Radio City Music Hall

1260 6th Avenue,
New York, NY 10020

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Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 14, 2004 at 7:39 am

Bravo to Bob Ketler’s home page salute to RCMH. Here are a few very minor corrections. Except during Christmas and Easter week when the doors would open 7:45 am, and on one Christmas occasion at 6:45 am (due to the length of “Sayonara” and to allow 5 shows), the normal house opening was at 10:15 am with the feature beginning at 10:30 on weekdays. Last stage show was always between 9:15 and 9:30, except on Sundays which strangly had a late stage show around 10:15. Also let’s get the seating capacity right. Both the Roxy and RCMH claimed to have 6,000 seats when in reality the Roxy had 5,800 and the Music Hall 5,945. But whose counting right? Has anyone noticed that the new contour curtain (since the magnificent restoration) hangs rigidly on the stage floor and only when it begins to rise does it show the folds. I understand the process, but I remember that the original gold curtain still displayed a hint of a swagger…or am I dreaming. Oh yes, the prices. Throughout the 1950s, or until “Rosemarie” opened as the first Cinemascope film and they raised the admission price by 10 cents the prices were as follows: Weekdays Opening to noon .80; noon to 6pm 1.25 and 6 to closing 1.50. Saturdays .95 to noon; 1.25 to 3pm and 1.50 to close; Sundays 1.25 from opening to 1pm and 1.50 1pm to close. Reserved seats (1st mezzanine)1.80 for matiness and 2.40 evenings and holidays. Reserved seat “subsciption” tickets were also available during the first two weeks of every show. This was very popular among the elite during the 1940s and 1950s and the crowd in the first mezzanine looked like the grand tier set at the Met.

umbaba on July 14, 2004 at 6:46 am

I remember seeing Fantasia in 1978 and was awed by the size of the screen. When I saw special showings of Bonnie and Clyde, Psycho, Jaws, The Sting in the late 90’s, while the screen was big, I wasn’t awed. Was it a smaller screen than what RCMH used?

Vito on July 14, 2004 at 5:00 am

Oh my gosh, go right now to Bob Ketler’s home page and read the magnificent article he wrote on RCMH. I also want to thank Simonl for the walk thru memory lane. I attended just about every new show from the mid 1950s thru the mid 1970s We always tried to see the stage show in the front row behind the lighting guy and then rush up to the top mezzanine to watch the movie.We would sit right under the projection booth. What I would not give to go back there and see one more movie and a stage show for a buck twenty five.

mediagy on July 13, 2004 at 11:58 pm

For anyone who might be interested…for about seven years I have had a page on AOL devoted to a salute to Radio City Music Hall. I change photos several times a year. The photos are mainly taken from various souvenir booklets that I purchased beginning in the mid 1940’s. The text is my appreciation of this incredible theater. Several years ago I received a wonderfully nice letter from someone who worked there. She thanked me for feeling about the theater as she herself did. The link is:

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 13, 2004 at 8:16 pm

Yes, Leibert was a supurb musician, but he was not alone in keeping the break pealing with the sounds of the great organ. Ashley Miller and Raymond F. Bohr Jr. alternated (as well as in concert)with him. Jim: I am a member of THS and have gone on about six conclaves.

ERD on July 13, 2004 at 7:54 pm

One should not forget to mention Dick Leibert, one of the original organists at Radio City Music Hall. He played there for 40 years. Mr. Leibert also recorded many albums, many on the RCMH organ, for RCA. What a superb musician.

JimRankin on July 13, 2004 at 6:19 pm

I hope that SimonL decides to send a copy of that photo of him in his usher’s uniform to the Theatre Historical Society of America at: 152 N. York Rd., Suite 200, Elmhurst Il, 60126-2806 They also have a web site that might be of interest to you: They have a wonderful painting of the ROXY right on their site if you click on the link to it, and possibly they will be willing to trade a cvolor copy of that for your photo(s). By donating such copies, you make sure that posterity knows of your achievements and the glories of the long-lost ROXY, and any other theatres you woked at. Do send a copy of your memories here too! Thank you for them.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 13, 2004 at 5:07 pm

