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The Illini is indeed next door to Lucca’s Grill. I vacation in Bloomington every year (I’m still a member of the Bloomington/Peoria Stagehand’s Local), and Lucca’s is a must place to visit. Karl Blakeny, who along with his brother was an official of the Local and grew up in Bloomington has taken me on several tours of theatre sites and introduced me to Lucca’s. From their parking lot you face the back of the Illini and it’s easily identifiable as a stage house. The only trace of the theatre from the front is the pillars above the second floor, now interspersed with windows for the MARC Center. Before it was the Illini, I think it was named something else and was an early opera house. Karl says there is no trace of the former theatre left inside, and while the MARC may still utilize the space, I’ve never seen any signs of life when I go by. I’ll be back there for vacation next month, and will try to get more information from Karl.
Vito: The 3-D projection for the Christmas Show is with two 70mm projectors, interlocked and running at 30fps. Digital projection has been done from the front of the First Mezzanine with two projectors (one for backup) and the sound routed up to the booth and run through the cinema sound system. I left the Hall in 2000 to work for the company I’m working for now, but our technicians are in for premieres and special events, and I wander over every once in a while also to say, “Hi!” to my Music Hall “family”. Boston Light & Sound supplied the lamphouses, so I’ll have to check with their rep about the 35mm wattages since I frequently have dinner with him when he’s in town.
I did get a chance to see some of Leon Leonidoff’s 16mm footage of the stage shows. After he left he wrote asking me to send it to him, but at the time the case containing his film was in a jumble with the rest of our film library in the area behind the screen in our large screening room, and I didn’t know what I was looking for. When the 50th Anniversary Show came along, I found it and sent it along with other archival footage to California where it was incorporated into the multiple screen montage sequences projected during the show. Unfortunately, the producer of those sequences returned the footage in small chunks and I was never able to piece it back together. Leon did have color footage of “Rhapsody In Blue” and “Bolero” which looked pretty good considering the limitations of the stage lighting and 16mm film at the time. I’ve always felt badly that I didn’t realize that footage was what he was looking for and return it to him before his death.
The projectors are definitely still there. Two of the three 35/70mm machines now have 7,000 watt xenon lamphouses for projection of the opening 70mm 3-D sequence in the Christmas Show, and the two 35mm machines have upgraded lamphouses installed. Most motion-picture premieres these days are done with digital projection rather than film (as they increasingly are everywhere else).
Vito: As the expession goes: “Everything old is new again”. The success of IMAX 3-D is reviving the process. Last week Disney, Dolby and ILM announced that they will be installing digital 3-D in 100 theatres for the release of “Chicken Little” in November, and Lucas has announced plans to re-release the “Star Wars” series in 3-D. Check last Sunday’s “Arts & Leisure” section of the New York Times for a front page article on some of the new 3-D projects in the works. I guess if we stick around long enough we meet our past coming back to greet us!
Vito: You’re right — we (at least those of us who have been around for a while) refer to anything non-anamorphic as “Flat” and anamorphic prints as “Scope”. That terminology has even been carried over to film cans and leaders in many cases. I did want to add to one of your comments about single strip 3-D made on one of the other theatre sites. There were two kinds of single strip 3-D films in wide release. You mentioned the “over/under” variation used for wide aspect ratio films such as “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein” and Arch Obler’s “The Bubble”. (Talk about blurring distinctions: even though those films had an aspect ratio similar to “Scope” technically they were flat.) The 3-D attachment superimposed the upper two-perf portion of the image over the bottom portion. With films made in the 1.37 ratio such as “House of Wax” and “The Stewardesses” the image, although “Flat” was actually two anamorphic images side by side with a slightly reduced frame height on the film. The 3-D attachment was in line with the anamorphic lens and put one of the images over the other. The 70mm 3-D release of “House of Wax” wouldn’t have been anamorphic since there was room on the frame to put to “Flat” images side by side. Sure gets confusing doesn’t it?
