Astor Theatre

1531 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036

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Showing 276 - 300 of 320 comments

mlobel
mlobel on July 12, 2005 at 12:34 pm

As an art historian, I’m duly impressed by all the knowledge and insight evident in the postings on this site. So I’m turning to all of you to see if I can get some help with my current research. I’m currently working on a book on the Pop artist James Rosenquist; some of you may know that Rosenquist was a billboard painter in New York City in the 1950s. My sense is that he worked on some of the major Times Square billboards; I’ve seen a photograph of one he did for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which a caption indicates was done in 1957 at 49th St. and Broadway (any guesses as to which theatre that was?). In any case, I’m particularly interested in a 1959 painting by Rosenquist titled “Astor Victoria.” It’s a mostly abstract canvas of paintstrokes and hatchmark with some fragmentary letters – probably supposed to represent a close-up view of a billboard. But after reading the posts on this site I’m struck by the timing of the painting, since the posts indicate that the Astor Theatre was modernized in 1959. So, my questions: 1) Was there an “Astor Victoria” theatre, or are those two entirely separate theatres? 2) Depending on the answer to #1, could “Astor Victoria” refer to the billboard shared between the two theatres, which I’m assuming would have been on B'way between 45th & 46th? If so, when was that enlarged billboard first used? 3) Did the 1959 modernization of the interior of the Astor theatre also affect the exterior in any way? I’m asking these questions because I think Rosenquist was concerned with the modernization of NYC and the destruction of its architectural past, and this may be registered in his paintings of the time. (He also painted a 1962 painting entitled “Mayfair,” which I’m also thinking referred to the Mayfair theatre; hadn’t this been recently modernized as well?) Sorry for the long post – any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated. You can also e-mail me at if that’s easier for you. Many thanks! -Michael Lobel, Assistant Professor, SUNY Purchase

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on June 21, 2005 at 7:14 pm

In July, 1962, the Astor was the first of the major Broadway first-run theatres to participate in a “Premiere Showcase” engagement, where the movie opened simultaneously in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and Westchester County. The movie was UA’s “Birdman of Alcatraz,” with Burt Lancaster. In Manhattan, the film also opened at the Trans-Lux 85th Street. The other theatres were the Kingsway, Brooklyn; Luxor, Bronx; Meadows, Queens; Green Acres, Valley Stream; the Plainview, Plainview; the Huntington, Huntington; Colony, White Plains; Brandt’s Yonkers, Yonkers; and the Starlite Drive-In, Croton-on-Hudson. In its first five days, “Birdman of Alcatraz” grossed $193,577. This was only the second “Premiere Showcase” booking, preceded by UA’s “Road to Hong Kong,” which grossed $135,001 in its first five days but with 13 theatres instead of the 11 for “Birdman.”

RobertR
RobertR on June 11, 2005 at 6:46 pm

August 1941 the Astor was playing the MGM hit “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman.

CelluloidHero2
CelluloidHero2 on June 8, 2005 at 3:20 am

The just released 2 disc DVD of East of Eden contains a 15 minute TV special of the World Premiere at the Astor Theater. You see some nice views of Time Square and the Astor Marquee. However, what is really nice is that about 9 minutes into the show they switch to inside the theater where you see some great views of the auditorium as the cameraman scans back and forth across the theater.

RobertR
RobertR on June 7, 2005 at 2:32 pm

A NY Times ad for 10/5/52 shows the Astor playing Warner Bros. “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima” in its 7th spectacular week.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on May 13, 2005 at 4:07 pm

I saw that film on CUNY, too. Fascinating look at New York, in startling color.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on May 13, 2005 at 3:34 pm

Last night in NYC on “Classic Arts Showcase” on the CUNY-TV channel, I saw a most extraordinary film clip— in color!— showing the exteriors of most of the Broadway-Times Square movie theatres in 1943. It was apparently part of a non-theatrical short made by Don Kelly under the title of “The Magic City” or “A Look at Manhattan.” The credits went by so fast that I couldn’t read them all. I’m posting about it here because the Astor was among those shown, with MGM’s “The Human Comedy” as the current attraction. The adjacent Gaiety was then known as the Laffmovie, with a marquee that had only the electrified name on all sides, apparently to save the expense of changing attraction boards for its frequent changes of program. Also shown were two different views of stage shows, probably taken in the Roxy and/or RCMH. Both were of a line of chorus girls dancing. I wonder if it’s possible to buy a copy of this film? I did a search on the Internet, but couldn’t find anything. The Broadway-Times Square sequence was preceded by one filmed in Central Park, and was followed by scenes of Wall Street.

