Radio City Music Hall

1260 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020

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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?

JimRankin
JimRankin on September 28, 2004 at 10:05 am

Hello, Organ-ize: It is kind of you to reply to my message, but I will not dwell long on a reply here since it is not good for us to go too far off-topic on the RCMH page. I would have written you directly had you listed Contact information on your ‘Profile Page’ which is accessed for anyone on this site by clicking on their name in blue at the bottom of a comment. You will find my E-mail address in that way.

Just because I am geographically closer to the Minneapolis Civic than you are doesn’t mean that I know anything of its organ — or of the Civic Auditorium, for that matter, sorry to say. That place is about 400 miles from me. You are privileged to be part of that giant Dickinson Kimball installation. There are classical organs of that size in both the Marcus Performing Arts Center and the Cooley Auditorium of the Vocational School here, but no such huge theatre instruments survive (or were ever built here to my knowledge). I am not an “organ nut” per se (architecture is my specialty) but I do enjoy a good concert on a pipe organ, especially by such as Lew Williams who knows how to use the toy counter and percussions to great effect, or Clark Wilson who can make an organ sing.

MarkA
MarkA on September 28, 2004 at 9:29 am

Jim:

The Hippodrome is gorgeous. My wife and I attended the opening show, The Producers. The Hipp also had an organ in it … a transplanted M.P. Moller church pipe organ, installed UNDER the stage. (Yuck!) It didn’t last very long. (Mercifully.)

Kimballs are/were real beauties. W.W. Kimball continued to build church pipe organ up until W.W. II and always built instruments of the finest quality. My organ professor in college studied on a large late Kimball in Denver (St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral) and he always told me it was not to be forgotten. Of course, the Radio City Music Hall’s Wurlitzer, built to Kimball specifications (ranks and scales) benefits from the design, so that it’s a pretty versatile organ.

So you know about the famous Kimball string pipes? (Their reeds and most flues, except Tibias, weren’t slouches either.) The largest collection of Kimball strings is not in a church or theater organ. It’s the String Division (88 ranks) in the Wanamaker Organ in Phildelphia. Standing in the middle of that organ chamber was inspiring.

What ever happened to the huge Kimball that was in the Minneapolic Civic Auditorium and in storage? It had a five-manual main classic console and a four manual theater console. I heard it’s up for sale. I think it has 110 ranks, part classical, part theater.

I think Robert Headley lives in DC. He’s been asked by local here to republish his Exitbook, but so far, won’t do it. :o( . BTW, I only have a 60-minute drive to hear and play the Dickinson Theater Organ Society’s Kimball organ, as I am a member there and do some volunteer work for them. [url]www.geocities.com/dtoskimball[/url]

JimRankin
JimRankin on September 28, 2004 at 5:23 am

Organ-ized: Your comment about the ORIENTAL here in Milwaukee is right on the money; it is perhaps unique in its approach to ‘oriental’ as being East Indian, rather than Chinese, Indo-Chinese, or Japanese. There is a group of photos of it here: http://www.cinematour.com/tour.php?db=us&id=4035 but none are of the auditorium, unfortunately. The CT page about it is at: /theaters/443/ and this may help others to learn of its special place in America’s theatres. I must bow to your conclusions about the organ, though I too had heard that it was a twin to the one in the STANLEY, though it is now up to 38 ranks and growing, from its original 28. It is indeed a sweet sound, especially the strings! And you are quite right that it was originally in the WARNER/GRAND here ( /theaters/1903/ ) and while it may have helped re-use the WARNER had it stayed there, it is now ironic, given what happened to the theatre, that it was best that it was removed.

Your story about the STANLEY’s organ is sad to read; greed so often destroys beauty, but at least you have a recording of it before the end. If you track down the author of “Exit”, Robert Headley in the Baltimore/DC area, you might have a wonderful conversation, since he was also often here in Milw. and could no doubt tell you much.

And lucky Baltimore to have the restored HIPPODROME ( /theaters/1264/ )..