As with Meredith Rhule in the above post, my first full-time job as a projectionist was in Kankakee seven years earlier than his. I left in 1974 to go to Radio City Music Hall. When I started in Kankakee in 1967 the Majestic was closed, and the Luna was still open. In fact, I was originally told by the business agent that he wanted me for the Luna, but after the operators there saw the Meadowview, which was just about to open, they decided to stay at the Luna. A few years later, the Majestic building was converted into a mini mall, and the balcony of the Majestic was sealed and it became the Town Cinema, with the backstage space being converted to shops or offices. The theatre had a variety of projection booths. The original one, according to the B.A. was on the roof of the building next door, until the owner of the building told the Majestic management to get it off his building. Then it was moved to the roof of the Majestic, and to get to it you had to go out on the fire escape and go up a ladder. The B.A. told me that they kept a ladder in the booth, and when the weather was very bad outside, they would lower it out the spot port and climb out the window and down into the balcony. He also told me that since they were projecting through space in the ceiling beams, the theatre could never show CinemaScope films. I was in that booth once during the construction to convert the space into the Town Cinema and the equipment was still up there intact. The last booth for the Town was carved out of the former lobby access space to the balcony. The equipment was taken out of the Luna and moved over, and then the Luna was torn down.
Dave: The V-8’s at the Murray Hill came from Cinema I originally. They were installed for “Heaven’s Gate”, and then moved to the Murray Hill for the first “Superman” film. They were installed at the Murray Hill by Altec Service, and I remember one of the men on the crew telling me how they worked all night to get the projectors ready for the first show early the next morning. They started the show for a house full of kids and when they changed to the second reel there was no sound. They went crazy trying to find the problem, and finally threaded the second reel on the first projector to discover that someone on the West Coast had not sounded the reel! The showings were cancelled until another reel could be shipped in. There may have been a second set of V-8’s installed in Cinema I after that, so both theatres could have had them at the same time. I seem to remember “Oklahoma” playing there as a re-release at 30 f.p.s.
Vito: You’ve got me. I didn’t see the telecast, but they could be scenic pieces or speaker arrays. Lots of things get hung in that area including video screens for image magnification.
dave-bronx: The reason General Cinema was able to get such a sharp edge with their aperture plates was that they used special plates. The General Cinema projection package consisted of Century projector heads which had the gate rails notched out in back over the aperture area so a thicker plate could be used which put the face of the plate closer to the film. Since aperture plates can never be in the same physical space as the film, there is always some fuzz line which varies with the depth of focus of the projection lens used (that in turn is also affected by the focal length.) The disadvantage to that system is that the closer to the film the plate is, the more the danger of scratching the film if it buckles from the heat of the lamp. My predecessor as Head Projectionist at Radio City Music Hall was Bill Nafash who was a master at cinema installation and did work for Rugoff. Those masking strips may have been a solution he worked out to provide a sharp edge to the picture. I remember seeing the strips used at the Murray Hill, and I think there were two or three sets of them for 1.85, 1.66 and 1.37. They may have also used the special “thick” Century aperture plates as well.
Ron: The Music Hall did do a largely RKO Film Festival when they did their first Art Deco Festival in 1974. I don’t remember all of the films we played (Warren will probably have the list), but we did do “King Kong”, “She”, “Becky Sharp” and at least one of the Rogers/Astaire musicals. I had just started at the Hall, and that was the most film we had ever had in the booth at one time. I remember the Rogers/Astaire picture because the promoter of the Festival was going to have to pay for a print since none existed for distribution at that time. Ginger Rogers offered to loan him her personal print, but it was nitrate. By that time we no longer had nitrate fire rollers on our machines having installed 70mm, and our insurance company said “No”! The promoter went ahead and had a print struck at his personal expense. Fortunately, the festival was a success, since it combined film screenings with a lobby full of booths selling Art Deco memorabilia. The poster became a classic (I still have one), and was actually featured in a couple of movies. Our print of “She” was loaned to us by Raymond Rohauer, who also managed to save a number of Buster Keaton’s films. I was told that he virtually kept the film under his bed at night to protect it. He did come up to the booth when we inspected it (with me wearing white gloves — an impression somewhat mitigated by one of the crew looking over our shoulders with an unlit cigar in his mouth). I said he could have the print back right after the screening, but I guess he was reassured since he said, “Hang onto it. I’ll pick it up next week.”
