better than running the whole movie in 35mm with mono sound.
Think that was it, Well think again. The morning of the show this person from Universal showed up, heard what we were going to do, and said NO, NO, we are not advertising 70mm any way, so run the 35mm print. I pulled the manager aside and said â€œyou gag him, tie him up, and throw him in a closet, Iâ€™ll lock the booth door and show it the way we plannedâ€. Well we both had a good laugh and then my manager, bless him, went to his boss who said â€œI like your idea of how to run the movie, tell that Universal guy this is my theatre and we will run it as I see fitâ€.
At the start of the show the District Manager went out to the stage and announced what had happened, and how we were going to show the film. His announcement was meet with approval from the crowd, and we were off and running.
If nothing else our audience got a side by side comparison of 70mm with six track and 35mm with mono sound.
Like Durante said, â€œI got a million of em folksâ€
Oh, the Universal guy we were going to put in a closet? He did not attend the opening.
End of the story, they found our missing reel three and delivered in time for the second night.
Itâ€™s been almost 40 years since this happened, but I tried to tell the story as best as I can remember.
Vito, one thing I will say is that you were very lucky to work under the management you did, as such type management is verrrrrry rare in today’s world. To compensate for Murphy’s law in that era, democratic cooperation and coordination at all levels of the process was extremely vital. And the lack of that in today’s world is clearly the number one thing blocking the reemergence of movie palaces today un my opinion. Some today might suggest that “simply” to exhibit movies well is not worth all that hard work and strong commitment. Yet for those fortunate enough to have seen movies exhibited in that best possible way, in so many many instances it made for a life changing experience. And I think it’s in far far more instances than we consciously realize. For instance, if you go back to previous generatiions and ask this or that person, “Why did you decide to become a doctor?” (or a minister, or a teacher, or a lawyer, or an artist, or join the millitary, or buy a motorcycle, or start up a rock and roll band, or go in for boxing, or become an astronaut, or go in for politics, and, well, you get the idea), strong odds are that there was some particular movie they saw at a theater — presented well — that changed their whole life and gave them a whole new sense of direction in that way. And that is saying a great deal positive about the art of exhibiting movies well. For how many other professions in this world can you think of that have that high degree of world transforming power? Yet notice what is absent from the long list of movies that inspired people to do this or that with their lives: A movie that went behind the scenes of operating a movie palace well, depicting all the many countless aspects involved. There have been movies I can name that illustrate how motion pictures spurred people to do this or that. MIDNIGHT COWBOY, for instance, begins with the star deciding to become a “cowboy” due to his exposure to westerns exhibited at a local drive-in. In LOST IN AMERICA, a motorcyle cop states that EASY RIDER had been the number one thing that inspired him to choose his profession. And I’m sure there’s countless other examples that could be named as well. While those two movies hardly depict the major ways in which movies exhibited well transformed peoples' lives out in the real world. For that’s where you’ll find the real stories in this regard.
Having seen movies exhibited well is an experience that people remember throughout the rest of their lives. And that assuredly is its biggest payoff, that which lives on, and these days in so many instances long after the theater where they saw is gone. And I would say more often than not, far more than just the memory living on there’s the motivation it planted. The way of looking at things. The flashbacks of Marlon Brando as the godfather, or Sally Field as the union organizer in NORMA RAE, or Al Pacino as the conscientious cop in SERPICO, or Robert Redford in THE CANDIDATE, and on goes the list. And there are no doubt countless incidences where such memories of having seen movies exhibited well saved lives in times of deepest despair and great crisis, such as recalling Vivien Leigh’s inexorable determination to survive in GONE WITH THE WIND.
And that’s what it’s all about to me. For we know now in hindsight just how important the movie theaters of the past were, while the better operated the theater, the more important it was. Or shoukl I say vital.
Vito: If you got a million of those stories, could we have a few more, please, when you have time? It’s great the way you make us relive these experiences with you, from all those 70mm roadshows I never got to see. Your stories are the next best thing.
Bill, yes I will most certainly do that.
Theaterbuff, Great post!
I think, mostly due to the birth of the Multiplex, the art of showmanship is all but dead.
Theatre managers today have a completely different outlook on movie presentation; itâ€™s all about getting as many butts as they can into the seats and selling concession items. Or in other words, the Bottom line.
