Radio City Music Hall

1260 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020

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VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 2, 2004 at 6:24 am

When I saw 7 Brides at the Music Hall in the late 70’s the cinemascope screen seemed wider than any panavision or 70MM film I had ever seen there(and no seams.) It was great except for the Ansco color. Could I have been mistaken?
Also weren’t the MGM musicals such as Brigadoon at this point in ‘54 presented in stereo at the Hall?

Vito
Vito on September 2, 2004 at 4:00 am

Do any of you very knowledgeable gentlemen know if the Capital projected Vertigo in VistaVision? I can recall RCMH and the Paramount having VistaVision projection, what about the Capital.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on September 1, 2004 at 5:20 pm

I hate to post-script my contribution, but I do want to register my crabby memory that in the early ‘50s the screen at RCMH had an annoying distraction: you could see the lines where its panels had been sewn together. I know that the much-E-Bayed Souvenir Pictorial of that time proclaims a totally seamless screen. But the truth was otherwise. The CinemaScope screen consisted of seven panels (each 4’ wide) sewn together horizontally, unlike the panels at other theaters that were joined vertically with less noticeable sutures. For its regular wide-screen format, the masking rose to reveal an eighth horizontal panel, even as the side maskings closed in for a 1.66 ratio (RCMH seemed always to have had a narrower ratio than other theaters, even when the format was 1.33â€"an optical illusion perhaps?). In any case, the black lines crossing the screen were maddeningly annoying. Every kid in the theater noticed it and would draw attention to it. Parents would shh us and tell us not to spoil the show. But the sutures remained. At some point in 1956, around the run of “Friendly Persuasion” if I remember correctly, RCMH finally installed a truly seamless screen, or so it seemed. Or maybe because I was older and perhaps going blind from teenage activities, I didn’t see the familiar old lines so acutely. To me in the early ‘50s, the most impressive wide-screen was at the Capitol. Gently curved and with barely perceptible seams, it was proportioned at 1.85 and it covered nearly the entire proscenium. It awed me in August ’53 at “From Here to Eternity” (with stereophonic sound, too, which RCMH did not offer until much later). Later the Capitol reduced the size of its wide-screen somewhat (in truth, its larger size probably invited graininess), but still used its flawless facilities for such films as “War and Peace,” “The Pride and the Passion,” “Vertigo,” and others of that era.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on September 1, 2004 at 3:58 pm

SimonL— Thanks for the notes about the program fillers in the ‘40s-'50s. They concur exactly with my memories. The Rivoli named its expanded screen “the Cycloramic screen.” I describe its use in this site’s listing for the Rivoli. Aside from the Destruction of the Temple in “Samson and Delilah” (December '49), I did not see it used again at that theater. In Summer '53, the Rivoli (like every other NYC house) installed its all-purpose CinemaScope screen, which it used until converting to Todd-AO in October '55. In my movie-going experience, RHMH used its Magnascope screen for the scenes described above, as well as for the sea storm sequence in “Plymouth Adventure” and the Busby Berkeley aquatic scene in “Million Dollar Mermaid,” in November and December '52 respectively. My parents told me that RCMH used it for the horserace scene in “National Velvet” as well. The Rivoli’s Cycloramic screen raised my seven-year-old consciousness to delerious heights, so whenever I saw it at RCMH, I snapped to attention. I expected that the theater would have used it for all its “big” pictures, and was chagrined when it didn’t. Except for the Esther Williams splasher, I recall it for no other MGM musical, including “The Great Caruso,” “Show Boat,” “An American in Paris,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” and a bunch of others that I saw there (the latter-day “That’s Entertainment” of course deployed the device for excepts from these films). I can still taste my disappointment when RCMH withheld it from scenes in such spectaculars as “Kim,” “Scaramouche,” and “Ivanhoe.” (You may gather correctly that I was a pint-sized nut about that projection device.) There would have been no concern about cropping, since the Magnascope screen was framed in the standard 1.33 ratio. With “Shane” in May ‘53, RCMH used it (now named “the Panoramic Screen” and still at 1.33 ratio) for the entire picture, in lieu of installing a new curved screen, and continued to do so until introducing its properly proportioned all-purpose screen the following December, in anticipation of CinemaScope. There’s a swell picture of the latter in the journal “Theatre Catalogue” (1954-55). I know of no other first-run B'way theaters that used Magnascope in the late '40s-'50s, or at least I saw none other used there or then. The Roxy, a candidate, did not, because it projected its films onto a black-bordered sheet hanging in front of voluminous, dimly-lit lavender curtains. For a picture of the remodeled (but still old-screen) Roxy in December '52, with its then shamefully draped proscenium, see the above mentioned “Theatre Catalogue” (1952-53).

