Radio City Music Hall

1260 6th Avenue,
New York, NY 10020

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Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 23, 2004 at 1:50 pm

With such films as “Sayonarra,” and “Auntie Mame,” (both 2 ½ hours) the stage show NEVER topped 30 minutes. Regular stage shows ran from 40 to 55 minutes. The show could never run past 3 hours total thus allowing for 4 stage shows and five films…except during Christmas and Easter Week. For “Sayonarra” and “Auntie Mame,” the doors opened (except Sunday) at 6:45 am with the picture starting at 7 am. Can you imagine getting your family up and dressed and over to the Music Hall at that time of day? But if you didn’t, you could depend on standing in line for three hours. For those that didn’t like lines or stage shows, you could go to the Music Hall (during the 1940s and early 1950s) and see a midnight showing of the movie alone (it followed the normal last showing of the complete stage and film show) that began with the stage show around 9:20 with the film at 10:10. I think the worst Christmas picture that ever had was “The Impossible Years,” (1968)with David Niven. Yet it broke attendance records.

BoxOfficeBill on July 23, 2004 at 1:44 pm

I imagine that MGM (and probably RCMH) thought “Annie Get Your Gun” a disaster (remember the firing of Judy Garland). Even the Capitol would have been more prestigious than the State (and the Capitol still had stage shows then). It’s odd thatRCMH instead chose “The Great Caruso,” and odder still that this operatic middle-brow went on to break records (I remember that the stage show ended with the Underwater Ballet, the first time I’d seen that chestnut). The newspapers announced that “Streetcar” was pulled because “Caruso”’s hold over pushed back its date too far. But I think SimonL’s explanation is accurate. In 1956 RCMH did not flinch from such adult films as “I’ll Cry Tomorrow,” “Picnic,” and “Tea and Sympathy.” As a young teen at the time, I could size up those pictures pretty well. For “The Next Voice You Hear” (yes, I saw that dreadful pic there too), the July 4-oriented stage show ended with the famous electriocal fireworks, and Rockettes clad all in re-white-‘n-blue. Patriotic fever indeed. Box Office Bill

VincentParisi on July 23, 2004 at 1:14 pm

Father of the Bride makes sense for the Music Hall but The Next Voice You Hear?!(You can read about it in the current Vanity Fair with the Reagans on the cover.) This was obviously a favor to Dory Schary.
Annie would have been great at the Hall. And Meet Me in St Louis would have been a much better choice than National Velvet and what about them playing a Date with Judy instead of Easter Parade?
And what was it with the lousy Green Mansions as the ‘59 Easter show?
And then the violent, brutal, action World War 2 film Operation Crossbow as the 65 Easter show?
Even Charade was a pretty dark and violent film for a Christmas show.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on July 23, 2004 at 1:09 pm

To Box Office Bill: Thanks a lot for sharing your memories of the Radio City stage shows. You really describe them well – you have a great memory. I’ve been to about 15 shows there but the only one I can remember featured a stand-up comic during the engagement of “2001” in 1975. One of his jokes was “I’m so old I can remember when the air was clean and sex was dirty”, and nobody laughed, out of the thousands of people that were there. I wish I could have seen some of the shows you talked about instead.

BoxOfficeBill on July 23, 2004 at 12:53 pm

SimonL and others—

sorry for the typos above—I find it hard to type blindly after running out of space in the visible box allowed — is there a way to edit one’s comments before submitting them tothe site:
Box Office Bill

BoxOfficeBill on July 23, 2004 at 12:50 pm

Yes about the abbreviated stage shoes—in the 1950s they eliminated the specialty acts between the ballet and the choral group and between that group and the Rockettes. In the ‘60s, the film’s length mattered less, and they ran full-length stage shows for “Sayonara (Christmas '57) and "Auntie Mame” (Christmas '58) even though those pictures ran well over two hours. Yes, I remember the Roxy’s “Indian Fall” quickie with “Giant. Better I recall the Roxy’s show with "giant”’s predecessor, “Bus Stop,” where they exploityed their full repertoire of stage sets in a constant display of over-the-top scene changewhile the Ice Blades and Roxyettes skated on and on—they even raised the cyclorama toi show the bare back wall, rerevealing the odd triangular stage plan on which the house was built. Among nuttier stage shows at RCMH, I recall for “Ivanhoe” in summer '52 a segment on the Civil War featuring photo projections of military gore, by turns macabre and maudlin, as the (I think( Tusgeegee Choir sang patriotic period songs. For “Green Mansions” (Easter late '50s), the show featured the multti0octave-range Yma Sumak singing away in an a San Amazonian setting while the Rockettes danced a Brazilian routine (Amazonian, but with left-breasts intact) to match the thematics of the picture (they also blew in Odorama of tropical scents to matrch the olefactory senses). Another match between picture-and-stage-show was with “Singing in the Rain” (Easter '52): the finale deployed the rain sprinklers (reral water) on a set of cast-tourists aagainst a Rockefeller Center backdrop, with Rockettes dancing to the tune of “Singing’ in the Rain,” a frenetic segue into the picture that followed. Whew. Don’t get me started. .