RobertR
RobertR on April 19, 2005 at 3:03 am

Here is the Astor again in 1948.

View link

RobertR
RobertR on April 19, 2005 at 2:38 am

Check out the neon on the Astor and Victoria, you will never see the likes of it again.

View link

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on April 13, 2005 at 7:12 pm

What an incredible year, that 1939!

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on April 13, 2005 at 5:59 pm

When “Gone With the Wind” had its first NYC public showings at the Astor & Capitol on December 20, 1939, this was some of the midtown competition: “Balalaika” and Christmas stage show, at Radio City Music Hall; “Everything Happens at Night” and stage show, Roxy; “Gulliver’s Travels” and stage show, Paramount; “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” and stage show, Strand; “Destry Rides Again,” Rivoli; “The Cat and The Canary” (second-run ) and vaudeville, Loew’s State; “Nick Carter, Private Detective” (last day) and advance showings of the next day’s opener, “Reno,” Loew’s Criterion; the second-run “Roaring Twenties” & “The Honeymoon’s Over,” RKO Palace. That night, the New Belmont Theatre on West 48th Street hosted the American premiere of the French import, “Last Desire” (Raimu, Jacqueline Delubac). Other first-run “foreign” films were “Citadel of Silence” (with Annabella) at the Pix, and the Soviet puppet feature, “The Golden Key,” at the Cameo, both on West 42nd Street. The World 49th Street was in its ninth week with “Harvest.”

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on March 14, 2005 at 3:50 pm

In that era, the movies at Loew’s State were usually second-run after opening at the Capitol or Paramount. Vaudeville was the main drawing card, so it made sense to have a star of Eleanor Powell’s calibre as headliner. Among others on the same bill was singer-pianist Frances Faye…In the week beginning January 1, 1942, Loew’s State had the second-run “Smilin' Through,” with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, described as “The Sweethearts of Stage & Screen,” topping the vaudeville program.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on March 14, 2005 at 3:33 pm

So how did a Goldwyn/Wyler film like Wuthering Heights miss the Music Hall and what was Powell at her height as an MGM star doing headlining a vaudeville bill for a second run feature at the State?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on March 14, 2005 at 2:54 pm

I was reading the NYT for April 30, 1939, the opening day of the New York World’s Fair. At that time, the Astor was in its 22nd week with MGM’s British-made “Pygmalion.” Among the other midtown bookings were “Dark Victory” and “Salute to Spring” stage show at RCMH; “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” and stage show headed by Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians at the Strand; “Man of Conquest” at the Capitol; “Wuthering Heights” at the Rivoli; “The Lady’s From Kentucky” with stage show headed by Henry Busse & Band, Lanny Ross, and Billy Gilbert, at the Paramount; “The Return of the Cisco Kid” and stage show at the Roxy; “Blondie Meets the Boss” at Loew’s Criterion; and the second-run “Ice Follies of 1939” at Loew’s State, with Eleanor Powell topping the vaudeville bill. At the Roxy, the adult admission was 25 cents until 1PM “every day, any seat.” Tickets for children under 12 were 15 cents at all times.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on January 26, 2005 at 3:54 pm

Does anybody remember like me that when they were tearing down the marquee one saw that underneath was the curved frame of the marquee that one sees in photos of the exterior of the theater from the early 30s? Who would have thought that it still existed for 50 years hidden away.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on January 26, 2005 at 3:36 pm

Warren— whew! that’s quite a tale of the thuggish ‘30s. I remember the '37-'59 decor of the Astor as being curtained-over with pale blue draperies. The entire proscenium was covered by them, and they extended over the tapered area where box-seats had been (the boxes had been removed). There are photos of the pre-'37 Astor in Nicholas von Hoogstraden’s book about theater architecture, no? The wide screen that the Astor installed in '53 was much too big for the theater— so big that an annoying shutter flicker spoiled every film I saw there from then until “On the Beach.” (A few weeks ago I vowed not to name films on this page, but now that I’ve broken my own rule I’ll mention Rita Hayworth in “Separate Tables” and Katherine Hepburn in “The Rainmaker."among thosepresentations.) Thanks for this incursion into the Astor’s history.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on January 26, 2005 at 3:27 pm

I remember those blue sidewalks! Except when I saw them, they were the floor of a souvenir shop. By the time I got to Times Square the Astor was closed, although I knew that the shop had once been a theater, or at least its lobby. I wish I had the wherewithal to try to get a peek inside, but I didn’t.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on January 26, 2005 at 3:19 pm