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 1, 2004 at 3:43 pm

I don’t think that the Music Hall ever advertised or publicized its Magnascope. It was just something that they used to surprise and amaze the audience, and to make the theatre seem more unique, aka “showmanship,” which has all but vanished in the cinemas of 2004.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 1, 2004 at 3:26 pm

I worked as a front lobby doorman at the Music Hall during The Blue Bird.The only patrons the Music Hall had in the evening by this time were high school spring trips to New York. After sightseeing during the day they would come to the Music Hall at night. During this film the patrons would exit the auditorium in droves and hang out in the lobby until the stage show started(I never was able to sit through the entire film myself.)The stage show itself was pretty bad and its amazing the Music Hall was still able to limp along for another year or two as the only people going there were the few desperate tourists still going to New York in the latter 70’s. A very sad time which as far as the Music Hall and Rockefeller Center were concerned only got worse(unless of course you like watching basketball games in theaters and like shopping at Banana Republic.)

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 1, 2004 at 3:14 pm

The Rivoli Theatre had the same type of Magnascopic screen as RCMH. At the Rivoli for “Samson and Delilah,” it was only used for the climactic scene of the destruction of the temple. The Magnascopic screen was a combination of an enlarging lens on the projector and changing the “masking” around the screen so that the screen was large enough to accomodate the bigger image. At the end of the scene, projection would be switched to an ordinary lens and the screen masking would return to normal.

RobertR
RobertR on September 1, 2004 at 2:30 pm

Look at what we used to get when we went to the movies. A theatre to die for along with a movie, stage show and the organ. We were fortunate to have it until 1979, I dont think any other theatre had this policy after the 1950’s did they?

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 1, 2004 at 2:22 pm

Absolutely. Here’s the deal. The idea was to give patrons approximately 3 hours of entertainment. The stage show portion would run anywhere from 22 minutes (with a 2 hr 30 minute film like “The Greatest Show on Earth,” or “The Nun’s Story,” or “Sayonara.”). If the film was only 75 to 90 minutes or so, as with many of the films during the 1930s, the stage show could run up to an hour. The balance of the screen time would be filled with either The March of Time (18 minutes), the newest Walt Disney cartoon, or one or even two 10 minute shorts, and a newsreel(their own compliation). Sometimes all were included in the program, added or removed during the course of the day, depending on where the management needed to fill or gain time. Only The March of Time or the Disney cartoon would ever get credit in the printed program. The organ breaks would also be used to fill time (to the great joy of the patrons). Sunday morning was the best time for an extended organ concert, as the house opened almost an hour before the feature began, and the organist would often play for a half hour.

RobertR
RobertR on September 1, 2004 at 2:16 pm

I was looking through the programs I saved from RCMH and forgot all about “The Blue Bird”. Does anyone remember that one? Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner. It was billed as the first US-Soviet co-production. George Cukor directed it. I have never seen this film again on tv or video.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on September 1, 2004 at 2:12 pm

To Will: In 1970 I can remember seeing a short subject with “The Out-of-Towners” , and a trailer for the scheduled next attraction at the Music Hall, “Darling Lili”, playing with “Airport” (even though it wasn’t the next attraction. “The Out-of-Towners” was. Don’t know what happened there – maybe “Darling Lili” wasn’t finished on time).

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on September 1, 2004 at 2:00 pm

When RCMH was presenting stage show and feature, were there short subjects and/or trailers?