MarkA
MarkA on September 27, 2004 at 7:32 pm

Seems that they used the Grand Organ to provide live music for the New York Liberty this past summer.

Jim: I’ve heard that the Oriental is quite a gem. Its organ, a Kimball, is said to be a twin, as originally built, to the one that was here in the Stanley Theater in Baltimore. I understand that the Oriental Kimball was orginally installed in the Warner (Center) Theater. If you look at the page for Baltimore’s Stanley Theater, I posted a story about the theater and its organ.

Lucky Milwaukee to have the Oriental!

RobertR
RobertR on September 27, 2004 at 2:40 pm

Yes but mud wrestling accompanied by the mighty Wurlitzer. So sad isnt it?

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 27, 2004 at 2:07 pm

Airport at the Music Hall.
March 17th 1970.
In the afternoon St Patrick’s Day Parade.
6 PM The Music Halls Great Easter Show followed by Airport in Todd AO.

Maybe next summer we can look forward to track and field events at the Music Hall? But perhaps this is too elitest. I suggest to the Cablevision execs hip hop topless female mud wrestling sponsored by Hilfiger, Diesel and Swatch with Barney and the Rugrats in the lower lounge for the family members under 4.

JimRankin
JimRankin on September 27, 2004 at 12:39 pm

Vincent has a point about being in a largely full movie palace and hearing an appreciative audience laughing, cheering, applauding or even singing along to the movie; it IS an exhilarating experience not at all akin to the noise of a sports or rock concert crowd. I last experienced it in 1970 when the shortly-to-be-split former WARNER here in Milwaukee was filled for the movie “Airport” and all 2500 cheered when the old lady slapped the hysterical guy, and laughed as one at other appropriate times. You didn’t feel isolated as a lone viewer as you do nowadays in the multiplex screening rooms regardless of what is showing. Occasionally I can still feel that audience response as when our ORIENTAL has an organ show with a silent film and a stage act, but not otherwise anymore.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 27, 2004 at 12:23 pm

While I would much rather see SOM in a 1500 seat road show house(The screen is much more head on) RCMH showed SOM in ‘75 or '76. The presentation was suberb. An immaculate, brilliant 70mm print with sound that was great(during the wedding I could have sworn they were playing the Music Hall organ.)
It was so empty however that between showings the lights were kept very low so as not to embarrass the scattered patrons.
And while I hate the idea of an SOM sing-along I went to the finale night at the Ziegfeld and it was one of the best cinema experiences I have ever had. The audience was totally demented-cheering and roaring its approval at every iconic moment. With Andrews first appearance on screen it could have been Jagger. And when they escaped into the Swiss Alps(well who cares if the actors were really heading into Germany) I thought we were going to blow the roof off the Ziegfeld.
Absolutely exhilarating.

RobertR
RobertR on September 27, 2004 at 11:45 am

Imagine it with The Hooray For Hollywood show that accompanied Bullit in 1968 :)

MarkA
MarkA on September 25, 2004 at 7:08 pm

Yes!!! That’s an excellent idea. There’s no reason why Cablevision ought not consider screening it in Summer 2005. It seems to me there were filmings during the summers in the 80’s at the Music Hall.

RobertR
RobertR on September 25, 2004 at 5:29 pm

Lets start a letter writing campaign to have a 70mm screening of The Sound of Music here next year. It’s the 40th anniversary.

MarkA
MarkA on September 24, 2004 at 6:25 am

Hello SimonL,

Thanks for your comments. You are quite right about theater staff knowing who was at the organ at the Music Hall! At the time my friend was an Assistant Organist, Leibert, Miller and Bohr were indeed the primary organists. I have a number of recordings of all of them, and Liebert’s style, to me, was a bit “dark” sounding. Leibert did the “Supper Shows” and Bohr usually opened. (At least that’s what Ray told me.) Leibert studied the organ at the Peabody Conservatory of Music here in Baltimore. Miller, who still lives in New Jersey, holds a Master’s Degree in Music and Ray Bohr studied the organ with New York organist Harold Friedell. All were artists in their own right. They had to be … the Music Hall organ is a difficult instrument to play due to the location of the consoles in relationship to the pipes (in the ceiling).

