Showing 251 - 275 of 295 comments
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.
While I was Head Projectionist at Radio City, like most projectionists in those days, I would also work other jobs when I had the time. In a number of cases, I think the Union sent me on jobs where there had been a problem with a relief projectionist and the Union would send in “the Head Projectionist at Radio City” as a peace offering. Thus I ended up working in a number of Peter Elson houses in Manhattan. At one point he requested me for all relief assginments in all of his theatres. Thus I worked the Forum (which was co-operated by Elson and B.S. Moss at the time), the original Embassy and the Embassy 2-3-4. In reference to the Embassy 2-3-4, it was the flagship house of the Walter Reade chain when they operated it. Porter Faulkner might be better at describing the archictural detail than I, but it was quite ornate, and a major Broadway showcase. The ornamentation inside matched the style on the outside above the first floor. “Psycho” premiered there, and I believe it was the Broadway house that premiered “Spartacus” in its roadshow 70mm run. I remember that because it was the first house in the U.S. to use Cinemeccanica X 70mm projectors and the man who ran the company that imported them was instrumental in getting me out of broadcasting and into projection. Those machines were still there and operating when I worked there in the late ‘70’s. It was also the house that ran the Russian “War and Peace” in two four hour segments. I’m sure Warren could supply a list of some of the big attractions that played there and Michael Coate undoubtedly has a list of the 70mm roadshow attractions. When the Ziegfeld opened Reade had his office there, and it replaced the Embassy 2-3-4 (the DeMille in those days) as the Reade flagship house. When I started working as a relief operator at the Ziegfeld the company was in bankruptcy so that might have played a role in pulling out of the larger venue. Sheldon Gunsberg headed up Reade in those days and was probably the last of the really nice knowledgable theatre operators in the city. At some point I should ask his daughter about what happened with the DeMille as she worked for Reade handling special events at the time the DeMille was closed. She would be a great resource about the theatre’s history in the Reade days since she would have been very close to the decisions made about it. I might quibble about the statement that the volume downstairs was loud to mask the sound from the upstairs theatres. Those theatres’ walls really were pretty well built, and they only had small mono sound systems. In fact one of the speakers was hand built at Radio City. Some members of the sound crew at Radio City were experimenting with building a small theatre speaker to compete with the Altec A-7, and my friend who was doing the projection work in the triplex came up one speaker short when they were triplexing the place and asked the head of the sound department at Radio City, who he worked with on outside projects if he could help him out. Thus one of the “experimental” speakers got moved over to the balcony house at the Embassy. If the downstairs volume was too loud it was probably beacuse the staff wasn’t paying attention, and as I’ve mentioned the booth crew pretty much stayed in the booth because of the arduous climb and really had no way of knowing how loud the sound was in the downstairs house other than by communicating with the staff. As a relief operator I didn’t have to carry film up to the booth, and I doubt that the projectionists did in those days either. The union had a rule about not carrying film to the booth to protect the older operators, since most theatre had ushers or other younger staff members more able to make the trek. Since the Reade DeMille was a Broadway house, most of the projectionists were those who had seniority or were requested, and probably would have gone into cardiac arrest if they had to carry film up that far. (They did have the use of the elevator in the office portion of the building for a time, and that would have gotten the film up to one level below the booth, and I suppose they could have dropped a line down the fire ladder and hoisted the film up that way, I’m not sure which would have been harder!) I don’t remember whether the the paint job was black or dark blue, but I do remember the house being lit in gold light (much like Radio City) when I saw “Fisherman” there. The booth light board was taken out when they triplexed the house, but it did run pretty much across the width of the booth at one end, and had quite a few dimmers, so the house lighting was really attractive.
Porter Faulkner: The fire was set (one rumor was that it was by a disgruntled projectionist) probably in the back of the balcony (that’s where I remember the smoke damage when I was in the house when it was the single screen dollar house and during the triplexing.) One of the men on my crew at Radio City was working there as a relief projectionist at the time, and said that they had stayed to convert the three projectors over to 70mm since they were going to start the move-over run of “That’s Entertainment” from the Ziegfeld the next day. There was enough smoke and soot to cause the theatre to close, and that was when Walter Reade walked away from it. Perhaps their lease was up and they realized the difficulty of keeping a venue of that size going. The damage (at least what I could see) didn’t appear to be great, although the north end of the back of the balcony was smoked when the house reopened as a low-price theatre. The projectionist’s union gave them a reduced rate with the caveat that the balcony remain closed, thus reducing the seating capacity to match the lower booth cost. There were people in the balcony when I was there, but I suspect they just wanted to sit there and snuck up, the house certainly wasn’t full.