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 1, 2004 at 1:59 pm

As a regular patron of the Music Hall during the late 1940s and 1950s, (and an usher in the 1950s)and going regularly as a subscriber (reserved seats) with my parents, I have no memory of the screen enlarging for climactic scenes (something that would stand out as special)at any of the films that played there. Yes, the screen enlarged after the credits as when such films as “Shane,” and a few others played there (that didn’t last long), notwithstanding all the wide screen films after “Knights of the Roundtable,” that otherwise made no fuss in presentation over the the film that was shown in wide-screen format. But getting back to the Rivoli, that theater was always at the forefront of presentation. I especially remember “Samson and Delilah” (which played day and date with the Paramount)being shown on some new type of screen (anyone know what that was?,) as well as a special surround sound going back to “Portrait of Jenny.”

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 1, 2004 at 1:57 pm

I thought that Magnascope was simply an enlarged screen. Was there cropping involved? And how much?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 1, 2004 at 1:50 pm

I don’t know if they used it for big musical numbers, because it would tend to cut off the feet of the dancers, a problem that became very apparent with the introduction of CinemaScope. I recall seeing Magnascope used only twice at RCMH, during the animal stampede in “King Solomon’s Mines” and the train wreck in “The Greatest Show On Earth.” But I never attended RCMH prior to 1950, so I can’t speak for previous decades.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 1, 2004 at 12:47 pm

Box Office Bill on the Rivoli site talks about some of the climactic dramatic moments in film that were shown in Magnascope at the Music Hall. I was wondering if anyone who was going to the Music Hall in the late forties early fities could tell us if the big musical climactic moments were shown that way as well. For example the Varsity Drag from Good News, The American in Paris ballet from same film and the Broadway Melody from Singin In the Rain.

William
William on August 19, 2004 at 9:00 am

The top should read “A MESSAGE to OUR PATRONS” sorry about the typo.

William
William on August 19, 2004 at 8:58 am

The following Message was in the program for the Radio City Music Hall for the date Wednesday Evening April 12th, 1978 from Charles R. Hacker. (Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer)

A MESSAGE TO OUT PATRONS

The curtain went up on Radio city Music Hall on December 27, 1932. Tonight, 45 years later, you will be seeing the very last performance of our traditional stage and film presentation. In the short time since the announcement of the theatre’s closing, thousands of you have written us wonderfully warm letters about what the theatre has meant to you. We do appreciate your sentiments.

During these past 45 years, over 650 films and shows have been presented here. The Music Hall is not only “The Showplace of the Nation” and the greatest theatre in the world, but perhaps it is safe to say it is the greatest theatre in the history of the world. Having played to over 238 million people, it is a showbusiness phenomenon-unique!

So why then must we close? The painful fact is that our costs have been steadily outrunning our income. while we still have thousands of devoted patrons, in the end they were not generating enough revenue—and on the Music Hall’s scale of operation—“not enough” translates into many millions of dollars.

We have persevered as long as we could, and it is a real tribute to you, our audience. And patrons, please permit me to take opportunity to thank the Music Hall’s magnificent staff, past and present, for their dedication, accomplishments and showmanship. I have been very fortunate to have been associated with this fine organization for 30 years.

Thank you—all of you-who have patronized the Radio City Music Hall. Our deepest gratitude for being such a demanding and responsive audience.

Sincerely,
CHARLES R. HACKER
Excutive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer

On this night it was a Variety Club Foundation of New York Benefit Performance. The feature was “Crossed Swords”.

Vito
Vito on August 12, 2004 at 11:39 am

Vincent, my roadshow days were a long time ago, however I remember a few standouts such as, “Sound Of Music” (70mm and 35mm)
“Oliver” (70mm), “Ben Hur” (70mm) “My Fair Lady” (70mm) “Hello Dolly” and Grand Prix (70mm Cinerama) I do remember the last one which was “Fiddler On The Roof” in 35mm with 4 track mag sound.
Prior to the opening, a dress rehersal would be done to check the print and set volume levels as well as timing the lights and curtains for the overture, intermission and exit music. Sometimes as in the case of “Hello Dolly” the studio (fox) attended to put their two cents in. As for becoming a projectionist, in my day you had to pass a written test and then take a practical exam which was given at a theatre in New York, then if you passed both tests you were issued a licence and the business agent would present you to the executive board exactally as outlined by William.

