Radio City Music Hall

1260 6th Avenue,
New York, NY 10020

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Vito
Vito on September 2, 2004 at 12:28 pm

Vincent, I never saw any magnetic prints of “North By Northwest”
I played the film a couple of times and the prints were always
optical (mono).By 1959 the mag stereo prints had begun to get scarce.
Only the 35mm versions of 70mm roadshow pictures were coming thru in mag sound. In adition since “North By Nothwest” was filmed in VistaVision and shown as a reduction print, I don’t think it had stereo sound. Most VistaVision pictures were released mono with some Prespecta prints around. I also saw “Singin in the Rain” which was re-mixed in stereo and it didn’t sound to bad, The worst offender of the re-mixed tracks had to be the re-release of “Gone with the Wind”. What a disaster,especially the 70mm vesion. the surround track would simply go and and off, and since there was no real separation, just playing different parts of the dialogue and sound thru the surround speakers, well, it was awful The four track mag prints were of course just as bad. But it looked better in 35mm,
the 70mm prints looked all out of porportion. Lastly “Scrooge”,
I believe played RCMH in 70mm, hense the great sound.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 2, 2004 at 11:02 am

Silk Stockings contains some of Astaires and Charisse’s best dancing so to have seen that at the Music Hall in cinemascope and stereo-well it must have been great.
Does anybody know if North by Northwest played there in stereo?
Concerning sound, when I saw Singin in the Rain there in ‘75 they utilizzed some sort of fake stereo and while I usually hate that sort of thing it was beautifully done. Those wonderful MGM arrangements came through with such clarity and impact and the movie has never sounded as good since.
I also remember the sound for the musical numbers of Scrooge being very good especially in the finale scene where one had a sense of surround sound as the various musical factions converged(this is what I believe happened as I haven’t seen the film since '70.)

Vito
Vito on September 2, 2004 at 10:18 am

Well said vincent, I felt same way about the Roxy and Paramount, I went not only for the movie but sometimes just to melt away in the grandeur of it all, and in the 40s and 50s with very little air conditioning anywhere else, it was a great place to beat the heat.
As for RCNH and stereo sound, from 1954 till about 1960 most of the product from MGM and all of the product from FOX was available in four track magnetic sound.I believe all those MGM pictures, as well as some from Columbia, played the hall were in four track. The seperation did get lost at RCMH but there was no dening the quality of the sound. However, one had to sit in one of the mezzanines to notice the surrounds, which in the days before Dolby, were located in the ceiling. I believe RCMH management resisted placing surround speaker boxes all over the hall when 70mmm was installed, but when Dolby Digital came along surround speakers with gold covered speaker fabric popped up all the place, this of course, as ugly as they are, intensified the surround experience. Oh and yes Bill, I too remember “Today to get the people to attend the picture show” the great sterophonic sound song and dance number from “Silk Stockings”

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 2, 2004 at 10:16 am

As so many of you are interested in the various widescreen processes, the projection ratios, the flat and curved screen, and what wide screen films premiered where, how, why and when, may I suggest you go to Widescreenmuseum.com. or widescreenmuseumlobby.com. It’s a great site and one that you will undoubtedly go and stay until someone sends a posse out to look for you.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 2, 2004 at 9:24 am

I do remember those films playing at the Hall however at that point I had seen so many bad movies there that I couldn’t stomach any more. It was just one dog(or kangaroo) after another. There was an Easter movie called Mr. Billion that they had to pull after a couple of weeks and stick in a Disney film about mining ponies which I think I saw a part of. I also took no pleasure in the minimalist stage shows which took place on a bare stage containing only a few people. They themselves looked pretty embarassed.
The only nice thing was that for the price of a movie ticket you could actually enter the place and spend some time there.

EMarkisch
EMarkisch on September 2, 2004 at 8:35 am

I too remember seeing “Magic of Lassie” at RCMH with Lassie on stage.
However, it was more memorable for one of the last big screen appearances of the late, great Alice Faye as the waitress in the diner.
I also remember “Matilda” What a super dud that was. They really scrapped the bottom of the barrel on that one.