Check this website out: [url]http://www.atos.org/Pages/Journal/RadioCity/RadioCity.html[/url]. It’s a great story of the Mightiest of all WurliTzers at the Radio City Music Hall and I know that you will enjoy it. The picture of Bohr and Leibert at the Prompt Side console (thank God the rear-view mirror and clock were removed when the consoles was totally rebuilt} is great. Let me know what you think. It gives a good argument that the RCMH organ is a Kimball-designed organ will two WurliTzer consoles, all built by WurliTzer.

Cheers!

PS: As I write this, I am already planning my family’s annual pilgrimage to see the Christmas Spectacular. Who cares if it’s been changed from the “Old Format?” At least the show does go on.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 23, 2004 at 4:26 am

For “Organized”: Although I never met “Ray”, the theater staff was often able to tell the difference in musical style between him and Dick Liebert and Ashley Miller. Liebert, who played mostly the evening shows was very big with special effects i.e. bells and whistles; Ashley was fond of show tunes and Ray seemed to like bright marches and was the best at exit music. What a treat to hear them at the twin consoles at holiday time. The biggest problem was getting the audience to leave during the break music, as many stayed to applaud and then leave as the curtain rose on the film credits.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 22, 2004 at 12:26 pm

I too remember the sound of MFL at the Cinerama. I went twice. There was enormous presence and warmth. At one point I walked around the theater to the various speakers to hear the separation. We will never hear it that way again. And no one but us will know.

RobertR
RobertR on September 22, 2004 at 11:36 am

Your right, I just always thought of the Gotham as the Trans-Lux. Did you manage the theatre? Creative Entertainment got me the passes that night. I was horrified when Fox released that moronic sing along version of The Sound of Music and would not go to see it, even though it would have been nice to have seen it at the Zeigfeld. It’s my favorite movie and I still have the program from when my parents took me to see it at The Rivoli. The last time I saw MFL in a theatre was in the 70’s when The Cinerama played that 70mm Broadway Salutes Broadway series. The print was pink but the sound was unreal.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 22, 2004 at 9:42 am

Robert I think you are talking about the Gotham(I believe that was its name.) My audience there was well behaved. I also saw El Cid there in revival.
I’m still hoping for 40th anniverary 70mm presentations for SOM and MFL. Let see how the audiences today respond to entertainments made for audiences of mid twentieth century America. Or do most people today consider them camp?

RobertR
RobertR on September 22, 2004 at 9:27 am

PS – I’m still waiting for the film version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” with Debbie Reynolds singing “I’m Still Here,” as well as film versions of “Pippin,” “Dreamgirls,” “Promises, Promises,” and “On the 20th Century.” Probably not to be…alas! But there is “The Phantom of the Opera” coming for Christmas, which would be perfect for the RCMH as an exclusive NYC run. That won’t happen either!
posted by Ron3853 on Sep 22, 2004 at 11:37am

“Dreamgirls” could easily be made into the type of musical that seems to work today where the musical numbers are part of a show or a dream sequence like “Chicago”. People today seem unwilling to accept the break out in song numbers that all of the great musicals had. When the Trans-Lux east revived “Sound of Music” for it’s 25th anniversary the audience laughed when Julie Andrews started singing “Something Good”. That also happened with this years Cole Porter biography “De Lovely”. It’s actually sad that people cant just sit back and escape. Movies were never meant to be total reality. The incredible films made during WW2 were to give people two hours of escapism during those trying times. I for one find movies relaxing and want to get lost in the story. Give me stair case full of chorus girls any day.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 22, 2004 at 8:56 am

Robert if you read above we have disussed this many times like have a summer stage show as they do at Christmas (think of all the musicians and performers this would employ) and every week a different classic film.
Walter Reade just showed Birdie. This is one of the most amazing musicals to see on a screen with colors that will burn your eyes for days after.
For some reason this film never gets any kind of audience in revival. I am usually the only one there. To see it at the Music Hall (which you could have in ‘63) would be pop culture heaven.