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on August 12, 2004 at 10:19 am

William:

When I lived in England in 1960 the unions had nothing to do with hiring. You applied for a job as projectionist at any theatre you wanted. The pay was not very good though. You began as a rewind boy and moved up to the fourth…then third…..second and after a few years the Chief’s job where the pay was still not particularly good. Most people had to move around to go up the ladder. At the larger theatres at that time there was a rewind boy and two projectionists on each shift. The rewind boy doubled up on the lights at intermission time. At the Odeon Leicester Square in London, you had to have been a chief projectionist for a certain amount of time before you could be hired onto the regular projection staff. You had to know your electrical stuff and your showmanship backwards.
When I moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1961, it was much as you described in the US. I wanted to continue with my part-time projection work while I was in high school but it was very difficult to get into an apprenticeship program. It was all single operator booths. Showmanship was almost non-existent in Hamilton in those days.
I am glad I had a taste of real showmanship on the part of the projectionists. Roadshow movies (eg South Pacific) were always rehearsed prior to the first night so the presentation and timing was as good as it could be.
I can imagine how good Radio City Music Hall’s presentation must have been when there was also a stage show.

William
William on August 12, 2004 at 7:51 am

The golden age of being a true projectionist is all but over. By saying that I mean, during that era you had a operator or two in every theatre booth in all the big cities. And you only handled one screen not the 10 or 20 screens of todays cinemas. In those days you worked your way up to the better theatres and if you worked the relief board. You got to work a lot more theatres and work with many different types of theatre projection equipment. And if you were good in the booth the regular operator would ask for you to work his vacation time. During that time it was a profession that paid very well and you could make a living on it. It was a skill of mastering the equipment in the booth and the lighting and curtains to make it all look like it was all done with machines. But it was all in the timing of everything, the footage, the speed of your curtains, the types of light fixtures etc… . Today all you do is thread the projector, set a timer or push the button and everything is done with automation or pre-programed. To become a union projectionist at one time, you had tho call the business agent for the local and ask, then you get presented to the executive board and if there is a opening for apprenticeships then you would be sent to a few booths to see if you would be a good candidate as an operator. And you would pay a fee to become a member of the union. After that point you would be placed of the out of work list and the business agent would assign you to work. Remember there was a lot more jobs available as a projectionist than today. So you would work your way on the extra board and every month there would be a
job or a few jobs on the bid sheet. Now on the bid sheet you would go up againist members with better or equal seniority numbers for the jobs. The older members would get awarded the better theatre jobs. Remember also that there was many older single screen theatres and adult theatre running too. Most of the times the newer members would work or win bid on the adult houses till the next round of bidding. And after time and a lot of work, you might get a theatre in the First Run theatres district. Today you work your way up from being a usher/doorman to the booth. Now with all the automation, Xenon lamps, platters, one or two booth people can run a 10-20 screen plex. With the major chains cutting most of their professional projectionists to limited service, the usher/doorman operators run the show. The major chains most of the time pays way under $10.00 an hour for that job. So the days of being a projectionist and making a living are long gone.
Today I still make change-overs and keep the reels moving for my audiences. I’m still a projectionist.

umbaba
umbaba on August 12, 2004 at 6:24 am

so…how does one go about becoming a projectionist??

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on August 12, 2004 at 6:22 am

Vito what roadshow engagements di you cover for?

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on August 12, 2004 at 5:22 am

William and Vito:

Thanks for the responses. Thats exactly what I was looking for.

Vito
Vito on August 12, 2004 at 4:39 am

William is quite correct, I was a union projectionist in New York for many years and the jobs were awarded just as he said. In the early years with a low seniority number I worked as a relief projectionist and would travel from theatre to theatre covering vacations.When a projectionist vacated a job the bids would go out and I would work the booth untill the bids were closed and the job awarded.In addition whenever a roadshow was presented in 70mm, two projectionists were on duty at all times no matter how big the house. Incidendently, $50-$75 per show was pretty good money in those days, we only worked about 3 to 4 hours per shift. On a Roadshow engagement we were required to be in the booth one hour before show time, and half hour on regular continuous shows. engagements.