I was in the house once when it was run by Walter Reade and was their showcase house. I was still living in the Midwest and came up from a technical conference in Washington D.C. to spend the weekend in New York. “Shoes of the Fisherman” had just opened and was running roadshow in 70mm. Reade even had a VIP section in one corner of the orchestra completely walled off from the rest of the seating area which had its own speakers and which may have been vented to allow smoking. At intermission I also went up to the booth. As you have pointed out, there was no stage presentation (or much of a stage) and the house lighting and stage lighting board was in the booth (as it was at the Criterion in its one screen days.) Thus there were two projectionists and a stagehand since the lighting was under the jurisdiction of Local #1. The theatre was really beautiful in those days.
The reason I didn’t go into the orchestra when I worked there was that when I came in I headed directly up to the booth. As I mentioned that is a very large climb, and once I got there I stayed there, although I did go into one of the balcony auditoriums to see what Wharhol’s “Frankenstein” looked like in 3-D (quite bad as it turned out). You don’t see a lot of the auditorium from the booth — the projection and viewing ports are cut into the decorative molding you noticed around the top of the theatre, and it curve out and down, so it looks like you’re watching the screen through a tunnel even when they were running 70. One thing Elson did do was to keep the curtain in the downstairs house, and it had to be closed and opened at end and start of every show. If Wednesday White Man gets the house and lowers those hanging speakers and if the lines they are anchored by are anchored by are tied to building steel above the auditorium ceiling he’ll have the lines for a good sized lighting truss for his shows. Let’s hope someone can the place open again — there aren’t many spaces like that left in New York these days.
Porter Faulkner: I think it must have been the Columbia that Ben Olevsky was talking about when he said the auditorium was reversed. Before he was Head Projectionist at the Hall he worked in a lot of other theatres in the city so may have actually worked at the Columbia. The idea of it being gutted and revised is what I was asking about in the above post. Was the office building wrapped around it as it is now and were the original auditorium walls retained in the construction? I was in and out of the theatre a number of times during the triplexing, but when I worked there I don’t remember ever going into the downstairs auditorium and only saw it from the booth. I do remember the architectural details remaining the same during the triplexing. I was also in the theatre a couple of times in between the time Walter Reade operated it and the time it became the Mark 1-2-3 when it was operated as an impossibly cheap dollar house. At that time the smoke damage from the fire was still evident in the balcony. Another feature from its roadshow days that was still there was a set of five huge Altec A4 speaker systems hung above the proscenium. They were installed when the “Concert for Bangledesh” was played in 70mm and the producers wanted better sound coverage in the upper balcony area for the filmed rock concert. Apparently it was considered too much trouble or too expensive to get them down since they were still hanging up there when I worked there. Its possible the black or dark blue paint was put on to cover the smoke damage up. I doubt that Peter had any plans to add another screen. I think it was his first multiple screen theatre and he only inherited it when the plans for the porno/striptease venue fell through. It would certainly be great to see it restored and put to theatrical use again.
I’ve always wondered about Ben’s story of the auditorium being reversed as well, but apparently the plans the contractor came up with supported that idea. Perhaps Warren could tell us if the Mayfair did stage presentations, or was strictly a film house. If you look at the front of the building on the 7th Avenue side, the first set of windows above the arches over the marquee are the current booth windows. That’s several floors up, so they could have had a good sized screen at that end, and if they weren’t doing stage shows could have used a travelling title curtain which wouldn’t have required a stage house and fly foor or grid. At some point they may have revised the house to accomodate stage presentations. The stage area as it now exists isn’t very deep. The projectionist’s union office looked down on the building for a time, and seen from there the offices are wrapped around the auditorium. At one point the city wouldn’t allow a structure to be built over an auditorium for safety reasons, so the Mayfair auditorium space is clearly visible from above. Warren, any clues from your material to indicate a significant remodeling at some point under the various management of the theatre?
