Radio City Music Hall

1260 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020

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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.

Ron3853
Ron3853 on September 22, 2004 at 8:00 am

To the best of my knowledge, Warner Brothers premiered and showed “The Music Man” as a regular non-roadshow film in all of the big cities during the summer of 1962.

“Mary Poppins,” however, was a roadshow film in almost all of the large cities when it came out in the fall of 1964.

Looking again through the list of films which played RCMH that I previously submitted, only “Mary Poppins” and “The Happiest Millionaire” (both from Disney) could truly be considered to have played roadshow engagements in cities other than New York, although “Fanny,” “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” “The Great Race,” “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” and “1776,” among others, probably could have been roadshow films, had the studios decided to release them that way.

RobertR
RobertR on September 22, 2004 at 7:38 am

I have a question maybe someone knows the answer to. I know because of its stage and movie policy the music hall never played Roadshows. However did movies open continuos showings at RCMH and roadshow in other places? I thought someone once told me “Music Man” and “Mary Poppins” played roadshow in other states. Is this true?

Vito
Vito on September 7, 2004 at 9:31 am

I am currently working on bringing classic films back to the grand 2400 seat St George theatre on Staten Island /theaters/1865/

I have been wanting to see the Jersey theatre, perhaps when I get back from vacation. I will be away for two weeks, going back to Hawaii where I lived and worked for several years. I will update the movie going experience there as well.

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on September 7, 2004 at 7:45 am

Vincent:

I was lucky enough to visit the 2800 seat Ohio Theatre in Columbus twice several years ago during the summer. They ran classic movies (We saw “To Catch a Thief” and “Meet Me in St Louis”) on Saturday afternoons, complete with an organist prior to the movie. To hear the cheers and clapping from a full house as the organist descended into the floor when the movie began was an incredible nostalgia trip. The kids who were there got a glimpse of what it was like all those years ago to see a movie in a wonderful theatre.
I was also very fortunate to visit the projection room afterwards. It was all so familiar. Peerless Magnarcs, Century ( I think) projectors…and they still did changeovers! Made my summer.

Note for Vito: Hey Vito…..I think we would make a heck of a team. Whaddya say I head down your way and we’ll offer our services to the folks at the Loews Jersey Theatre?

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 7, 2004 at 6:28 am

I would like to add my thanks to Bill. This stuff is amazing. But I must add that for those of us who were not able to enjoy this kind of showmanship during its heyday we can only regret what we missed(though I love DVD’s they are no replacement.) How very often after work or on the weekend would I love to see a good film at the Music Hall, the Criterion or the Rivoli.
The talk above about London’s Leicester Square also makes one want to get into a time machine and see those great 1 screen theaters.
Going to Paris and seeing the theaters on the Champs Elysee and see nothing but multiplexes was such a bummer. Now its happening in Italy.The french and italians may despise us but they love to imitate us at every opportunity.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on September 6, 2004 at 6:59 pm

The way all you guys are sharing your experience and reminiscences with us is the next best thing to having access to H.G. Wells’s time machine. Thanks!

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on September 6, 2004 at 5:54 pm

SimonL—You’re right about comparing the Roxy and RCMH. Part of the Roxy’s problem stemmed from the height of its projection booth and the distance of the screen from the curtain line. As the Roxy’s contour curtain rose or fell, the film projected nearly a quarter-way up on it, and the curtain cast an elongated shadow back upon the the screen. The Roxy could have solved the problem by using a traveller as well (as RCMH did), but it would have lost some of the Fox fanfare if the heavy curtains remained closed until the music began. The Roxy, of course, didn’t install its golden contour curtain until December ‘52 (with Ice Colorama on stage)— before that, it flaunted a wonderful burgundy-red opera-style swag. And, yes, the curtains at RCMH were so heavy that they muffled the sound — most damagingly for “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” which I saw there in January '57 (one of the few, to judge from the attendance figures you cited last 23 July): the movie began with an off-screen recitation of Elizabeth BB’s “How do I love thee,” which you couldn’t hear because of the curtain. I earlier described how, before CinemaScope brought alterations, RCMH’s contour curtain used to rise in a fully lit house, framing the yellow traveller behind it for a half-minute or so as the organist built to his finale. When the film flashed on the traveller, the lights dimmed and the curtain parted. That way, spectators saw the waterfall effect in brightly lit glory, and marvelled at the draped tableau for a fractional pause before the film began. That ended when larger-screen projection required a more complicated masking mechanism that likely interfered with the effect. In the late 50s, if you looked very, very carefully at the contour curtain during the organist’s finale, you could see the outline of a draft shield rising behind it, with an accompanying backstage gust of air that drew the curtain inwards. Or so it seemed to my un-professional but very sharp teen-aged eyes.

