Radio City Music Hall

1260 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020

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mrchangeover
mrchangeover on September 7, 2004 at 10:45 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 9:28 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 9:59 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 8:54 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 3:59 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 2:41 pm

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 2:09 pm

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 12:41 pm

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 12:04 pm

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 11:38 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 11:11 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 9:25 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 7:44 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 8:25 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.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on September 3, 2004 at 5:35 pm

Vito and Martin: Thanks for talking about the Fox CinemaScope fanfare. I’m grateful to George Lucas or whoever it was on “Star Wars” who was responsible for bringing it back. Speaking of Lucas, maybe it’s my imagination but has anyone else noticed that on the last two Star Wars films (Episodes 1 & 2), Alfred Newman’s Fox music sounds way too low, much lower than the Star Wars fanfare that follows it? Maybe this is Lucas’s way of keeping 20th Cebtury Fox in their place – they just distribute the movies but he creates them … I don’t know.

My favorite movie music to follow the Fox fanfare? There are two of them, both from the ‘50’s. “The King and I”, with that glorious Alfred Newman arrangement of the March of the Siamese Children, and “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, a terrifying blast of percussion and pipe organ courtesy of the Master, Bernard Herrmann.

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on September 3, 2004 at 3:31 pm

“ I for one missed the extended scope Fox fanfare which disapeared with the switch to Panavision”

Vito: Ah yes….what a wonderful fanfare that was. In the theatre I worked we used to crank the sound up a couple of notches when we opened up after the intermission and the curtain rose…..just to make sure the audience paid attention! My favourite movie music follow right after the 20th Century-Fox fanfare was “North To Alaska” with Johnny Horton singing the theme. What a great way to open a show.

Another question …did the projectionists at RCMH operate the curtains, house lights and stage lights for the movie part of the show or was it all done by the stagehands union?

MartinC

BobFurmanek
BobFurmanek on September 3, 2004 at 2:00 pm

Perspecta was installed by MGM in every Loew’s theater, as well as the Paramount, Criterion, Capitol and possibly Strand theaters on Times Square. It was used by MGM, Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros, Allied Artists and United Artists. It lasted from late 1954 to 1957/58.

I’ve heard quite a few tracks through a restored Fairchild integrator. While it is panned mono, the mix (and careful use of separate gain levels for each channel) gives a very convincing illusion of stereo. We ran “Forbidden Planet” at the Loew’s Jersey on a 50 foot screen, and the Perspecta track sounded pretty good!

Vito
Vito on September 3, 2004 at 1:39 pm

Thanks Warren, I long standing question of mine has been answered.
A lot of movie peole complained about CinemaScope and refused to use it. Making things worse in those days was the refusal on the part of the studios to pay Fox royalties to use the process, which spawned many ananorphic nightmares like SuperScope. MGM stayed with CinemScope until late 50s but others came up their own version like WarnerScope etc. Thank heavens we were able to project all of these anamorphic processes with the same lens, the only odd ball was SuperScope which required a different aperature plate than the others. Panavision is of course a superior anamorphic process. Perspecta never was accepted very much although the Paramount on Staten Island did have it.
By the way it sure is a great pleasure chatting with you guys!

BobFurmanek
BobFurmanek on September 3, 2004 at 11:31 am

I believe “Jailhouse Rock” was the first feature to be photographed witb the new anamorphic Panavision lenses.

MGM offered many of their stereo prints in both mono optical Perspecta, and 4-track mag/optical prints. This policy lasted until sometime in late 1957 when Perspecta was abandoned by the studio.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 3, 2004 at 10:46 am

Fox dumped CinemaScope because the name no longer drew crowds and the process itself proved inferior to Panavision. When MGM made “Green Mansions,” they intended to film it in CinemaScope, but Audrey Hepburn was horrified by the close-ups that she did for test shots and insisted that they use another process. MGM ended up with a then small company called Panavision, which used a new lens invented by Robert E. Gottschalk.