As a former RCMH usher (1958 – 1959), I am delighted to find so many fans of the theater out there, notwithstanding those with such authoritative knowledge…technical and otherwise. One issue that was never brought up, but is interesting to consider is why huge single screen theaters are no longer practical for films is this: We all know how most films are shown today: i.e. not continuous, but rather with an admission to one particular showing. The theater is emptied and swept between performances in most multi-plexes. In the days of the movie palaces, such as RCMH, a 3,000 to 6,000 seater would have patrons entering and exiting at any time from morning to last show. Except for road shows, patrons would not tolerate being kept from entering a theater (except when SRO) at their discretion even if the film was a mystery and in the middle. At RCMH, it took a full hour with four cashiers going (sometimes five plus the reserved seat window)to fill the 6,000 seats on those days (especially during holidays)when the theater expected a “tight initial” (house filled before the start of the first feature). The Music Hall, as did others with thousands of seats to fill, only had a five to ten minute (maximum)break between film and stage shows. Except for the lucky few hundred patrons waiting in the lobby, those in the street line had little hope of getting into the theater before the start of the feature. It didn’t matter to them. We have changed our movie going habits and would not tolerate a film starting before we were in our seats. Except at the Paramount on Times Square during the 1940s(where police actually helped clear the theater of screaming teens who wanted to stay all day), the big theaters counted on a constant flow of traffic. I remember when “All About Eve” opened at the Roxy, the managment tried to seat patrons only during the 30 minute break between shows. It failed because irate patrons were unwilling to wait if there were empty seats inside. Also the problem of getting 6,000 people into their seats in 30 minutes proved next to impossible. That lasted one week and the film went back to continuous showings. Another interesting point is that the Music Hall was not designed for standing lobby crowds (only a couple of hundred would fit without blocking critical exits from the auditorium). The theater was obliged to keep most patrons in the street. However, once the line moved it moved swiftly and 1,500 people could be inside within fifteen minutes. In contrast, The Roxy could hold 2,000 people in the rotunda. That is also why you rarely saw a street line at the Roxy. (I also ush-ed at the Roxy from 1956 – 1957). One of my favorite assignments as an RCMH usher to to do a spot check of number of patrons at the Roxy when a new film opened. I suspect it had to do with a bit of rivalry but also to see if the grosses reported in Variety were credible based on attendance. My wife loves my picture in my RCMH uniform. I also had a thrill watching a FOX newsreel on TCM one night when they showed the opening night crowd of “Anastasia” (ROXY). And there I am…immortalized and standing proudly in the rotunda as the stars pass by.

philipgoldberg on July 11, 2004 at 3:54 pm

I love that fact that this summer five games of the NY Liberty, a WNBA entry also owned by RCMH’s Cablevision, will be played on the stage of this grand old hall.

bruceanthony on July 11, 2004 at 2:05 pm

Here are a list of a few of the films that Played Radio City from 1950 Thru 1970

1950 Stage Fright,Father of the Bride,The Men, King Solomons Mines
1951 Royal Wedding,The Great Caruso,Showboat,An American in Paris
1952 The Greatest Show on Earth,Singing in the Rain,Ivanhoe
1953 Shane,The Bandwagon,Roman Holiday,Mogambo,Kiss Me Kate
1954 Knights of the Round Table,The Long Long Trailer,White Christmas
1955 Love Me or Leave Me,Mister Roberts,I’ll Cry Tommorrow,Picnic
1956 The Swan,High Society,Bhowana Junction,Tea and Sympathy
1957 The Spirit of St Louis,Funny Face,Silk Stockings,Sayonara
1958 No Time For Seargeants,Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,Auntie Mame
1959 The Nuns Story,North By Northwest,Operation Petticoat
1960 Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,Midnight Lace,The Sundowners
1961 Fanny,Come September,Breakfest at Tiffanys,Babes in Toyland
1962 Lover Come Back,The Music Man,To Kill a Mockingbird,Jumbo
1963 Bye Bye Birdie,Spencers Mountain,Come Blow Your Horn,Charade
1964 The Pink Panther,The Unsinkable Molly Brown,Mary Poppins,
1965 The Sandpiper,The Great Race,That Darn Cat,Dear Heart
1966 Inside Daisy Clover,How To Steal a Million,Follow The Boys
1967 Two For The Road,Barefoot in the Park,Wait Until Dark
1968 The Odd Couple,Bulitt,The Impossible Years,Hotel,The 25th Hour
1969 The Love Bug,True Grit,A Boy Named Charlie Brown,Mayerling
1970 Airport,The Out of Towners,Darling Lili,Scrooge

The most successful film to ever play the Music Hall was
Paramount Pictures The Odd Couple it played for 14 Weeks and
grossed $3.1 Million in 1968.