MarkA
MarkA on September 22, 2004 at 8:47 am

Simon L!

Did you know organist Raymond “Ray” F. Bohr, Jr. when you were at the Hall? A very good friend of mine was an Associate Organist there in 1955-1956 and it was through him I was honored to know Ray, whom I first met in January 1977, which was a time of trouble for the Hall. My friend and I visited Ray in 1978 and 1979 and we always treated like family. Ray would always show us some interesting part of the theater and standing on the platform at the top the fly tower over the Great Stage is something I will never forget, along with watching the movie from the orchestra elevator, lowered at the bottom of the pit. Of course, the organ was the special attraction.

Ray was the last full-time house organist (John DeTroy was part-time) at the Music Hall under the “old” format until 1979. The management there basically dismissed him. My friend and I kept in touch with Ray until his untimely passing in 1986. Ray knew the Mighty WurliTzer inside and out as he was also a trained organ technician, although he did not service the Music Hall organ. (He would always say, “Not my job!”) Ray was from Nyack, NY.

Fortunately, the Music Hall organ is under the expert care of the same family since its installation in 1932. She’s very lucky not to find the fate of other treasures, such as the Roxy’s organ.

Ron3853
Ron3853 on September 22, 2004 at 8:37 am

Premiering a big, splashy roadshow musical in the 60s was a hit or miss proposition. Certainly “West Side Story,” “Mary Poppins,” and “My Fair Lady” were huge successes.

But then in 1965 came “The Sound of Music,” and the overwhelming popularity of the Julie Andrews-20th Century Fox hit changed everything. All of the studios thought the public wanted big musicals and that they too would have similar blockbusters. So many of the Broadway musical hits which hadn’t yet been filmed were dusted off for the big screen, as well as ideas for original screen musicals.

In the next decade, we got “The Happiest Millionaire,” “Doctor Dolittle,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Camelot,” “Funny Girl,” “Oliver!,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “Half a Sixpence,” “Star!,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” “Sweet Charity,” “Paint Your Wagon,” “Hello, Dolly!,” “Song of Norway,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Man of La Mancha,” “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” “1776,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Tom Sawyer,” “Cabaret,” “Godspell, and "Mame.” Most of these WERE released as hard-ticket roadshow films, and although their artistic qualities varied, very few of them earned back their production costs. And younger audiences at the time were not embracing the musical unless it was rock music, which is one of the reasons for the decline of the film musical until it was revived recently with “Chicago.”

PS – I’m still waiting for the film version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” with Debbie Reynolds singing “I’m Still Here,” as well as film versions of “Pippin,” “Dreamgirls,” “Promises, Promises,” and “On the 20th Century.” Probably not to be…alas! But there is “The Phantom of the Opera” coming for Christmas, which would be perfect for the RCMH as an exclusive NYC run. That won’t happen either!

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 22, 2004 at 8:10 am

Watching Music Man at 2 and ½ hours it looks like it might have been planned as a roadshow and then changed to regular status. There is even a perfect place for the intermission. Does anybody know why On a Clear Day which would have been a perfect film for the Music Hall did not play there? This was originally planned as a road show but due to a change in distribution patterns was downgrading to continuous perfs. The film was cut accordingly and I understand lost some great stuff. It would be nice if it still existed and was added to the DVD.

RobertR
RobertR on September 22, 2004 at 8:07 am

Thanks Ron

My friend and I were just discussing how great it would be to run a Music Hall festival and revive some of the great films that opened there over the years. Many years ago when I was running the DW Griffith a collector friend had an IB Technicolor print of “Bye Bye Birdie” from Germany complete with German subtitles. We ran it after the theatre closed for our friends. I think this may have played in the states in Eastmancolor. Many times the europeon prints were still struck in IB. The colors were a knockout. Think how it would look on the music hall screen.