Thanks Vito. I was in the Hall for the first time between my Jr. and Sr. years in H.S. Already hanging around projection booths when I could, I went up to the Third Mezzanine and looked up at the ports and thought, “Boy I wish I could see the inside of that booth!” A Vice-president at the Hall when I told him the story said, “Well that ought to teach you to be careful what you wish for.” It really was a dream job that I had to try even though it meant taking a chance leaving Illinois. I was really lucky to be there for 25 years. The stage crew became a family in a very real sense, and really care about the theatre. I worked with two generations, and in some cases now they’re in the third generation in some families. Its a very special place!
Very interesting. I can certainly attest to the “unusual height”, as I had to climb to the top of the theatre to get to the booth. “Unusual height” indeed!
I’m probably not the one to answer that question since it remains to be seen if Cablevision is interested. The Warner and Universal Festivals, contrary to the posts above, did not sell out. (I double checked with my co-projectionist at the time, and we both remember the Third Mezzanine being closed, and for many shows, what we could see of the Orchestra wasn’t sold out either.) As Peter Apruzzese has noted above, it is also a very expensive house to book. I can defend the size of the stage crew (which cares very much about the Hall,and is awesome in capability). As I noted, lighting and stage curtain controls are in separate areas necessitating extra crew members. There also has to be a stage manager to co-ordinate the overall operation of the house with the presentation people. Since the theatre has always been involved with stage productions they tend to take precedence, and several of the production vice-presidents have been hostile to movies since they came from a stage background. The current person in that position is a change. He was both Head Carpenter and Head Electrician at the Hall at different times when I was there. He remembers both of those festivals, and respects the Hall’s past. Nonetheless, it depends on what Cablevision has in mind. At the time of the Festivals there was a programming person who very much understood film, and wanted to do more, but unfortunately died before he could do so. With all of the turmoil around Cablevision this year, they do seem to want to keep the Hall and Madison Square Garden in their fold, so we’ll have to see.
Vito: The contour curtain was raised and lowered by the control board operator who also controlled the traveller (when we had one — it was removed because we needed another line set for the live “Snow White” production we did). That operator also controlled the elevators and the turntable in the middle of the stage. There was also a stage manager on duty at the end of the feature next to the control board position. We would give the stage an 8 minute warning before the end of the film by buzzing them, and they would acknowledge with a return three buzzes. Then a 2 min.– 2 buzz warning, and finally the actual buzz to start the contour in. We would also buzz at the end of the shorts and trailers preceding the feature to close the traveller and reopen it. The traveller was acoustically transparent so it didn’t muffle the sound from the screen, but the three ton contour did as it came in. Screen masking both sides and top was controlled from either the booth or the stage by the original Magnascope system. The guy, and sometimes guys, in the pit actually operated the lighting for the stage show. The board for the lighting was made by G.E. and was the first electronic thyratron controlled system in the city. There was a smaller version in the Rainbow Room at the top of the RCA (now G.E. Building). The controls on the board operated two huge banks of thyratrons, one over the stage in a room that extended from 50th St. to 51st. Street, the other on the shop level one floor below the stage which extended from just a walkway’s thickness behind the proscenium line to the back of the stage. That board also controlled selsyn operated color changers for the “X’s” and “O’s”, huge floods mounted in C cove above the stage. There was also a shutter system for blanking out the lights, since thyratrons have a delay time in dimming, and a “blackout” wasn’t possible. It was pretty impressive to be in the upper reactor room when either the show was on or the house was fully lit. There were hundreds of rectifier tubes glowing blue. In addition, there had to be ghost loads, since if the stage load wasn’t high enough for a given circuit it wouldn’t dim completely out, so there were bunches of large wattage incandescent lamps in the reactor room that could be added to a dimmer circuit so it would fully dim. The system was finally replaced during the last remodeling with a computer controlled system operated from the back of the house, although the original board is still in its position. I only worked in that area once during Julio Iglesias' show. The video projector controls were placed on the board. Since the pit elevator was up, that meant we were literally at the performer’s feet which I found discomforting (particularly with the warm-up comedian who opened the show by juggling axes!) I felt it would be rude to sit there reading in between cues since we were in full view of Julio. I was trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, when on the second night he looked right at us and said, “There are men down there!” He then got down on his knees at the edge of the elevator and leaned over and looked at the board and said, “Ooh! There are lots of switches and things. Stand up and show everybody that you really are there.” So the three of us stood up. The audience must have seen three disembodied heads resting on the back console cover which were spotlighted and then popped out of sight! It was my only time in the spotlight at the Hall!