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 23, 2004 at 11:36 am

“Streetcar…” wasn’t the only film originally expected to open at the RCMH but nixed (It went to the Warner…previously the Strand)after it was screened by the executives. “A Place in the Sun” was also removed (too sexy) from the year’s roster…it went instead to the Capitol. Anyone know why “Annie Get Your Gun” went to Loew’s State instead of RCMH. RCMH chose “Father of the Bride.” Annie seems so much more a Hall picture and “Father…” more typical of the Loew’s State fare. Interesting trivia: “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (Jennifer Jones) was the first film (although a good one)to gross under $100,000 in its opening week in more than 20 years.

Ziggy on July 23, 2004 at 8:34 am

Yes, it’s definitely the fault of the Republicans. I mean, how dare they have a convention!?! It’s not at all the fault of poor planning on Madison Square’s part, and it’s definitely not the fault of Radio
City Music Hall’s management, who apparently have no standards at all and are only beginning to reveal the depths to which they will sink if it means making a buck!

mhvbear on July 23, 2004 at 7:52 am

One can thank the Republican National Convention being at Madison Square Garden, the Garden is unavalible for the next 5 weeks. All home basketball games had to be moved somewhere.
It is not going to be a permanent installation.

Vito on July 23, 2004 at 5:56 am

OH MY GOD! Did anyone else see those pictures of RCMH on television last night? The stage is a basketball court. They built some sort of hidious frame around the stage and hoops were installed and I saw men playing basketball. The image of that has been burned into my mind and I am cursed to see that forever.
How dare they do such a thing? obviously they have no respect at all. Do yourself a favor and do not allow yourself to see the hall in her present state.

ERD on July 22, 2004 at 8:44 pm

I remember a little program light that was built into the back of the seat in front of me. I think these lights were removed by the 1960’s.

ERD on July 22, 2004 at 8:36 pm

Once in a whle, a star of the movie would also appear as part of the stage show. In December of 1936, musical child star Bobby Breen appeared in the movie “RAINBOW ON THE RIVER” and was featured in the stage show.

VincentParisi on July 22, 2004 at 5:18 pm

I believe according to Pauline Kael it was booked for the Hall but then Hearst put pressure on the Rockefellers to pull it.
Another great movie that the Hall was planning to show was Streetcar Named Desire which was pulled when the Catholic church was considering giving the film a C rating.
Occasionally the Hall had name talent but this was pretty rare.
Annette Funicello appeared on stage with the film Pollyana.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on July 22, 2004 at 3:37 pm

Was Citizen Kane ever shown at the Music Hall in 1941? I know it didn’t have a regular run there for the general public (although it was supposed to at one time), but I think I heard something about a special screening for RKO executives and/or theater owners.

VincentParisi on July 22, 2004 at 3:06 pm

The only hope for the Music Hall would for the city and various sponsers to take over. It needs to be treated and maintained as a city landmark as much as Grants Tomb or Central Park. It needs to be managed by people who appreciate its history and resources. I believe the last year the Hall showed a profit was ‘55. After that I imagine it was propped up by the Rockefellers.
But this is a city that will spend a fortune of the taxpayers money on a sports stadium in Manhattan something that they wouldn’t even do in the beginning of the last century when the city was a fraction of its current density. This will cause us great security risks , congestion, and financial burdens while its very rich sponsers become even richer.
So I guess we won’t be seeing football games at the Music Hall but how about a golf range?

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on July 22, 2004 at 2:16 pm

How long were RKO and Radio City associated? Did the stage shows under RKO exclusively feature acts/stars under RKO contract? Or were the stage shows always produced in-house. Of course vaudeville was all-but gone by the time Radio City opened, but as the RKO Palace continued to operate with a “variety” policy for many years, I’m curious if RKO’s contract players dominated the Music Hall’s “great stage.”

