Radio City Music Hall

1260 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020

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mrchangeover
mrchangeover on July 26, 2004 at 10:15 am

Vito and everyone:

I just want to clarify my previous post to say that I did not work at Radio City Music Hall. I wish I had. The work I referred to was when I was a trainee projectionist in England in 1960.

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on July 25, 2004 at 8:32 am

vito:

“Boring” is right. Seems like its a just a matter of turning the projectors on and off now. One person makes up the show and sticks it on the platter..and thats about it.
When I was working it was very much as you described at RCMH. Always two projectionists and a rewind guy on a shift, a chief projectionist breathing down your neck to make sure there were no mistakes. At intermission time on continuous shows it was wild….one guy operating the lights and curtains, one guy changing lenses and gates for Cinemascope feature or previews, reels to be rewound rolling across the floor to the rewind guy with its replacement being rolled back. Everything was timed out. The audience had no idea what was going on. I remember at one time there was sign over each of the ports which read “Your performance is the audience’s pleasure”. Amen.
So it is good to know the amount of work that went on at RCMH. I wish I could have seen a movie/live show there. I visted in 1980 but it was all a live show.

Vito
Vito on July 25, 2004 at 8:12 am

mjc, Very few theatres run reel to reel carbon arc now a days, but some remain with Xenon reel to reel. Everyone has gone platter happy, even the single screen Zigfield, which has two projectors in the booth, uses a platter. What a boring job that projectionist must have.

Vito
Vito on July 25, 2004 at 8:05 am

I was just thinking, RCMH could have presented “Kiss me Kate”
in 3-D without intermission, since they had enough projectors to make a 3-D reel changeover. That is what the Paramount, with four projectors, did with “House Of Wax” and “Charge At Feather River”

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on July 25, 2004 at 8:04 am

Simon, Vito and Jim:
Thanks for replying. I have the Ben Hall book but there is very little in there about the projection function at the Roxy. He mentions there was a large projection staff at the time it opened but there is not much other info and no photo’s.
I’ll check with the Theatre Historical Society ( I used to be a member) to see if they have anything else on file.
There is a great 360 degree picture of the projection booth at Radio City Music Hall on their website. There is not a lot of equipment in but I can imagine what an impressive place it would have been at one time.
I worked as a trainee projectionist for over a year when I was in my teens and still have the bug.I visited the projection booth at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus several years ago and it was as if time had never changed. Same projectors, carbon arcs and sound system I had worked on in the theatre I was at in 1960.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 25, 2004 at 7:33 am

I suspect that the decision to show “Kiss Me Kate” flat was due mainly to the problems associated with the distribution of viewing glasses. The theatre might have to hand out as many as 6,000 pairs per performance, which required extra personnel and would slow down entries and exits. The movie was shown in 3-D when it hit the Loew’s circuit, but even its largest theatres (Paradise, Valencia, Metropolitan, etc.) were much smaller than RCMH.

JimRankin
JimRankin on July 24, 2004 at 7:00 pm

Simon is right that the Theatre Historical Soc. is the quintessential resource on most any theatre, especially the ROXY, since all photos shown in the late Ben Hall’s “The Best Remaining Seats …” as well as both of the issues of their MARQUEE magazine devoted to the ROXY, are retained at their Archive, and all materials are available for reference or duplication. The URL which Simon lists for them is correct, but they have been using an Internet convention called an “alias” for some years now, which makes their URL, or Internet address, easier to remember and type: www.HistoricTheatres.org

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 24, 2004 at 5:35 pm

As mjc wants to know about the differences between the Roxy and RCMH projection booths, may I suggest that he contact both The League of Historic American Theaters (lhat.com) and The Theater Historical Society of America (http://www2.hawaii.edu/~angell/thsa/. Also the definitive Roxy info can be found in “The Best Remaining Seats” by Ben Hall. It is out of print, but libraries and buffs are sure to have it.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on July 24, 2004 at 9:23 am

