Radio City Music Hall

1260 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020

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MarkA
MarkA on September 30, 2004 at 5:45 pm

Henry,

According to a Westminster recording I have, Leibert at Home, “Dick Leibert studied the organ at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory of Music. He was from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and attended the Moravian Prep School there. He began to play the organ professionally at the age of 14 when he got a job as a theater organist for Loew’s in Washington, DC. Later, he toured for the Loew’s curcuit and played for two years at the Brooklyn Paramount. Against stiff competition, he won the auditions for the permanent post at Radio City Music Hall.”

It has been said that Leibert waited last to be auditioned for the Music Hall job. For his own audition piece, he improvised a medley of everything played by those before him. A friend of mine was an Associate Organist at the Music Hall in the 1950’s and told me that Leibert did the “Gala Supper Shows.”

During his tenure at the Music Hall, he lived in Westport CT. When he retired in 1971, leaving the position of Chief Organist to the late Ray Bohr, Leibert moved to Florida and continued to make appearances. I am not sure but I think he passed on around 1976.

Some of the music Leibert composed was Rosa Maria, Jasmine, English Lavender, Waltz to a Princess and Papa Won’t You Dance for Me? Although I never met him, his style at the Music Hall Grande Organ was his own. He know the instrument intimately and his style could be characterized as being “dark.”

I have also been told that Leibert and Bohr would spend time playing another Rockefeller Center organ before it was removed … the Center Theater’s. This organ was a 4/34 WurliTzer, a scaled down-version of the Music Hall’s (with many of the same ranks of pipes with the same type art-deco console, finished in natural cherry). The Music Hall organ wasn’t the only organ Leibert opened. He was loaned to the Rainbow Room to open its 3/10 WurliTzer (a residence model organ). I recently read that in Dan Okrent’s book, Great Fortune which is about the building of Rockefeller Center. He mentions Leibert a couple of times. Leibert more than likely used the Plaza Sound Studio 3/14 WurliTzer which was in Radio City Music Hall. (The organ, a custom model with a scaled down version of the big console downstairs, is in storage.)

I hope that you can used this information. Also, I hope you consider writing about the Music Hall’s last Chief Organist under the “old” show format, Raymond F. Bohr, Jr. Ray was an extremely talented organist and kindness personified. Ray passed away in 1986.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 30, 2004 at 10:35 am

It’s worth mentioning that when “Gilda” played RCMH, they had no policy regarding children as long as they were accompanied by an adult. However, when “Gilda” went to the nabes, it was a different story. I remember my aunt being turned away by the manager who stood by the boxoffice at the Ritz Theater in Elizabeth, N.J. I remember him saying to her, “Sorry, this film is for adults only.” We did go to see “Forever Amber” at the Roxy, because she was afraid she would be turned away at Proctor’s in Newark, if she had me with her. (I had one of those wonderful aunts that mold your life) Nabes were much stricter about whom they sold tickets to.

HenryAldridge
HenryAldridge on September 30, 2004 at 10:06 am

I am doing a paper on Dick Leibert who was Senior Organist at Radio City for over 40 years. Recollections about hearing him play or any other information about the Radio City organists would be greatly appreciated.

Henry

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 30, 2004 at 8:16 am

Robert was this the 70mm version? Did anybody see it? What was it like?

BobFurmanek
BobFurmanek on September 30, 2004 at 8:04 am

Part of the vaudeville stage show at the State with “The Jolson Story” was a new comedy team by the name of Martin and Lewis! Both men developed quite an appreciation for Jolson’s music from hearing it backstage in their dressing rooms between shows.

Joe Franklin has often mentioned his accompanying Jolson on the Loew’s Theaters tour for “Jolson Sings Again.” Does anyone know which theaters Jolie visited on that tour?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 30, 2004 at 7:57 am

The first Broadway show to use microphones was the 1940 edition of “Earl Carroll Vanities,” which opened in January of that year. Newspaper critics expressed outrage and the practice was not resumed until after WWII, when new technology was able to produce a more “natural” sound.

RobertR
RobertR on September 30, 2004 at 7:46 am

I remember when Larry Parks died the Ziegfeld revived “The Jolson Story”.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 30, 2004 at 7:44 am

Amazing to think that Jolson opened at the Hall on 10 Oct and didn’t make it to the burbs until when? How long did people in the boroughs have to wait to see a hit film that wasn’t hard ticket?
Interesting that such a sexually suggestive film like Gilda(it’s still pretty hot) played the family oriented Hall and then the State with a puppet show! I remember years ago TV used to cut the film for reasons of good taste rather than time.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on September 30, 2004 at 7:22 am

SimonL and Vincent are both right — “The Jolson Story” premiered at RCMH on 10 October ‘46 and ran until the Xmas show “'Till the Clouds Roll By” opened on 5 December — a long eight weeks. It then moved to the State, where it was accompanied by a Vaudeville show, as the State in the mid-to-late '40s was wont to take films after their openers elsewhere. (Earlier in '46, at the age of three, I saw—and still remember— “Glida” at the State after it had moved from RCMH: my parents took me because the Vaudeville presentation featured a puppet show that they thought I’d like— quite a pairing to lure young tots and their folks to that seductive film— I have hazy memories of the puppet show set against a green backdrop, but can never forget Rita in stunning black-and-white.) After the State, “The Jolson Story” moved to the Fox in Brooklyn, where I remember seeing it; then, on to the nabes. “Jolson Sings Again” opened at the State on 17 August '49, and never played at RCMH. By that time, Larry Parks’s reputation was tainted by Communist allegations, no? (It’s awful to remember all this trivia—the dates come from “The NY Times Directory of the Film.”