When we had single screens and palaces, the emphasis was more about promotion, customer care and showmanship. We would often work with other store owners in the neighborhoods to promote and advertise our movies. The theatre manager would be in front of the house greeting and chatting with patrons, and careful care was taken to the layout of the marquee and advertising posters.
The Marquee was a vital part of the operation, it was the first thing our patrons saw, and countless folks saw it by driving or walking by. It had to be properly spaced and centered, and heaven forbid no missing or broken letters. Often with the Roadshows, we would have special coverings designed which covered the entire attraction panel. Those panels were a nice touch, often depicting caricatures of the stars of the movie.
There was more of a feeling of Welcome to the show, Oh I know, today the cashier or ticket taker will say something like that, but itâ€™s not the same as it was back then, being greeted warmly as you enter the theatre by the manager and staff. While I did not see this in every palace I worked, I have witnessed theatre managers inspecting ushers appearance prior to opening the doors. I am pretty sure this still being done at Radio City Music Hall, it was certainly done in the hey day.
The lobby area had to be kept immaculate; we had people whose sole job was to roam the grounds outside, the lobby, and restrooms making sure they were clean. If someone dropped a candy wrapper someone was here to scoop it up as it hit the ground. In some theatres we even had bathroom attendants, and at the end of the performance staff was dispatched to the parking area to assist in traffic flow and offer any help (keys locked in cars, dead batteries, etc). We had ushers showing people to their seats, and in some cases handing our programs. After the performance began, ushers were there to assist late comers find their seats as quietly and inconspicuously as possible.
WHAT! Madness you say? Well no, itâ€™s just the way we did things in those days.
Of course once our patrons passed through the lobby they entered a world of grandeur, with specious. Lighting was warm and yet somehow brilliant, the stage curtains were bathed with soft lighting that complimented the rest of the theatres color scheme, a far cry from today, with its exposed screen basically hanging on a wall with slide advertisements flashing.
Unless the theatre featured an organ, we did not offer pre show music during Roadshows, it was generally considered taboo. Many felt it would distract from the start of the overture.
I worked with a lot of theatre managers and most of them in those days were showman, especially in the palaces or during Roadshow engagements. Of course we had a few duds, and I generally stayed clear of them. And you know what, they did not last long. I always tried to enjoy an excellent relationship with my manager,
after, all we were partners, working in an industry we loved,trying to put on the best show possible.
I’ve always read and enjoyed your posts on this and other theater sites. Here’s a few things you might want to write about. I can’t remerber if you ever worked at a 3 strip CINERAMA site. What was the longest any movie was ever shown at any theater you ever worked at? What was the record number of times you used the same print? Was it 70mm? Did you have 2 in the booth when you had 70mm? Did you always have a curtain? Did the curtain ever not open, what did you do? Etc., etc., etc.?
Thanks for all the fun info you always give!
“Ladies and Gentlemen, This is CINERAMA!"
Lowell Thomas, September 30, 1952
My goodness thatâ€™s a lot of questions, I will try and scratch my head and answer a few of them.
My only limited experience with 3 strip Cinerama was â€œThe World of Brothers Grimmâ€; I worked some relief shifts but never full time. I am not sure of the date but think it was sometime in 1962, I do remember we played it right after â€œWest Side Storyâ€.
I seem to recall the engineers had to come back and reinstall some of the Cinerama equipment that been removed for WSS which was shown in 70mm. I think for a while there we could run both 3-strip Cinerama and 70mm.
As to number of showings per print, well that would have to have been â€œSound Of Musicâ€ I believe we had it for about a year and half. The prints lasted quite a long time, since we only had about 10 shows a week during most months. I seem to recall he most concern was for the magnetic tracks which would deteriorate over time causing deficiencies in the high end.
You asked about manpower, for Cinerama we had three guys running the projectors in the Able, Baker, and Charlie booths plus another man who ran the sound , then I think we had a fifth man who sort a ran things and kept an eye on the show, and gave us heads up if there were any problems.