I don’t know when pioneer exhibitor Walter Reade became owner of the Astor, but he lost it in May, 1935, when he defaulted on his mortgage payments and the theatre became the property of City Investing Company, which went on to own it for many decades but leased it to various operators. Within hours of Reade vacating the premises, the Astor’s interior was invaded by vandals who caused $50,000 in damages, ripping all the seats from the floors, destroying the screen, spraying all the walls with the theatre’s fire extinguishers, etcetera. Walter Reade was arrested for allegedly masterminding the attack, but he was released on $5,000 bail and was eventually acquited of the charge. City Investing repaired the damage and leased the Astor to a syndicate headed by Joseph Plunkett, which re-opened the theatre on August 21, 1935, with the premiere engagement of DeMille’s “The Crusades.” In October, 1937, a new management company (reportedly jointly owned by the Loew’s and United Artists circuits) took over the lease, closed the Astor for a month of refurbishing, and re-opened on November 9 with Samuel Goldwyn’s “The Hurricane.” This version of the Astor apparently remained until 1959, when it underwent a total renovation at the cost of $800,000 under the supervision of architect John J. McNamara, who had done the recent modernization of Loew’s State just across Broadway from the Astor. The costs were shared 50-50 by City Investing, which still owned the theatre, and United Artists Corporation, which ran it. The revamped Astor opened December 17th, 1959, with Stanley Kramer’s “On the Beach.” Among its most striking features was a blue terrazo sidewalk, which started at the curb with Broadway and extended through the entrance doors and became the floor of the first lobby. The sidewalls of the new auditiorium were graced by two huge abstract murals by Buffie Johnson entitled “New York Summer Nights,” which the artist painted in her studio in 224 sections and then assembled in the theatre.

RCMH
RCMH on January 6, 2005 at 8:02 pm

Many Tony Awards presentations where held at the old Astor Hotel Ballroom. For many years, the Broadway Ballroom at the Marquis hosted the post-Tony Awards banquet.

RCMH
RCMH on January 6, 2005 at 8:00 pm

The ballroom at the Astor Hotel was world-famous, but management at the Marquis in 1985 didn’t want to name one of the rooms after another hotel, even if that hotel was no longer there. The same reson there is not a room named after the Piccadilly Hotel that stood between the Music Box & the Morosco. They equated Times Square with theaters, not other hotels.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on January 5, 2005 at 4:41 pm

I don’t think so. The Astor Hotel’s ballroom was world-famous. Many major social events were held there over the decades.

RCMH
RCMH on January 5, 2005 at 3:20 pm

The Astor Plaza Building was already named for the hotel. The powers that be at the time decided to name the ballroom after the theatre.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on January 4, 2005 at 3:50 pm

Isn’t the Astor Ballroom named for the Astor Hotel, which is far more famous and legendary than the Astor Theatre? The latter was so-named because of its proximity to the hotel, which occupied the entire blockfront on Broadway between 44th & 45th Streets.

RCMH
RCMH on January 4, 2005 at 5:48 am

Warren & Mikeoaklandpark â€" Thank you for taking the time to actually read my inquiry. Sorry it took so long to get back to you. I will have a base as to where to look up the information that I am interested in. Mike, you certainly went out of your way to include a list, which is most appreciated, but you didn’t really have to do that. I am more than willing to do the research myself.

I am brainstorming with some other associates, who also have an interest in the history of Times Square, on ways to enhance the character of the building, which is finishing up a major renovation. The meeting rooms are named for Broadway theaters, playwrights and various areas of the city. The Astor Ballroom is the only one named for an old Broadway movie theatre. (After it did time as a legit house.) This is an in-house project that Marriott International (there is no Marriott Corporation), is not involved in. (Much the same as in-house projects I did when was managing for General Cinema.)

FYI, the loss of the Astor, Victoria, Helen Hayes, Morosco & Bijou Theaters is attributed to John Portman & Associates, not Marriott. Portman developed, designed and built the hotel and hired Marriott to manage the building. (The Nederlanders operate the Marquis Theater.) Host Marriott later bought the hotel from Portman, at which time it started, with The New York Times and others, the Times Square Business Improvement District. (Now know as the Times Square Alliance.)

By the way BoxOfficeBill, everyone on this site should know that Deborah Kerr, who had to wait until 1993 to get a Life Achievement Award from the Academy, was the star of BLACK NARCISSUS.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on January 3, 2005 at 5:08 pm

And to add some bad taste it seems that the Marriott’s grand atrium makes a perfect place for suicides. Could they be architectural students?