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 30, 2004 at 6:47 am

Simon, it first played the Music Hall and was quite a sensation. There is a very nice picture in Betty Garrett’s book of her putting the letters of the title on the Music Hall marquee with her husband Larry Parks looking on.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 29, 2004 at 7:09 pm

Vincent: Record breaker for both attendance and gross “The Jolson Story” played Loews State, as did “Jolson Sings Again.”

RobertR
RobertR on September 29, 2004 at 10:53 am

I have heard many similar stories about Jolson over the years. Fred Astaire will always be remembered as a “class act”.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 29, 2004 at 10:04 am

I heard Burton Lane speak once. He said the nicest man he ever worked with in the entertainment industry was Astaire(one of the Music Hall’s favorite film stars)and the greatest performer and most wretched human being was Al Jolson(The Jolson Story was one of the Music Halls biggest hits.)

RobertR
RobertR on September 29, 2004 at 6:07 am

I read this was one of the reasons Al Jolson was such a beloved performer, his voice could be heard all the way to the rear balcony.

JimRankin
JimRankin on September 29, 2004 at 5:20 am

Vincent finds it hard to believe that they didn’t have mics in the huge movie palaces, and that is hard to understand from today’s perspective when almost everything is miced. Firstly, movie palaces were mostly built for silent movies, not the live, spoken word. Such speech as one might hear there under normal situations was only choral singing, where the aggregate volume was sufficient to penetrate to the rear of the auditorium. While a few of the largest theatres apparently did have rudimentary mics working off of a rudimentary amplifier, most did not, and so live, spoken word was NOT the norm at all. Few famous opera stars would sing at too large a hall for the simple reason that it could damage their voices if they were expected to project or ‘throw’ to the farthest balcony. This is one reason that few large palaces were then suitable to becoming opera houses. Today, virtually everything is miced, both because of our now customary reliance on technology, and because it lets the producers and sound men have more control over what the audience hears, as well as sometimes making up for the limitations of the acoustics of the hall.

Vincent implies that they over use microphones these days, even for the orchestra, and in some measure he is right. Sound reinforcement is not as pure as the source, no matter how much money is spent on good equipment, but the temptation to have more control and the electronic power to dazzle and even cow the audience is something irresistible to them, but sad to say, this is often abused. We must also not forget the profit motives of the merchants of such who persuade venues that powerful amps and speakers on several planes are essential to versatility, if not verisimilitude. As to lip-syncing to recordings: it is to be expected these days, since it can compensate for an out-of-condition performer, and does not include the noises of the stage, so it is rationalized that the crowd hears a more ‘clean’ sound track. Whether or not such constitutes a truly ‘live’ performance is up to the listener.

MarkA
MarkA on September 28, 2004 at 6:31 pm

RobertR,

You hunch is correct! Wow! According to the late Ray Bohr, RCMH’s last full-time organist before the change of format in mid-1979, perfomers did lip sync. The reason was for this was because of a cold/flu/epidemic that made its rounds one time through the performing staff and many came down with laryngitis which had a catastrophic effect on the currently playing show. So, the performers were recorded live to prevent future mishaps.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 28, 2004 at 2:22 pm

Vincent: The first Broadway show to use a stage mike was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” in 1949. It was a decision made by the composers out of town before New York and was thought quite innovative. The first body mikes were subsequently used by Lena Horn in “Jamaica” (1957)and Anna Maria Alberghetti in “Carnival.” (1961)

MarkA
MarkA on September 28, 2004 at 2:10 pm

Jim: I second what you have to say about theatre organist vs. classical organists arguement. There was as many bad classical organists and theater organists as well as good ones. As Ben Hall states in the his Best Remaining Seats:[i] “It [the Mighty Wurlitzer] was, after all, capable of producing honest music of compelling emotional force when [i]properly played and, in the hands of an expert, could work musical magic far beyond the limitations of any other instrument. Without it, the moive palace would have been souless as an armory.” (Italics are mine.) The chopter to which you refer in Hall’s book is, The Apotheosis of the Mighty Wurlitzer, page 179. Having played both classical and theater instruments, the theater organ, IMHO, is more challenging to play.

The Music Hall organ sounds great in its environment, but it depends where you sit. Since the chambers are situated fairly high on either side of the proscenium, the lower level of the third mezzanine puts the listener at approximately the same level of the organ chambers. There are places in the orchestra where the organ is terribly muffled especially since it, to my knowledge, is no longer miked, particularly the percussions and the piano.