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on September 6, 2004 at 12:59 pm

BruceC:

I was in the Empire when it was single screen and the huge Warner the same weekend I visited the Odeon Leicester Square. That would be in 1960. Both theatres were older and a bit more grand than the Odoen….but I was more interested back then about the showmanship. Nothing wrong with the way they did things either from what I can remember but for some reason the Odeon show struck me as being more precise. The Odeon also had the reputation for excellence in presentation because whenever the Queen went to see a movie she went (at that time) to the Odeon. I have been in contact with a former Chief there and we discussed the very high standards of showmanship and technical expertise that projectionists had to meet before they could work there.
I understand now that the Empire has been carved up and there is a spectacular laser show with the movie.
Its so good to read in these postings that RCMH had such high standards…..because they cared. For me thats the point of all of this reminiscing. I have been to so many theatres over the past 20 years where all you got was a blank screen and silence when you walked in until the movie flashed on.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 6, 2004 at 11:41 am

Vito: Your description of the RCMH traveller closing and the contour descending was right on, but you should have noted that at the second that the sound track ended, the organ would pick up on the exact note so that there was no glaring change in key, after which the organist would segue into his medley. Even with the showing of “Executive Suite,” which had no sound track except for the peeling of a bell that began and ended the film, the organ picked this up before continuing. It should be noted that the Roxy was notoriously sloppy about this part of the presentation and the film would end with the curtain still halfway down exposing a blank screen.

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on September 6, 2004 at 11:09 am

What about the Empire on Leicester Square which was the flagship of M-G-M for decades and from what I here was a more impressive theatre?brucec

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on September 6, 2004 at 9:41 am

Vito:

Well…we were an ocean apart at the time but the kind of showmanship I talked about was exactly as you mentioned. The trick of cementing a piece of film was not one I saw done but it sure sounds like a heck of a good idea. The Chief or second who always ran the shows where I was did it strictly by practising dry runs.
The Dorchester had a beautiful gold festoon (drop) curtain and some slow moving big side curtains. We would use the side curtains to close the movie as you describe. We would drop the festoon after the side curtains closed during the intermission. No one would see it because it came down behind the side curtains. So when we opened again with the house lights dimmed and the lights all around the stage changing colours we would open with the side curtains again first..displaying the dropped festoon. Then we opened up the movie on the festoon which began to rise at the same time. Now you see why we liked the Fox fanfare so much! In England at the time each movie began with a Board of Film Censors title but we left that on the festoon. By the time the festoon was up all the stage lights were gone. What a great feeling that was. When we ran shorts, previews and newsreels between continuous shows we just used the festoon to close….it would rise again almost immediately which gave us time to open the tabs for Cinemascope previews after a newsreel or non scope preview or short without the audience seeing the screen open up. After all that we would close off using the side curtains and then drop the festoon behind…..ready to open the main show again. Busy time!
I wish have could have seen that stuff as you described in such splendid surroundings as RCMH. The best showmanship I ever saw in England was at the Odeon Leicester Square butI always thought the show at the Dorchester was pretty close behind.

Vito
Vito on September 6, 2004 at 9:04 am

Just a thought that occured to me regarding overtures and entrance music on movies. I don' know how everyone handled this, but in New York we would cement a strip of film, one sprocket in width, across the area where it was time to change the lighting levels. This would cause a click going thru the gate, similar to the sound of a splice, which would be our cue to change the lighting. With a movie like “South Pacific” there would be a couple of lighting cues. The first “click” would signal us to bring the house lights down about 25%, then the second one brought the lights down about 60%. The final cue was to kill the lights completly, and begin lowering the stage lights and open the curtain. The curtain could never expose a white screen, it had to be timed in such a way as to have the fade in of the movie as the curtains began to part. The same thing would apply to closing the curtains, they were timed so that the two panels would “kiss” as the movie faded out.Another point was, we NEVER played any other music (records in those days) before the start of the movie, or during intermission. RCMH always timed both the traveler and waterfall (contuer)curtains perfectly. The curtains were so heavy that the sound would drop 50% for the last few bars of music as the curtains closed over the speakers. Of course then the organ would begin with missing a beat. RCMH, in it’s day, was a first class act few could copy or do as well. one might try and find a flaw in the program but…. I never did.