Vito: I run all my film emulsion “it”! At the Hall we ran emulsion IN. A year or so ago a reporter from my hometown newspaper in Illinois e-mailed me to do a story about me when she found out that a local man had worked at Radio City. There was a typo in her e-mail which made the headline read, “Local Man Makes Goo!” (I actually kind of liked that.) We had two men on a shift and two shifts per day when I was at the Hall. Prior to my arrival there were three men on a shift. Oddly enough, the union was pushing to eliminate one man and retain the same pay scale to raise the booth rate per man, while the Hall didn’t think that two men could run the show and handle the high-intenstiy spot and film effect cues during the stage shows. When I started the Hall agreed to go to two men per shift. As the Head Projectionist I worked two shifts per week as an operator. Ben Olevsky said that was to insure that if the person in the Head’s position was deemed unsuitable for that job he would still have two shifts per week to gaurantee some income. And yes, we always did call cues. The schedule was equalized in a way only one of the operator’s on the crew really understood, but everyone worked the same number of weekends during the year. There long weeks and short weeks, and those who worked one week on the opening shift would move to the evening shift the next week. I kind of gummed up the works a bit since my boss wanted me free to do other gigs once in a while during the week. Thus I always worked Saturday and Sunday opens, while my predecessors were on a rotating schedule. There were eight men on the crew when I started, and that was later by attrition reduced to seven. The man on the crew who worked out the schedule said someone once tried to do it on a computer and it crashed! After the change in policy in ‘79 the crew size would vary according to the show, but with the exception of one film series we did when the Hall first changed format, Feature presentations always used two men, and three for the tryptich sequence in “Napoleon”. I did do a three screen film effect for the Summer Spectacular one year using the “Napoleon” selsyn rig all by myself, but all of the premieres and the Warner and Universal film retrospectives used two of us in the booth at all times.
Indeed I have. I was on the Projection Practice Committee of the SMPTE when Eastman came out with that recommendation (16mm film was always oriented that way). We decided when I went to the Hall that since we wanted to follow SMPTE recommendations when possible, we would change the wrap from emulsion out to emulsion in. (I had tried it in the theatre I worked in in Illinois before going to the Hall, but the Business Agent made me put it back lest it lead to a relief operator threading up wrong.) My boss at the Hall and I warned management that there could be a mistake made, but that it was worth trying. Sure enough — even though we had arrows marked in the magazines, one of the operators at the Hall did thread up wrong and the other operator on the shift didn’t catch it. I was in the house at the time, and got to the booth as quickly as I could after the changeover, and by then the crew was rethreading the reel. No one was fired, and of course the operator who made the error felt terrible about it. That was the only time it happened, and up until the time I left, all film 35 and 70mm was wound emulsion it for projection at the Hall.