JimRankin on July 22, 2004 at 2:05 pm

EdwinM remarks that: “Recently attended an Andres Rieu concert and the Boston Pops and the curtain just sat there in the upward position and didn’t move once.” This should not be faulted to the Music Hall, for it is customary at concerts to NOT use moving drapery, since the tradition is to emulate a standard concert hall which does not usually have a true stage or proscenium, and therefore no real drapery. The other uses of a true stage (legit theatre, opera, ballet, etc.) DO make use of moving/changing draperies to signal the opening, middle parts, and closing of a production, but not so for concerts. Still, I lament with you that the use of the wonderful House Curtain in RCMH (the vast Contour-type of curtain) is evidently so rarely used or moved these days. Who knows? Maybe the stage hands' union now requires a special person just to operate the Contour House Curtain, and that would be another expense for the management, which now exists for profit, NOT showmanship. It is sad, for as was said earlier, the raising and use of the vast golden curtain was part of the magic that made the Hall above and beyond the other theatres. We can but hope that a wiser and less money-focused administration will take over there in future.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 22, 2004 at 12:28 pm

Here’s another stage show for the books. I believe I saw it with “Home Before Dark” with Jean Simmons (don’t hold me to this one). The finale was danced to the ballet music from “Faust.” It was a Dante’s Inferno number during which huge flames shot up from various holes in the stage floor as the entire company including the dancers (corps de ballet and the Rockettes) whirled around in a sort of orgiastic frenzy until (once again) the stage was engulfed in smoke. This was an unusual number in that the curtain didn’t descend during the climactic moment but the cast came forward for bows. The curtain came down after the bows. Can anyone remember any other really bizarre stage shows? I know a mini-opera version of “Madama Butterfly” was staged during the mid-1930s and held for a second week with a change of the film. I believe that was the only time a stage show was held over but not the film. The Paramount would do that on occasion.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 22, 2004 at 12:18 pm

Yes, I was there for the “The Great Nome Fire,” in which a replica of the town was engulfed in flames (I believe the Japanese are masters of on-stage fires, and they were also in charge of the burning of Atlanta in the London stage production of “Gone With The Wind”). The finale had fire engines racing through the town across the great stage spraying water on the fire with giant hoses as smoke billowed up and engulfed the entire stage from floor to rafters. The curtain came down as the smoke cleared showing the destroyed building. There were brighter moments during the first part of the show that included the Rockettes, as dance hall girls. It was a rather impressive but short display, as “The Nun’s Story” was 2 hours and 30 minutes leaving only twenty minutes for a stage show. The other shortest stage show (22 minutes)in my memory was for “The Greatest Show on Earth,” (2 hrs 32 mins). It had a circus theme. But when it comes to short stage shows, we can’t forget the 15 minutes devoted to the ice show (American Indian theme) that accompanied “Giant” (3 hrs 20 min at the Roxy. The running time for the entire show was just under 4 hours includidng breaks.

Ron3853 on July 22, 2004 at 9:49 am

Audrey Hepburn and Dame Edith Evans are still turning in their graves over that one!

VincentParisi on July 22, 2004 at 9:47 am

Strange but true. For some reason, which none of us alive now will ever know, someone in the Hall in ‘59 thought a fitting accompaniment to “The Nun’s Story” would be the destruction and devastation of Nome. So they burned the place 4 times a day. Now I wasn’t there so I can’t confirm any of this but I believe they threw in an earthquake as well.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on July 22, 2004 at 9:06 am

The Burning of Nome Alaska?

VincentParisi on July 22, 2004 at 8:45 am

How lucky you were you got to see a Cagney, Day Cinemascope film at the Hall along with the Bolero. You might envy those who were there opening night(I wish I had been there too though from all accounts it was a very long, tedious vaudeville show, kind of like the current xmas show( midgets too!)
But I have to say I also envy those who were going there on a regular basis in the 50’s and 60’s. All those wonderful movies(and the Bolero, Undersea Ballet, Serenade to the Stars, the burning of Nome, Alaska…)

JimRankin on July 22, 2004 at 7:40 am

Seth and others ask ‘Why’ things are as they are at RCMH as well as the few large theatres still operating around the country, and the answer to that is well displayed in the documentary “The Monster That Ate Hollywood” shown on PBS a couple years back. It is because of conglomerates, the same business type that is devouring the rest our commercial culture and destroying our society. Likely the owners of RCMH are also ultimately a conglomerate and answer only to the ‘bottom line.’ As is always the case, when the ‘bean counters’ take over, artistry goes out the window.

EMarkisch on July 21, 2004 at 7:44 pm

Well put Vincent and thanks for filling in some details on the Bolero number.
As you say there is a total lack of “showmanship” at RCMH these days. 76 million dollars to fix the place up and they hardly use the contour curtain, which watching it in the “old days” go up and down in various configurations was almost worth the price of admission alone. Too bad I wasn’t alive for the opening night show where 20 minutes were devoted to watching it do all sorts of tricks to a musical accompaniment.
Recently attended an Andres Rieu concert and the Boston Pops and the curtain just sat there in the upward position and didn’t move once. Also, I think they also screwed up the acoustics because in our seats on the far left of the orchestra for the Rieu concert there was an annoying echo.
Something else to kvetch about is….why do they have to have that gigantic lighting rig hanging in from of the procenium arch, which destroys the whole art deco effect of how it was meant to look? How did the Music Hall staff ever manage to light those four shows a day quite magnificently for some 35 odd years without that thing hanging there?