70mm always had two men; we were required by contract to be in the booth one hour prior to Showtime. Each of us would take care of one projector, while it was running we would sit on a stool keeping an eye on the screen, glancing from time to time at the lamphouse carbon image to make sure it the carbons were properly aligned and that they were feeding properly. Both of us would watch the screen for cues to make changeovers, some guys would call the cue while others did not like to do that. Trust me, after you run a movie for several months you did not need to be warned of the cue mark, you knew when they were coming. The reels were always rewound by hand checking for any problems. It was also common to announce to your partner which reel number you were about to thread. You always knew which reel you were running and could easily confirm which one should be loaded next. In between reels we would clean the entire film path, with special attention to the magnetic heads. Lenses and port glass were cleaned daily, and once a week we would run and a test reel, which demonstrated the speakerâ€™s efficiency as well as the balance between channels. Before each new Roadhow presentation, the light output was checked to determine if the screen needed to be replaced and if the lamphouse reflectors were performing adequently. Roadshow presentations were very important, and no irregularities in the projection of these movies could be tolerated. I worked Roadshow engagements where there were three projectors in the booth. Generally to avoid any possible mix up, only two were used in any given performance, rotating which projectors to use on any given day. One projector was always given the day off. The last time I ran a 70mm Roadshow in a three projector booth was a reissue of
Ben Hur, at Centuryâ€™s Plainview theatre on Long Island, probably back in â€™69 or â€˜70
Curtain problems were few, first of all we ALWAYS had curtains, I do not remember ever working a Roadshow or movie palace without them. The worst story I can tell you is when 3-Strip Cinerama was no longer being shown, we decided to remove the vertical strip screen which was no longer needed. The problem came about when we discovered the curtains would rub up against the new screen and actually caused some minor but noticeable damage to the coating. We had to run without curtains while a decision was being made on how to correct the problem. I honestly do not recall if the screen was moved back or the curtain forward, but the problem was solved and we went back to using the curtains. NO CURTAINS? Not in the glory days of palaces and Roadshows.
Whew! Hope I gave you some idea of what running a Roadshow was all about, If I left anything out let me know. I can only tell you what I can recall, unfortunately there are not many of us left from those days, most of them are either senile or dead. (little humor there)
Another grade-A post, Vito. You describe everything so well, I feel like I can actually see what you’re remembering in my own imagination.
“The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm” in Cinerama is one of my Holy Grail titles, but I guess it’ll never come to pass. I don’t think any Cinerama materials for that film have survived, unless they turn up in a vault somewhere, someday.
Vito, all this week you have truly given us some excellent insights into what it was like behind the scenes when movie theater operation was at its finest, while to be sure, I have been very moved by it! A person would have to be pretty far gone not to be. Before seeing your posts I was making comparisons between what it must’ve been like running a movie palace back in cinema’s golden era to that 1967 movie, HOTEL. But now, after reading your commentaries, let me on expand that by saying it must’ve been like HOTEL (1967) meets Cecil B, DeMille’s 1952 classic, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH! And in like fashion, drawing elements from both those films, I continue to hold what you have told us would make for a great movie….IF in this “no-can-do age” we’re living in today that much could be done at the very least.
I currently reside here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as also does the creator of this particular Cinema Treaures' webpage, and as both he and I can tell you, Philadelphia’s last standing movie palace — the Boyd Theatre — in a city where once there were many — is currently up for sale, while its whole future at this point is totally uncertain. But I just was thinking after reading your posts this week: how farfetched an idea would it be that the Boyd could become the setting of the creation of such a movie based on your accounts? For it certainly has all the outstanding features that would work well for that. In the old days it seems getting such a movie made in that setting would’ve been a snap, given the tremendous mutual cooperativeness of yore, as what you’ve described lays perfect testimony to. But these days, just to make the movie itself it seems would be a major challenge — at least here in Philadelphia at the present time-wise. Except that Philadelphia, with its magnificent Boyd Theatre building, could provide the perfect setting for it in terms of the physical tangibles necessary. And such a movie made there could serve as a vital forerunner to bringing the Boyd back up to what its supposed to be. As Mr. Haas (the creator of this webpage) has pointed out many times now, every major city in the U.S. has restored at least one of its movie palaces, whereby in Philadelphia’s case the Boyd is its last shot to do so.