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on September 6, 2004 at 8:38 am

Vito:

Yes I do ….it was South Pacific. I helped out with the manual re-winding, changeovers and lighting at a large theatre (the Dorchester, Hull, England) occasionally. If I remember correctly, they installed the extra speakers and equipment just for South Pacific which ran for about 3 months. In the theatre I worked at on weekends in a small town nearby we got South Pacific much later that year but it was the regular soundtrack. I was not connecting the fanfare to South Pacific in my previous post. Just pointing out the impact that movies at the time had on me. South Pacific was also the first and only time I ran a blank reel with just the soundtrack containing the overture before the movie started. Thrill was right. I was lucky to be doing that job at 16. The job lasted about a year.
I have made some inquiries through the daily paper in Hull to see if I can get some photo’s of the Dorchester to set up a listing here on Cinema Treasures. It was a wonderful 16 hundred seat theatre, the showmanship by the regular projection staff was superb. I am told the Dorchester was demolished several years ago.

Vito
Vito on September 4, 2004 at 8:11 am

Even though “South Pacific” did not have the Fox fanfare, as a young projectionist to get a print of that movie in four track with the intermission and all the entrance and exit music was a thrill.
mjc, do you remember your first mag print?

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on September 4, 2004 at 6:25 am

Porter wrote: “ How could you choose just one?”

Porter: You are right of course. There were so many great movie intros that came after the fanfare.
For me though it was all about a time and a place.I just loved that short part of my young life when I was in the projection business. For some reason that combination of the fanfare and the intro to the music stayed with me over many others. Thats probably also why I like “South Pacific” despite the movie’s many faults including those ridiculous colour filters. I just loved showing that movie and seeing the audience leave with smiles on their faces.
MartinC

Vito
Vito on September 4, 2004 at 4:44 am

Bill mentioned the fanfare seamed a bit low, my complaint is the treatment given to the new Fox logo, introduced a few years ago, which includes rhe fanfare with the extension not quite sounding the way Newman wrote it. Almost sounds like some kids in the garage banging it out instead of a full orchestra. I also disaprove about the way the last few bars have been slowed down. These people are messing with a national treasure here and need to learn a little respect for the way the fanfare was written. One last gripe, the Fox logo shown without the fanfare, but some other music, as in “Farewell to Arms”.(There I feel better now)
Porter mentioned great fox music, let’s not forget the wonderful overture to “How to Marry a Millionare”, played by the Fox orchestra
As I understand it, Millionaire was actually the first CinemaScope production fox made, but Zanack, in his wisdom, decided to hold off realease until after “The Robe” as to present CinemaSacope on a grandeur scale. I always thought the overture ahead of “How to Marry a Millionaire” was intended to show off and impress audiences with stereophonic sound. As to the question about who ran the lights and curtains at RCMH, it was all stagehands, projectionist had no control over any of that. In New York City, if you had a stage were you now or once presented live shows, you had stagehands even if you are showing movies.

porterfaulkner
porterfaulkner on September 3, 2004 at 5:25 pm

Favourite music to follow Newmans great Fox fanfare and CinemaScope extension? The Fox music department and its head Alfred Newman embarked on hiring the greatest selection of film composers for CinemaScope product which was designed to bring the “world to your doorstep”

There was great music for the many moods of Fox CinemaScope. Manhattan chic/“How to Marry a Millionaire”, Western drama/“Broken Lance”, Grandeur/“Anastasia”, Raunch,“Revolt of Mamie Stover”, Drama/“Rains of Ranchipur” Exotica/“Boy on a Dolphin”, Adventure/ “Soldier of Fortune”, Musical/“The King and I” and just plain fun/ “The Girl Can’t Help It”

How could you choose just one? But best seen mostly at the Roxy with magnetic sound.

Forget Dolby and all its sanitised technical sharpness. Give me the enormous depth and power of magnetic 4 or 6 track anytime, I can live with the hiss.