Cary Grant is the Music Hall’s alltime boxoffice champ.The
Music Hall played Twenty-seven of his films which played a
total of 113 weeks.

Fred Astaire is second place with Sixtheen films playing a
total of sixty weeks.

Greer Garson is the Queen of Radio City with Eleven films
playing a total of Seventy-Nine weeks.

Ginger Rogers had twenty-three films which played fifty-five

Katherine Hepburn had twenty-two films which played sixty-four
weeks. Hepburn is the only performer,male or female,to have
seventeen successive films open at the Music Hall.

Note the above stats are from the 1979 Radio City Music Hall
by Charles Francisco.brucec

Vito on July 11, 2004 at 1:00 pm

Yes Will, you are correct, two prints were run in case of a film break or malfuntion. In those days a blank screen, or white sheet, as it was called then, was a projectionist worse nightmare.

bruceanthony on July 11, 2004 at 12:30 pm

Here are a few films that played Radio City from the New York Times movie adds.

Mar 1933 King Kong
Apr 1937 A Star is Born
Jan 1938 Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs
Mar 1939 Stagecoach
Oct 1939 Mr Smith Goes To Washington
Mar 1940 Rebecca
Aug 1950 Sunset Boulevard
Oct 1951 An American in Paris
Apr 1953 Shane
Oct 1954 White Christmas
Sep 1964 Mary Poppins


umbaba on June 24, 2004 at 1:26 pm

Shade….from your lips to God’s ear…I remember Arthur Penn being there, I was so pumped. Peter Benchley was at Jaws…There’s no showmanship anymore….they should read this site.

VincentParisi on June 24, 2004 at 11:32 am

I always wondered why the screen from that era into the early fifties was so tiny. How did 6,000 people collectively concentrate on such a tiny screen film after film without constantly being distracted or losing interest?

Ziggy on June 24, 2004 at 11:27 am

I’m not a New Yorker, so I’ve only been to this theatre 3 times, but I remember those three trips well! I thought the theatre was gorgeous back then, and it probably still is, but it seems like the magic is gone. It was great to go there and catch a great movie AND a great stage show, to watch the lights slowly change color in the auditorium during the presentation, to feel the rumble of the organ even as you’re standing out in the lobby, the crush of thousands of people all enjoying themselves. I remember how even the “ordinary” stage shows (the non-holiday ones) were spectacular.

Now it just seems as if it’s just another 75 dollar a head theatre which presents a whole lot of stuff that doesn’t do this great place justice. Wasn’t the whole point behind movie palaces to provide a huge amount of entertainment at the lowest possible price, and to be surrounded by incredible luxury that anyone could afford to enjoy?

I’m glad the place is still standing and serving, it’s just not the same place anymore.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on June 24, 2004 at 11:09 am

I’ve heard that the reason there are 5 projectors is because “in the day” 2 prints were run simultaneously, one projecting onto the screen and one running with the dowser closed. I was told was that should a projector fail, film break, anything go wrong, they would instantly switch to the other running projector. Supposedly this was cheaper than refunding 6000 tickets.

Also regarding screen size, I have a 1926 Paramount magazine ad, (part of their “Friendship Means More at the Movies” ad campaign) that shows a theater full of happy people watching a tiny screen in a vast curtained movie palace proscenium. My old time projectionist buddy tells me that the pre WWII lamps simply weren’t bright enough to really light up a big screen. If the image got too big, the image was too dim: a problem in all the big halls, but obviously compounded by the outsize RCMH screen.

VincentParisi on June 1, 2004 at 7:14 am

It seems that those who now run the Music Hall have no interest in films whatsoever. Remember years ago that first run film presentation was not so much about making a pile of money from the get go but giving it the best possible send off. It had everything to do with showmanship and class. Real money was usually not made until second and third run. Disney pulled Snow White from the Hall after five weeks(when it surely could have run a few more) simply because he wanted the neighborhood money after getting the Music Hall’s prestige. He would continue using the Music Hall for special films until his death.

Shade on May 31, 2004 at 12:35 am

Bonnie and Clyde was made even cooler with an appearance by the film’s director Arthur Penn. These two consecutive series were incredible. It seemed like a new light had shown on Manhattan theatergoing. Jaws was PACKED! I believe Blade Runner may even have been sold out. The Exorcist was an experience like none other, and with William Friedkin and Ellen Burstyn both there… priceless.