In any event, I just thought I should circulate this idea here simply to get others' takes on its possibilities, especially Howard’s, since he heads up Friends of the Boyd and is the most on top of its current situation.
Bill, I am so glad to hear you have enjoyed my trip down memory lane.
If any questions come to mind about those magnificent days,
please let me know. I am glad you got the Durante reference, I was afraid no one would know who I was talking about.
Theatrebuff, I would certainly agree that a movie or some sort of documentary about what went on behind the scenes of a movie palace would be appreciated by those of us who have such fond memories of attending and working in those magnificent theatres. I would also think that many younger people who never had that opportunity would enjoy reading about what it was like in the days of the movie palaces. It is after al a part of our culture, an important part of movie history that must never be forgotten.
I always get a warm and satisfying feeling when ever I hear about a palace that has been saved; I wish you much luck and success with the Boyd.
A few years ago I had the good fortune of being asked to help with the restoration of a palace I attended as a kid and later worked in. When I first stepped inside, all kinds of wonderful memories began to swirl around in my head, and as I toured the theatre I was transformed back in time, it was a thrilling experience. I spent many hours peeking around in closets and store rooms looking for what ever I could find that could help bring back to life that magnificent gem. A simple thing like the original lobby stanchions and velvet ropes was to me as good as finding gold. While touring the stage and old dressing rooms I felt a bittersweet feeling because great structures like this one were dying and being destroyed. But there was hope that perhaps this one could be saved.
Perhaps the saving of the Boyd could be documented as part of a movie about movie palaces. Of course I would be happy to give you any other information, or answer any other any questions you may have
About my experiences working in a movie palace or Roadshow
Vito: I’m sure I will recall what you said when I attend the “Frankenstein” double feature at the Loew’s Jersey (built 1929) in Jersey City tonight.
As for Jimmy Durante, when I visited L.A. in 2005 I visited his final resting place:
Oh Bill, I wonder if after he died he ever found Mrs Calabash.
Have fun tonight!
On an earlier Hollywood trip in 2003, I got to see him “kick the bucket” in 70mm Cinerama at the Cinerama Dome.
The Friends of the Boyd, Inc., www.FriendsOfTheBoyd.org, the nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that the Boyd is restored and reopened as a theater (and which I am President of) in have one focus at this time: ensuring that the Boyd is saved, restored, and reopened. Our goals include a film series, exhibits of the Boyd’s history, and public tours. The Boyd will primarily be a live events theater. Any commercial movie or documentary about the role of projectionists sounds lovely, but isn’t within our mission and would need wait for the Boyd’s restoration so it would appear to be a working theater.
Let’s try that link again,
Vito, given the year I was born, seeing the premiere of BEN HUR at the Boyd with my family in the late 1950s when I was a very small child was the closest I ever came to experiencing what you describe. It was back in the days of Philadelphia’s can-do days, an era in totally stark contrast to the Philadelphia of today — where for the most part “nothing is possible.” Or at least that’s the constant message that everyday folks here get when they seek to do this or that. In other words, Ben Franklin, who was one of this city’s most major shapers in the past, would hardly find a very warm welcome if he were to arrive to here today. Nonetheless, I feel very fortunate to have seen some glimpses of Philadelphia back when it was still great, the premiere of BEN HUR at the Boyd being one of the best instances I recall. When at its height, the Boyd was one of just a few theaters in the U.S. that featured Cinerama, to be sure, a very daring and bold step for its time. But it’s just to show how in Philadelphia’s can-do zeitgeist at the time, the city went all out to make sure it was at the forefront of every latest breakthrough. But alas, today this city is so the opposite. Case in point, though Philadelphia still remains a major U.S. city to some degree (last year it fell behind Phoenix), it has yet to see the emergence of one single digital cinema anywhere within its sizeable boundaries. So given that scenario, the general outlook is, “Of course the Boyd could never be brought back to life again doing what it did best, and anyone who thinks they have great memories of that era when it really shined and the rest of the city shone along with it is ‘dillusional’ and ‘just imagining things’.”
As for Mr. Haas' website, as you can see, and thanks Howard for re-providing us the link, it hasn’t been updated since March 3. To semi-quote from a great movie past: The great and powerful Haas has spoken!