Vito
Vito on September 3, 2004 at 8:07 am

I am not sure I agree with the statement about RCMH and mag sound. I thought it was used rather extensily during the mid to late 50s.RCMH also used magnetic sound when 70mm was installed. The Simplex 35/70 projectors have 35mm as well as 70mm magnetic readers.
The last four track I saw at RCMH was in 1972 with “The Red Tent”.
“A Star Is Born” in 1976 was just about the last film to have four track, it included Dolby noise reduction which of course became Dolby optical stereo. Then “Star Wars” started the Dolby stereo revolution we enjoy today. Only Fox was completely commited to magnetic sound, all fox releases starting with “The Robe” in 1953 were available in either optical or magnetic versions. later on with the advent of mag/optical prints, all fox releases were distributed mag/optical untill 1963 when Fox abanded CinemaScope for Panavision. The last CinemaScope fox release, I believe was “Capriece” starting Doris Day. After that it was goodbye to mag sound at Fox and all Panavision prints were optical.Fox was going through some tough financial times then and the added cost of magnetic prints was one of the first to go. This brings up a question to which I never really recieved a satisfactory answer.
Why did Fox dump CinemaScope? I for one missed the extended scope Fox fanfare which disapeared with the switch to Panavision, which was never heard again untill “Star Wars” when Lucas changed “A Cinemascope production” to “A George Lucas Production”, returning Mr. Newmans great fanfare to it’s former glory.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 2, 2004 at 8:25 pm

I believe the only Garbo film to play RCMH was “Ninotchka.” Interestingly “Silk Stockings,” the musical remake also played there, as has been noted above.

EMarkisch
EMarkisch on September 2, 2004 at 8:21 pm

Yes, Simon, you are correct. Garbo’s Camille did play at the Capitol.
However, Porter is referring to a clip of “Camille” that was blown up and used in the “Annie” movie musical. It was used quite erroneously. As I recall, Daddy Warbucks buys out a performance at Radio City and takes Orphan Annie et. al. to see Garbo in “Camille”.
As far as I know, “Camille” never played RCMH.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 2, 2004 at 7:19 pm

If I’m not mistaken, didn’t “Camille” play the Capitol?

porterfaulkner
porterfaulkner on September 2, 2004 at 7:06 pm

Vito is, of course correct, in stating that they were mostly mono or Perspecta sound prints used in the mid to late fifties at the Music Hall. The Hall was not equipped to show magnetic 4 track prints because of the rejection of audiece-participation speakers in the auditorium and the product base being mainly MGM films. This was a major expense for exhibitors and was also damaging to the decor in many theatres. MGM and Paramount embraced Perspecta which gives a stereo directional effect from a mono soundtrack but in the stage range only. It did not require or benefit from speakers in the auditorium. 20th Century-Fox championed the much more expensive 4 track magnetic prints initially as part of their promotion of CinemaScope.The spectacular multi-directional sound from these prints was expensive for the studio and for the exhibitor but also meant that the print was only usable in one type of theatre and from usually only one studio. Meanwhile, because of the cost of these prints, they developed mag/optical prints. These carried 2 tracks of stereo and and a mono optical track but didnt start to be taken up until the late 50’s. From then on 4 track was only used infrequently,mostly for event pictures or special prints for gala engagements. This continued up until the late seventies when Dolby became widespread.

Just because the wide release of a film was in a certain sound process or aspect ratio doesnt mean that other prints do not exist. The studios ran off prints in all sorts of strange variations in different cities. ‘Scope films were released flat or rereleases of classics or even just new prints were run off in different processes. Having worked in a film exchange I remember having a print of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “Call Me Madam” in 4 track, whilst having “Carousel” in a flat 1:1.66 and mono. One of the last special magnetic 4 track prints I saw was for a premiere of “Hair”, which came direct from UA in Los Angeles and was returned to their library after the engagement.

Part of the reason the 70mm prints of “GWTW” looked so bad is they were printed up from Technicolor IB masters and converted to Metrocolor then blown up. The only way to get enough picture to fill the 70mm ratio was to zoom in on the 1.33 image sufficiently to get enough picture to fill the sides of the screen(a bit like the Pan&Scan process when they need to fill height when printing up from a widescreen image).Resulting an a blotchy,grainy and washed out look to a treasure most people remember as being akin to “Wizard of Oz” A ghastly mistake which MGM never repeated and the 70mm prints of “GWTW” were discarded. This didn’t however stop them from trying it with other classics on the odd occasion as there was a 70mm print struck of “Camille” and used to fill the screen at RCMH when filming John Huston’s “Annie”!!!