There would have been some problems with constructing a booth downstairs. The balcony is very deep and might have limited the height of the picture on screen. In addition, there was a runway put in the center of the house for the strippers, so additional seating would have been sacrificed. There might also have been a requirement for another projection crew downstairs as the State and the former Strand had. (This was the first house in New York to use Pott’s platters rather than Christie — the concept was still pretty new.) As a practical note: Short of climbing from the orchestra of the Music Hall to the booth (the Hall has an elevator to that level), the booth in the DeMille requires the most arduous cllimb of any booth I’ve worked in. The balcony is very steep, and even when you get to the top lobby level, there are another set of stairs going up to get to the booth (you can see the booth windows from 7th Avenue and get an idea of the climb). At one point the projectionists could go into the office building entrance on the street side of the building and take the office elevator to a level just below the booth, then enter a closet and climb the emergency booth exit ladder up one flight to the booth. Eventually the office building management rescinded that courtesy and the crew had to climb up from the street level entrance. Once you got up there you didn’t want to leave until your shift was over!
The Mayfair/DeMille/Embassy 2-3-4 entrance may well have changed from the side street to 7th Avenue. A friend of mine did the projection installation when they triplexed the theatre, and I worked a number of relief shifts there when Peter Elson had it. Ben Olevsky at the Music Hall told me once that at one time the auditorium was exactly reversed from the way it is now, with the stage and screen at the 7th Avenue end. I mentioned this to the contractor when it was being triplexed and he said, “That explains it.” Apparently none of the architctural drawings they could find made any sense because they were from the earlier (Mayfair?) era. A couple of other notes: Originally the triplex was to be a porno/strip tease house, and at one point construction had gotten far enough that there was a runway down the center of the orchestra and dressing rooms for the girls had been constructed backstage. Then the city said “no more porno houses in Times Square”, and the theatres went to conventional fare. The balcony actually has two walls added for the triplex, with a “light tunnel” in between them so the #2 projector continued to shoot down to the screen as it had in the DeMille. The other two machines were moved left and right to former spot/lighting ports for the upstairs houses. Unfortunately the tunnel limited the width of the downstairs screen, but no one saw this as a problem since porno is not usually wider than 1.85 or 1.37. When they started running regular fare, Peter wanted to run 70mm since all of the projectors could. What they couldn’t do was run it wider than the l.85 image because of the narrownes of the tunnel between the upstairs houses. Had the upstairs walls been put a little farther apart or the screen moved back toward the rear of the house a little more the image in the orchestra could have been the same as in the DeMille roadshow days.
The Trans Lux New York Experience was located on the lower level of the McGraw-Hill Building on 6th Avenue a couple of blocks south of the Music Hall. I worked there as a relief projectionist for several years. Since it was close to my home base at the Music Hall I could actually go underground through the Rockefeller Center concourse from the Experience to the Hall and back. The theatre had a longer run than the Seaport Experience, opening before 1974 when I started at the Hall. After closing, the space became a theatre for Chinese arts and performances, and may be unused now.
One of my big disappointments was that Gance couldn’t make it to New York. Bob Harris had suggested that he would have Gance autograph a “Napoleon” poster for me and that would have certainly been one of the highlights of my career. Bob walked out on stage after the second night’s screening with a phone. Gance’s nurse woke him up so he could hear the applause. It was certainly one of the most memorable moments I had at the Hall.
Michael, “Napoleon” was never done in 70mm at the Hall in the time I was there. There were a lot of press items that were simply wrong because they didn’t understand the process. I saw Larry Shaw of Boston Light & Sound who supplied the interlocking equipment yesterday, and we discussed “Napoleon”. Larry remembered bringing in the three 30' fast folds for the second showing of the film we did. And as I mentioned above, we did one set of screenings with the above mentioned Milan Orchestra on 35mm mag film interlocked to the 35mm print. I talked to Bob Harris about the Cinerama Dome’s presentation, and the triptych could have been in 70mm there. Check with Bob or Larry or Chapin Cutler at B.L. & S. for details, as they did the “Napoleon” screenings in the States and in Italy (the British screenings used a score by Carl Davis and were done somewhat differently with all of the projectors running at “silent” speed). I was Head Projectionist at the Hall for all of the screenings we did of “Napoleon”, and was in the booth for every one of them. It may have run somewhere else in N.Y. with a 70mm triptych at some point that I wasn’t aware of, and again Bob Harris will have the details. I have some great photos that Chapin’s wife took during the second run we did of the film which include a shot of the booth from the orchestra during the triptych with light coming from all three projector ports and another of the picture on the 90' screen. Perhpas some day they can be posted on this site.