CConnolly: Digital cinema is an extension of video projection used in home systems upgraded to theatre quality. The originating source may be high-definition tape (Panasonic D-5, or Sony HDCam)usually running with 1080 lines of resolution vertically and either at the film speed of 24 frames per second or the video frame rate of 30 frames per second), or from a server using computer drives. The material may be delivered via satellite or on tape or from hard drives. The most common projector at this point uses Texas Instruments DLP technology which uses mirrors from three chips to reflect light from the lamphouse to the screen. Sony and JVC use a competing technology using reflective silicon on chips that is in a sense what you see with a digital wristwatch display except the crystals are reflective rather than black. Sony has announced a projector that will do up to 4,000 lines of resolution which should equal or exceed the resolution of 35mm film. You are right about the encryption issues to prevent piracy. The material may be fed in encoded digital form into the projector for conversion to analogue for viewing to prevent hacking since it never exists in analogue form outside of the projector itself. In addition, keys may be generated by the distributor to license the film to exactly the number of screens in a complex and for exactly the number of days the picture is being screened. The National Association of Theatre Owners and the Digital Cinema Initiative have been working to formalize standards for theatrical presentation with the goal that digital cinema presentation be of higher quality than the 1080 hi-def presentation people have in their home theatres and at least as good or better than 35mm film is now. A good part of the motion-picture industry has already “gone digital” for editing and preview purposes, with more and more sneak previews done from D-5 tape rather than film interlocked to a separate track. Now the technology is becoming available to change exhibition as well. There are questions about who is going to pay for the convrsion and preventing piracy, but its a pretty interesting time for theatre technology.
RichePipes: Good to catch up with you also! Glad you’re around this site. So many people have questions, and there’s so much speculation that I often want to just refer them to the Music Hall staff, but don’t want to create a bother for anyone. At the Hall the tech staff has been there for literally generations, in some cases going all the way back to the opening as with you. Its really possible to go to the “horses mouth” for answers, so I’m glad to see you’re here to definitively answer queries about the Music Hall organ. RobertR: I was still in the Midwest when “Happiest Millionaire” opened in Chicago at either the Michael Todd or Cinestage theatres (they were both owned by Todd and were next to one another). It was roadshow, although not 70mm. I remember it because it was the first non-70mm roadshow they played in the house and in refocussing the carbon arc lamps for 35mm, the heat created a “breathing” problem on the film which was quite noticeable. I don’t think it had a very long run there roadshow before being released in its non roadshow engagements
Vito, I imagine the projectionists at the Ziegfeld WORRY! It is new technology, and during the pre-opening screenings of “Star Wars” a representative of Texas Instruments which had their prototype projector in before the opening, and a Dolby representative were also on hand for each screening. (If there were one more tech they might have been able to have a card game going!) As you know — you’re only as good as your last show and “stuff” happens. It always amazes me that for a premiere at the Zieg or the Music Hall, everyone would have a tech representative on hand, but when the picture opens and the audience had to pay, there would often be no tech assistance available. With the elimination of projectionists there are fewer and fewer people around exhibition who continue to care about the presentation (see “Uptown Theatre Washington D.C. on this site for the latest example). There was always the tension of being in the "Showplace of the Nation” at Radio City, and even though digital presentation may be boring, I’ll bet the guys at the Zieg are feeling a bit of tension these days too. Things can go from boredom to chaos in an instant.
Vito, Peter’s right. Simplex advertised their 35/70 mm machine as being able to be changed in a matter of minutes, and I always joked, “Yes — about 60 minutes per projector!” In the Hall’s case the change was made more difficult by the water cooling tubes to the film traps, but we still usually changed the machines over after the show. They also had to be retilted for the different formats, which meant having a stage crew on to bring the picture sheet in and set the masking limits. (The screen masking at the Hall can be changed from the booth by the old Magnascope system, but it only allows two presets.) The only time we changed over during a day was when we did the Warner Bros. Film Festival a few years ago. We had to change over to do “The Exorcist” after a previous 35mm film that afternoon, and then change back to 35mm after “My Fair Lady” was shown the next afternoon. On another note: the Ziegfeld can still run 70mm with its Century JJ, and can do either mag or DTS 70mm sound. Other venues in the city which can do 70mm include the Walter Reade at Lincoln Center (which did Tati’s “Playtime” in 70mm a few weeks ago), the Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. The Dolby Screening Rooms in all of their locations can also do 70mm. MGM has removed their 70mm projectors from their screening room as has Fox. I was in the Ziegfeld two weeks ago for a tech check of the Digital “Star Wars”, and must say, while digital is still in its relative infancy, it was looking very much as I remember the first 70mm “Star Wars” looking at the Astor Plaza, so perhaps Malick’s new picture will be released that way. I ran his “Days of Heaven” in 70mm in the MGM Screening Room and was blown away by it, so it will be interesting to see how he chooses to release “The New World”.