I’ve been hoping someone would pick that idea back up again, but now reading over the posts I wonder just how much it must cost to make Radio City run for a night. As many noticed, so many of these screenings were packed. Seeing a movie with 5,000 other people is just incredible.

Does anyone know who organized these film series? To this outsider they sure seemed easy to run. If you can charge $40 for a show ticket and do okay with all the hydraulics and smoke machines of a concert, you should be able to have a film projected for $12 a ticket times 5,000 tickets. Older films are just not that expensive to rent. Even if they’re collecting 35% of the door, sharing $60K for projecting a film print just doesn’t seem like bad business.

umbaba on May 25, 2004 at 4:15 am

I saw Bonnie and Clyde that year. The next year I saw Psycho, Jaws and The Sting. I remember the reaction and the screams of people when watching Psycho and Jaws. It was like the first time seeing it, and people laughed and applauded. It was great. The prints were archived prints, good but nothing special, it was good enough though. Mono soundtracks, sounding echoing in the auditorium. I remember talking to an usher that night and he was saying they were planning for the next series with a screening of Superman. That was in 1997. So, that’s a done deal. But seeing these films in the Music Hall were a special experience. It’s too bad they don’t do this anymore. But I guess there’s too many rap concerts to plan.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on May 24, 2004 at 6:33 pm

Yankee Mike: I don’t know if it was 12 years ago but sometime in the 1990’s, there was a Warner Bros. Classic Film Festival, followed a year later by a Universal Classic Film Festival. I attended the showings of Bonnie and Clyde, The Exorcist, My Fair Lady, Psycho, Jaws, Animal House and The Blues Brothers. Bonnie and Clyde was a Wednesday night show and attracted a fairly good crowd, but all the other shows looked like sellouts to me.

YMike on May 24, 2004 at 10:55 am

I believe abot twelve years ago they had a classic film series at Radio City. Does anyone remember if it was well attended?

Vito on May 24, 2004 at 10:45 am

Thanks William, Yes the end off 4-track mag came along with Dolby optical noise reduction prints and then Dolby stereo, although most studios had stop making mag prints available in the early 60s. Even Fox which released all of their films prior to 1960 in 4-track
mag-optical, switched to straight optical mono prints.I can recall the joy of getting a rare post 1960 mag print like “Hello Dolly”, “Star”, “2001” amoung a few others,and then presenting the film in stereo. We would put it on the marguee, presented in 4 track sterophonic sound. As for the Music Hall’s image size I believe you are quite right, it was rather small but the alternative Magnascope added much to much grain and robbed more light, even with carbon arc ,then the Hall could afford to lose.

William on May 24, 2004 at 8:02 am

Vito – Two of the last features release with prints in a 4-Track Mag stereo format were “Scarface” and “Yentl” in 1983. Any other titles would have been special ordered or what was still left at the film exchanges.

Before 1952 with the premiere of “This is Cinerama” (2.65:1 ratio) and in 1953 with the debut of “The Robe” in CinemaScope (2.55:1 ratio). All films were projected at 1.37:1 (Standard Academy ratio). The original screen might have had alittle more height too it. But because the Music Hall is a very large theatre and has a very wide proscenium, that might be what audiences saw during the early days at the Music Hall. Most of the times people remember the screens as small as a postage stamp. In the book about the San Francisco Fox Theatre, there is a picture of how small the screen looked when projecting a 1.37:1 ratio picture, before CinemaScope. When using Magnascope / Magnacom type lenses the picture will have more grain because you are blowing up the picture and those type lenses eat alot of light too.

VincentParisi on May 24, 2004 at 6:26 am

I’ve said somewhere on this site that when I saw Singin in the Rain here in ‘75 the image was surprisingly small and there is an old Hitchcock where there is a chase through the Music Hall during the film presentation and the image is that small. So I guess from when the Music Hall opened to the 50’s people were watching a pretty small screen. So what was that like for the audiences in the second and third mezzanines during this era when the Hall frequently filled up? Their powers of concentration must have been enormous.
Unfortunately when the screen is opened for the Magnascope lenses the image becomes fairly grainy.

joemasher on May 23, 2004 at 2:29 pm

The booth is still the same today. In fact, today, Sunday 5/23/04, RCMH is hosting the World Premiere of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azcaban”.