RobertR
RobertR on September 2, 2004 at 8:13 am

Vincent
I am also reminded of another total dog I saw at RCMH, do you remember “Matilda-the Boxing Kangaroo” with Eliot Gould? I could not believe the music hall playing an AIP picture. At the same time was the Film Vincent Minnelli did for Liza and Ingrid Bergman called “A Matter of Time”. AIP may have also released that. In spite of it all seeing even bad films there was still special. One of my happiest memories was seeing “Magic of Lassie” which I mentioned in an earlier post. Although I was already a teen it was still a kick seeing Lassie on stage in the stage show.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on September 2, 2004 at 7:38 am

I remember some stereo effect with RCMH’s first CinemaScope fims, viz. “Knights of the Round Table,” and with others as well, notably the “Glorious Technicolor, Breathtaking CinemaScope, and StereoPhonic Sound” number in “Silk Stockings.” But the device never seemed to me as, um, pronounced as it did at other theaters, chiefly and memorably at the Roxy. Perhaps the auditorium’s vastness at RCMH diffused the sound? In all honesty, too, I remember a distracting echoic effect at RCMH, particularly when the house was less than full, as at the 10:30 am showings that my parents took me to as a kid. I hate to complain about the facilities at RCMH, because their grandeur certainly more than compensated for their recognizable failings. But sometimes other theaters worked as better venues for certain presentations. For “White Christmas,” I recall a wider frame (at 1.85 rather than the usual 1.66 that RCMH used for conventional projection) but still its flat screen, with the same for later VistaVision that I saw there, principally “High Society” and the fabulous “North-by-Northwest.” (I remember viewing the last one as a teen, from the third balcony where my friends and I could smoke cigarettes and anticipate going for a beer afterwards—NYC in those days!) As for VistaVision at the Capitol, I recall no special bally-hoo about it, and certainly no vast curvilinear screen as at the Paramount and Criterion.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 2, 2004 at 6:24 am

When I saw 7 Brides at the Music Hall in the late 70’s the cinemascope screen seemed wider than any panavision or 70MM film I had ever seen there(and no seams.) It was great except for the Ansco color. Could I have been mistaken?
Also weren’t the MGM musicals such as Brigadoon at this point in ‘54 presented in stereo at the Hall?

Vito
Vito on September 2, 2004 at 4:00 am

Do any of you very knowledgeable gentlemen know if the Capital projected Vertigo in VistaVision? I can recall RCMH and the Paramount having VistaVision projection, what about the Capital.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on September 1, 2004 at 5:20 pm

I hate to post-script my contribution, but I do want to register my crabby memory that in the early ‘50s the screen at RCMH had an annoying distraction: you could see the lines where its panels had been sewn together. I know that the much-E-Bayed Souvenir Pictorial of that time proclaims a totally seamless screen. But the truth was otherwise. The CinemaScope screen consisted of seven panels (each 4’ wide) sewn together horizontally, unlike the panels at other theaters that were joined vertically with less noticeable sutures. For its regular wide-screen format, the masking rose to reveal an eighth horizontal panel, even as the side maskings closed in for a 1.66 ratio (RCMH seemed always to have had a narrower ratio than other theaters, even when the format was 1.33â€"an optical illusion perhaps?). In any case, the black lines crossing the screen were maddeningly annoying. Every kid in the theater noticed it and would draw attention to it. Parents would shh us and tell us not to spoil the show. But the sutures remained. At some point in 1956, around the run of “Friendly Persuasion” if I remember correctly, RCMH finally installed a truly seamless screen, or so it seemed. Or maybe because I was older and perhaps going blind from teenage activities, I didn’t see the familiar old lines so acutely. To me in the early ‘50s, the most impressive wide-screen was at the Capitol. Gently curved and with barely perceptible seams, it was proportioned at 1.85 and it covered nearly the entire proscenium. It awed me in August ’53 at “From Here to Eternity” (with stereophonic sound, too, which RCMH did not offer until much later). Later the Capitol reduced the size of its wide-screen somewhat (in truth, its larger size probably invited graininess), but still used its flawless facilities for such films as “War and Peace,” “The Pride and the Passion,” “Vertigo,” and others of that era.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on September 1, 2004 at 3:58 pm