RobertR
RobertR on September 28, 2004 at 1:36 pm

Were the stage shows at the music hall miked or pre-taped? I remember the later shows in the 70’s seemed to have the look of the performers lip-synching.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 28, 2004 at 1:25 pm

But think of the large movie palaces in the 20’s like the Roxy and the Capitol. Were performers throwing their voices in 5,000 seat theaters?
I also wonder wonder what the first miked Broadway musical was.
Today even the orchestra at the Music Hall is miked making it sound like a an over produced recording. It distances the audience. Well, nobody seems to notice but me.

JimRankin
JimRankin on September 28, 2004 at 12:48 pm

“Miking” started with radio, of course, and was largely perfected with the arrival of sound movies, but most theatres were not “miced” until the late Twenties or after that. The arrival of sound depended upon the arrival of practical amplifiers, and Western Electric was the pioneer in introducing sound service to theatres with the first vacuum tubes (called electronic “valves” at the time), and it was not long thereafter that sound ‘systems’ were introduced to theatres on a limited basis. Prior to that, actors were trained to ‘throw’ their voices out into the reaches of the theatre, which is what limited earlier theatres to smaller audiences due to the limitations of the human voice. Many a would-be actor/performer failed on the early stage due to the inability to throw their voice. Early microphones, such as the carbon and the taught-band types were large, heavy and inefficient, and thus introduced much ‘noise’ into the amplifier to mix with the noise created by early amplifiers and speakers themselves. For this reason, there was no such thing as the portable, personal mics that are now clipped to a costume, nor were overhead mics practical until the 30s, and then only in the movie studios on huge boom cranes. With the advent of efficient sound reinforcement and electret miniature microphones in the 1950s, the tradition of the ‘thrown’ voice faded away as performers learned that they could speak in normal volumes and be easily heard anywhere if properly miced. The untoward affect of all this was the presence of ugly speaker clusters in our theatres since no one could hear the people these days without them.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 28, 2004 at 12:05 pm

Continuing on the subject of sound were the Music Hall stage shows miked when it first opened? Were many of the movie places miked? Or else how were the voices and instruments of the stage shows heard with any impact? If they were inititially mike free when did miking start?
I believe to the end of the movie/stage show era the orchestra at the Hall was not miked.

JimRankin
JimRankin on September 28, 2004 at 11:28 am

The ornamentation and auditorium decorative draperies so usually seen in movie palaces was not just for show; it was essential to absorb and deflect the sound waves coming from the stage and organ/orchestra so that only one sound wave struck the listener. When sound hits an essentially smooth surface —such as the ceiling of an ‘atmospheric’ (stars and clouds) theatre— it is focused by that surface upon a single broad point in the audience, effectively amplifying the sound to those there, but dimming it for those elsewhere. Not only will others outside of that point not hear as much volume, but worse is the echo that develops as the main sound front hits the listener, followed by the delayed sound front reflected off the ceiling a split second later. Many smaller atmospherics had smaller effective reflective ceilings where the flanking false building fronts were closer to the surface and these absorbed or deflected much of the sound. In the over 3,000 seats in the PARADISE ( /theaters/344/ ), the vault of the ceiling was just too vast to have any ornament or draperies near enough to counteract the reflection(s); remember the laws of physics: the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection/refraction. Thus when the sound front hit the ceiling, it crashed onto the audience mid-floor, AFTER they had heard the other sound fronts from the stage and elsewhere. During music this may just cause muddled sound, but speech can be rendered unintelligible. How could the great architect Eberson miss this fact during planning? I don’t know, since acoustics was not an unknown science even then. It may be that the owner put too much pressure on him for a triumphal spectacular, which he achieved, as opposed to a good concert hall. After all, ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune.’

AS to organists and organs: snobbery exists in all levels of society, but more so in the arts, where egos dominate. There are those who believe that the Theatre Organ was a crass warping of the ‘classical’ sound of traditional organs, and with their sound effects in addition to a distinctive sound such as the “sobbing” vox humana voice, the Theatre Organ was more than many ‘classicists’ could endure, especially if they saw multitudes going into a theatre to hear its organ while a pitiful few attended classical or church concerts. That theatre instruments were expected to also play the latest ballads of the day also made them declass in the ears of the classically trained ‘elite.’ It boils down to taste, or the lack thereof. The late Ben Hall well covered this matter in his chapter on organs in his landmark book: The Best Remaining Seats: The Story of the Golden Age of the Movie Palace, 1961 and later editions at most libraries, via Inter-library Loan, or at www.Amazon.com

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 28, 2004 at 10:24 am

The Chicago Paradise reportedly had bad acoustics, which might have been the fault of its atmospheric design. It was a problem not only with the organ, but also with the movies and stage shows presented there.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 28, 2004 at 10:17 am

Questions for all you organites.
Why does the organ at the Music Hall sound so wonderful and yet the organ at what may have been the greatest movie palace in the world, the Chicago Paradise, was considered a disappointment? Also why do classically trained organists sneer at movie palace organs? Is it the music played on them or are they inferior to church instruments?