The company was run by Sheldon Gunsberg after Reade Jr.’s death until it was taken over by Cineplex. Gunsberg had brought it out of bankruptcy and to (he thought) to protect it made a deal with Columbia and possibly Coca Cola. They in turn made a deal with Cineplex which took over the company. Gunsberg was quoted as saying of the deal, “I made a deal where I thought I could sleep at night, and then one night I didn’t sleep so good!” That was too bad, since he did care about the theatres and presentation, and was a real gentleman to boot.
Walter Reade operated the DeMille until the fire. They were set to move the 70mm print of “That’s Entertainment” over from the Ziegfeld the next day, and I think they may have ads listing it as being at the DeMille in 70mm. The fire resulted in the theatre closing, and Walter Reade never reopened it. The circuit was having financial difficulties at the time. At the time I started working as a relief projectionist at the Ziegfeld during the “Close Encounters” run they were in bankruptcy, so that may have been a factor in pulling out of a theatre that would have been costly to heat and cool and maintain like the DeMille.
I worked at the Hillcrest Theatre as a relief projectionist in the late ‘60’s/early '70’s before coming to New York. The theatre opened in the Hillcrest Shopping Center in the Summer of 1967, just a week or so before the Meadowview in Kankakee opened. I was the first projectionist at the Meadowview and it was my full time job unitl I came here, but Leo O'Connor, who was the Joliet business agent and full time projectionist at the Hillcrest would frequently use me in several of his theatres. The Hillcrest was operated by ABC/Plitt theatres when it opened, and its competition was L & M in the downtown theatres including the Rialto. In Kankakee the situation was just reversed with Plitt operating the Paramount downtown and L & M the Luna downtown and the Meadowview in the Meadowview Shopping Center. I don’t know about the Hillcrest being haunted, but it did have some quirks. When the booth exhaust fan was on a vacuum would develop which was strong enough to cause the lobby doors to open if the booth door was opened. That could lead to the booth getting extremely hot, even in Winter. Both the Hillcrest and the Meadowview were the first new theatres to be opened in their respective cities in years, and their operating companies shared a (now illegal) policy of splitting product which guarenteed a pretty even split in playing the top films. I find it ironic that a theatre which created such excitement when it opened has already ceased to exist, while the Rialto, which was getting pretty run down in the '70’s has been restored to its former glory.
I like to think of it as the DeMille since it was a big deal when they changed the name, and it was during that period that it ran its big roadshows. I’m not sure about the DVD version of “Psycho” but I have the Special Edition on Laserdisc, and you can see the DeMille marquee which covered the whole entrance (before the donut shop and other shops were cut into the lobby). There’s also “No one admitted after the start of the film” promo which features the theatre. I have seen shots of the Mayfair that included that huge wraparound billboard which is now segmented. They didn’t need a large marquee with that sign with special displays for each attraction. The only routinely bigger one was the block long display that stretched between the Astor and Victoria on Broadway. That wraparound display gave the theatre as much presence as any of the theatres in the area even though it was on 7th and not Broadway.
Look on the bright side — the plans to make it a porn house with live (who would want to see dead?) strippers never materialized. One of the most beautiful restorations I’ve ever seen is of the Rapp and Rapp Orpheum in Galesburg, Illinois. I spend time there every summer researching its history and I think its ironic that it started with a live symphony orchestra and is now home to the Central Illinois symphony so its come full circle, but at one point it did run porn. So did the Art in Champaign, Illinois after a run as one the most successful art and foreign film theatres in the country. Now its been restored as a major venue for the city by a private investor. Those changes in policy at least kept the theatres from being bulldozed. Hopefully, the fact that the Embassy 2-3-4 hasn’t been torn down yet may help it to survive long enough for someone to find an appropriate and profitable use for it.