SimonL— Thanks for the notes about the program fillers in the ‘40s-'50s. They concur exactly with my memories. The Rivoli named its expanded screen “the Cycloramic screen.” I describe its use in this site’s listing for the Rivoli. Aside from the Destruction of the Temple in “Samson and Delilah” (December '49), I did not see it used again at that theater. In Summer '53, the Rivoli (like every other NYC house) installed its all-purpose CinemaScope screen, which it used until converting to Todd-AO in October '55. In my movie-going experience, RHMH used its Magnascope screen for the scenes described above, as well as for the sea storm sequence in “Plymouth Adventure” and the Busby Berkeley aquatic scene in “Million Dollar Mermaid,” in November and December '52 respectively. My parents told me that RCMH used it for the horserace scene in “National Velvet” as well. The Rivoli’s Cycloramic screen raised my seven-year-old consciousness to delerious heights, so whenever I saw it at RCMH, I snapped to attention. I expected that the theater would have used it for all its “big” pictures, and was chagrined when it didn’t. Except for the Esther Williams splasher, I recall it for no other MGM musical, including “The Great Caruso,” “Show Boat,” “An American in Paris,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” and a bunch of others that I saw there (the latter-day “That’s Entertainment” of course deployed the device for excepts from these films). I can still taste my disappointment when RCMH withheld it from scenes in such spectaculars as “Kim,” “Scaramouche,” and “Ivanhoe.” (You may gather correctly that I was a pint-sized nut about that projection device.) There would have been no concern about cropping, since the Magnascope screen was framed in the standard 1.33 ratio. With “Shane” in May ‘53, RCMH used it (now named “the Panoramic Screen” and still at 1.33 ratio) for the entire picture, in lieu of installing a new curved screen, and continued to do so until introducing its properly proportioned all-purpose screen the following December, in anticipation of CinemaScope. There’s a swell picture of the latter in the journal “Theatre Catalogue” (1954-55). I know of no other first-run B'way theaters that used Magnascope in the late '40s-'50s, or at least I saw none other used there or then. The Roxy, a candidate, did not, because it projected its films onto a black-bordered sheet hanging in front of voluminous, dimly-lit lavender curtains. For a picture of the remodeled (but still old-screen) Roxy in December '52, with its then shamefully draped proscenium, see the above mentioned “Theatre Catalogue” (1952-53).

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 1, 2004 at 3:26 pm

I worked as a front lobby doorman at the Music Hall during The Blue Bird.The only patrons the Music Hall had in the evening by this time were high school spring trips to New York. After sightseeing during the day they would come to the Music Hall at night. During this film the patrons would exit the auditorium in droves and hang out in the lobby until the stage show started(I never was able to sit through the entire film myself.)The stage show itself was pretty bad and its amazing the Music Hall was still able to limp along for another year or two as the only people going there were the few desperate tourists still going to New York in the latter 70’s. A very sad time which as far as the Music Hall and Rockefeller Center were concerned only got worse(unless of course you like watching basketball games in theaters and like shopping at Banana Republic.)

RobertR
RobertR on September 1, 2004 at 2:30 pm

Look at what we used to get when we went to the movies. A theatre to die for along with a movie, stage show and the organ. We were fortunate to have it until 1979, I dont think any other theatre had this policy after the 1950’s did they?

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 1, 2004 at 2:22 pm

Absolutely. Here’s the deal. The idea was to give patrons approximately 3 hours of entertainment. The stage show portion would run anywhere from 22 minutes (with a 2 hr 30 minute film like “The Greatest Show on Earth,” or “The Nun’s Story,” or “Sayonara.”). If the film was only 75 to 90 minutes or so, as with many of the films during the 1930s, the stage show could run up to an hour. The balance of the screen time would be filled with either The March of Time (18 minutes), the newest Walt Disney cartoon, or one or even two 10 minute shorts, and a newsreel(their own compliation). Sometimes all were included in the program, added or removed during the course of the day, depending on where the management needed to fill or gain time. Only The March of Time or the Disney cartoon would ever get credit in the printed program. The organ breaks would also be used to fill time (to the great joy of the patrons). Sunday morning was the best time for an extended organ concert, as the house opened almost an hour before the feature began, and the organist would often play for a half hour.

RobertR
RobertR on September 1, 2004 at 2:16 pm

I was looking through the programs I saved from RCMH and forgot all about “The Blue Bird”. Does anyone remember that one? Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner. It was billed as the first US-Soviet co-production. George Cukor directed it. I have never seen this film again on tv or video.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on September 1, 2004 at 2:12 pm

To Will: In 1970 I can remember seeing a short subject with “The Out-of-Towners” , and a trailer for the scheduled next attraction at the Music Hall, “Darling Lili”, playing with “Airport” (even though it wasn’t the next attraction. “The Out-of-Towners” was. Don’t know what happened there – maybe “Darling Lili” wasn’t finished on time).

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on September 1, 2004 at 2:00 pm

When RCMH was presenting stage show and feature, were there short subjects and/or trailers?

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 1, 2004 at 1:59 pm

As a regular patron of the Music Hall during the late 1940s and 1950s, (and an usher in the 1950s)and going regularly as a subscriber (reserved seats) with my parents, I have no memory of the screen enlarging for climactic scenes (something that would stand out as special)at any of the films that played there. Yes, the screen enlarged after the credits as when such films as “Shane,” and a few others played there (that didn’t last long), notwithstanding all the wide screen films after “Knights of the Roundtable,” that otherwise made no fuss in presentation over the the film that was shown in wide-screen format. But getting back to the Rivoli, that theater was always at the forefront of presentation. I especially remember “Samson and Delilah” (which played day and date with the Paramount)being shown on some new type of screen (anyone know what that was?,) as well as a special surround sound going back to “Portrait of Jenny.”