When Ben Hur was shown, Philadelphia had recently demolished the Mastbaum, and in 1953, the Earle. That was not an era for historic preservation. Fortunately, later in the 1960’s, American cities, including in Pittsburgh, learned the value of preserving movie palaces.
People correctly cherish their experiences at the Boyd.
As to daily movies again, look at Los Angeles which in just the last couple weeks saw the closing for demolition of the National the closing of the Vine, and the announced closing of the NuWilshire. As Vito knows, movie exhibition changes. The DeMille is one of the 6 NYC movie palaces that showcased World Premieres of 70mm films (this thread).I’ve written that those people expecting to see the DeMille(aka Embassy 2-3-4) reopen as a single screen daily movie house were
unrealistic, and unfortunately enough, it was reported that the interior was recently gutted. To save the Boyd, it needs live events to make its bread & butter. A film series will be great, but can’t be its primary use.
As to what’s up now, all things take time.
Howard, you keep saying “daily movies,” and that is where your major flaw is. The Boyd should be a special events theater ONLY, and special events do not happen every day. They happen once in a blue moon, and that’s what we want the Boyd fully restored for. But to try to have it so the Boyd hosts a special event 365 days a year is as unrealistic as it gets. To me the Boyd should be locked and sealed except for the moments when a special events theater is needed, which I would say would be two or three times out of the year at best. And that’s it. What’s the big mystery here? And while I’m certainly not opposed to its hosting live performances, it has plenty of competition in that regard, and the competition keeps growing. In addition to the Kimmel Center, the Pearlman, the American Academy of Music, the Tower Theater, the Prince, the Wachovia Center, and more live performance playhouses than I can count, the Suzanne Roberts Theatre has just been recently added to the growing list, and other live performance venues are on the way.
But where can people in Philadelphia go to see movie exhibition at its finest? That is, in a palatial setting? More significantly, wat currently operating Philadelphia movie theater is possibly capable of combining Cinerama of the past with digital cinema of the future? Only ONE. And it’s spelled B.O.Y.D.
You say “all things take time.” But I can offer up a perfect response to that by drawing from the Marlon Brando classic, VIVA ZAPATA…
I’m tired of hearing about the Boyd when we have lost so many Palaces in cities across the country. In Boston they really only saved 2 big theatres and 4 almost as big. The 2 were the 3800 seat Metropolitan which was at one time the Sack Music Hall and then became the Wang Center For The Performing Arts and then the CITI Wang Center. It now presents Broadway shows and concerts. At one time it used to have big screen movie festivala. Alas: no longer. The RKO Keiths Memorial of 2900 seats was also preserved as a Broadway theatre. After being the RKO it became the Sack Savoy grind house and home of the Boston Opera and was let fall to pieces. It was then bought by Live Nation fully restored for many millions of dollars and now houses big Broadway stage shows. Neither of these theatres operate 365 days a year. The Paramount, and Modern were torn down and rebuilt by Emerson College and Suffolk Law School. They rebuilt with small theatres and are used for small live presentations anf the Paramount is used for films. Both theatres were made to keep the front facade and look great. We have one more large theatre the old Lowes Orpheum about 2800 seats which closed in the early 70’s and became the Aquarius and several years later it returned to being the ORpheum, It is now a live theatre for Concerts and from what I read it is being refurbished(which it drastically needs) to the tune of a few million dollars. This is the theatre that Dennis Leary holds his annual comedy night festival. We have lost so many other theatres in the last 25 years that I can;t list them all. So finally, if you want to save the Boyd, which I think should be, then get off your rear and get a grass movement started and get to some of Philly’s big businesses like the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, Sixers and Union. also what about Penn and other colleges. If they tell you they have no money don’t believe them. Saving the Boyd can be done but it will take a group effort. aLSO get the Media(TV, Radio and Print involved. Think of this as a PBS FUND RAISER.
Howard… Regarding your comment from October 15th, 2007, as the (co)author of the article you were referencing for the premiere details, I can state you misinterpreted the information about questioning if the Palace was the venue in which the roadshow engagements of “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” (and the ‘69 “Ben-Hur” re-issue) played. The question mark was actually in reference to the theater ownership, which my co-author and I were unable to confirm at the time of putting together that “70mm in New York” article for the FSTDVD website.