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 1, 2004 at 1:57 pm

I thought that Magnascope was simply an enlarged screen. Was there cropping involved? And how much?

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 1, 2004 at 12:47 pm

Box Office Bill on the Rivoli site talks about some of the climactic dramatic moments in film that were shown in Magnascope at the Music Hall. I was wondering if anyone who was going to the Music Hall in the late forties early fities could tell us if the big musical climactic moments were shown that way as well. For example the Varsity Drag from Good News, The American in Paris ballet from same film and the Broadway Melody from Singin In the Rain.

William
William on August 19, 2004 at 9:00 am

The top should read “A MESSAGE to OUR PATRONS” sorry about the typo.

William
William on August 19, 2004 at 8:58 am

The following Message was in the program for the Radio City Music Hall for the date Wednesday Evening April 12th, 1978 from Charles R. Hacker. (Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer)

A MESSAGE TO OUT PATRONS

The curtain went up on Radio city Music Hall on December 27, 1932. Tonight, 45 years later, you will be seeing the very last performance of our traditional stage and film presentation. In the short time since the announcement of the theatre’s closing, thousands of you have written us wonderfully warm letters about what the theatre has meant to you. We do appreciate your sentiments.

During these past 45 years, over 650 films and shows have been presented here. The Music Hall is not only “The Showplace of the Nation” and the greatest theatre in the world, but perhaps it is safe to say it is the greatest theatre in the history of the world. Having played to over 238 million people, it is a showbusiness phenomenon-unique!

So why then must we close? The painful fact is that our costs have been steadily outrunning our income. while we still have thousands of devoted patrons, in the end they were not generating enough revenue—and on the Music Hall’s scale of operation—“not enough” translates into many millions of dollars.

We have persevered as long as we could, and it is a real tribute to you, our audience. And patrons, please permit me to take opportunity to thank the Music Hall’s magnificent staff, past and present, for their dedication, accomplishments and showmanship. I have been very fortunate to have been associated with this fine organization for 30 years.

Thank you—all of you-who have patronized the Radio City Music Hall. Our deepest gratitude for being such a demanding and responsive audience.

Sincerely,
CHARLES R. HACKER
Excutive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer

On this night it was a Variety Club Foundation of New York Benefit Performance. The feature was “Crossed Swords”.

Vito
Vito on August 12, 2004 at 11:39 am

Vincent, my roadshow days were a long time ago, however I remember a few standouts such as, “Sound Of Music” (70mm and 35mm)
“Oliver” (70mm), “Ben Hur” (70mm) “My Fair Lady” (70mm) “Hello Dolly” and Grand Prix (70mm Cinerama) I do remember the last one which was “Fiddler On The Roof” in 35mm with 4 track mag sound.
Prior to the opening, a dress rehersal would be done to check the print and set volume levels as well as timing the lights and curtains for the overture, intermission and exit music. Sometimes as in the case of “Hello Dolly” the studio (fox) attended to put their two cents in. As for becoming a projectionist, in my day you had to pass a written test and then take a practical exam which was given at a theatre in New York, then if you passed both tests you were issued a licence and the business agent would present you to the executive board exactally as outlined by William.

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on August 12, 2004 at 10:19 am

William:

When I lived in England in 1960 the unions had nothing to do with hiring. You applied for a job as projectionist at any theatre you wanted. The pay was not very good though. You began as a rewind boy and moved up to the fourth…then third…..second and after a few years the Chief’s job where the pay was still not particularly good. Most people had to move around to go up the ladder. At the larger theatres at that time there was a rewind boy and two projectionists on each shift. The rewind boy doubled up on the lights at intermission time. At the Odeon Leicester Square in London, you had to have been a chief projectionist for a certain amount of time before you could be hired onto the regular projection staff. You had to know your electrical stuff and your showmanship backwards.
When I moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1961, it was much as you described in the US. I wanted to continue with my part-time projection work while I was in high school but it was very difficult to get into an apprenticeship program. It was all single operator booths. Showmanship was almost non-existent in Hamilton in those days.
I am glad I had a taste of real showmanship on the part of the projectionists. Roadshow movies (eg South Pacific) were always rehearsed prior to the first night so the presentation and timing was as good as it could be.
I can imagine how good Radio City Music Hall’s presentation must have been when there was also a stage show.