My nominees for sub-standard holiday movies are “Easy to Love” (Christmas ’53) and “RoseMarie” (Easter ’54). As an eleven-year-old, I found it unbearable to watch the tight-teethed Esther Williams and stolid Van Johnson in the first, and the diminutive Ann Blythe and stage-Latin Fernando Lamas in the second. The best thing about the Christmas movie was that finally RCMH had installed a reasonable (though flat, not curved) wide screen. The Thanksgiving movie, “Kiss Me Kate,” was shown on the flat, square-ish old MagnaScope sheet that RCMH had used instead of a proper new Miracle Mirror screen in 1953. And they famously declined to project it in 3D. Hoping against hope, I crossed my fingers that on the day I saw it, the management might finally come to its senses and distribute polaroid glasses. But, alas, no such luck. The thrill of the Christmas show for me was that, as a movie-mad kid, I had just received the most extravagant Xmas present any kid could ever imagine, an 8mm movie camera, and so I brought it to film the Nativity pageant. My biggest disappointment was that not a single image developed at all, except for a blurry head of Mary spotlighted briefly in the final creche tableau. Of course, the Nativity’s dimly lit nocturnal set was not good for any photo-shoot at all. Someone has asked whether anyone took movies of early RCMH stage shows, and this might explain why. The 2.8 aperture on my camera simply couldn’t pick up even a fully-lit stage from the audience’s distance.
The Christmas show’s new screen had been installed in anticipation of the first MGM CinemaScope film, “Knights of the Round Table,” which followed in January. Again hoping against hope, I kept my fingers that the stage-crew might curve this vast screen for the new format (perhaps with a giant crowbar, or some such thing). But, alas, flat projection was here to stay at RCMH. I anticipated that the stage show would be stripped down to highpoint the movie (after all, the Roxy had dropped stage shows altogether when it brought in CinemaScope). As things turned out, it was one of the best stage shows that I ever remembered seeing at RCMH. The Rockettes’ number was set against a perspectival backdrop of RCMH’s 50th Street façade, and began with a stage-door Johnny greeting each dancer with flowers and chocolates as she emerged from the set’s stage-door. An announcer named each dancer as she stepped out, and the audience applauded for every one of them. As the stage filled up with all thirty-six, the effect proved tremendous when the lineup reached completion and broke into precision dance. The music with its sultry jazzy-blues rhythm, “Amy Doesn’t Dance Here Any More,” struck my pre-pubescent imagination as really sexy.
The following attraction was “Long, Long Trailer,” and I recall its stage show as the height of sophistication, thinking that when I grew up, this would be the kind of showmanship I’d truly appreciate. It was a Russell Markert production, which meant less spectacle and more art, and the music offered an all-Cole Porter score. The opening choral number was “Another Opening of Another Show,” and it dawned on me that the producers must have been sketching their program a few months earlier when “Kiss Me Kate” was playing, and that they took inspiration from the film. It offered me a good lesson in planning ahead. The Easter show that April was a disaster, and not just because of the movie. I recall on stage enormous pastel-colored Easter eggs in tones of yellow, green, and pink that really didn’t coordinate, with a kind of cheap cardboard look to it. But by that time I was already into staging my own 8mm spectacles of some quality (mostly poor quality) and could think myself a critic who’d earned the right to judge even the best work of others.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on July 24, 2004 at 9:21 am

Jim— many thanks for the technical info —

Vito
Vito on July 24, 2004 at 8:35 am

I visited the RCMH booth just before the restoration and wondered about what has changed. At the time there were 5 projectors, 3 of them were Simplex 35/70 and the other two were Simplex XL 35. All were equipt with a Xenon light source, the carbon arc lamps having been removed a while ago.Dolby Digital had been installed and they were running on 6k reels. No platter in site ,thank heavens, I hope it stayed that way. At one time RCMH employed multiple union projectionist on each shift, two would monitor the changeovers, one calling out the que marks as not to miss them. A chief projectionist was also on hand.The reels were rewound by hand and inspected after each showing. Any one with more info?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 24, 2004 at 7:34 am

The first MGM feature to be shown at RCMH was “Young Dr. Kildare,” in October, 1938…In 1933, its first year of operation, RCMH showed 21 features from RKO, 14 from Fox, 5 from Warner Brothers, 4 from Columbia, and 1 each from Paramount, Universal, and United Artists. The lack of MGM product was probably due to the rivalry between RKO Theatres and Loew’s Theatres, with the latter using the Capitol and the Astor for most of the major MGM releases (rarely Loew’s State, where vaudeville was king and the movies usually move-overs).

mrchangeover
mrchangeover on July 24, 2004 at 7:26 am

SimonL….A million thanks for all the information on the Roxy and Radio City Music Hall. I have some questions about the projection booths in both theatres. Who was responsible for maintaining the showmanship aspect of things? Were the projectionists hired specifically for each theatre of was it a union placement? Were the booths at the Roxy and RCMH similar in size? I understand the Roxy booth was in the front of the balcony, at 90 degrees to the screen to prevent distortion. Anything else you provide about the projection function would be appreciated.
Thank you.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 24, 2004 at 4:08 am

Getting back to the stage shows:

Getting back to the stage shows: Does anyone remember “Dancing Waters,” the gorgeous water falls display that was introduced (in a stage show called “Many Waters”)at the Music Hall with the film “The Bad and the Beautiful.” Dancing waters was also used to spectacular effect in a French themed show that recreated The Gardens of Versaille with “The Reluctant Debutante.” Speaking of unusual stage shows (but down the block)…The Roxy had the entire New York Philharmonic four times a day on stage with “The Black Rose.”

JimRankin
JimRankin on July 24, 2004 at 3:52 am

BoxOfficeBill: You don’t provide any E-mail address in your Contact information on your Member page ( /users/3642 ), so to answer your question as to editing your submissions here, the answer is ‘no’, you cannot edit them once you submit them, though you can hit “Preview” and see how it will look, and if you find a mistake, you can hit your BACK button and return to editing the Comment, and then hit either “Preview” again, or “Submit” if you find no more problems. Once you hit “Submit” there is no more chance to edit it.

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BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on July 23, 2004 at 2:28 pm

Here’s an oddity: For “Spirit of St. Louis in March ‘56, the organ interludes between movie and stage show were set in a way I’d never experienced before or after at RCMH. Instead of using the golden houselights on the contour curtain and arches, they lit the latter in sky blue to match the movie’s theme. And instead of using organ #1 on the left as usual, they used organ #2 on the right (which they dusted off from time to time, and occasionally used in conjunction with the former for special effect; was the former being renovated at that particular time?). I remember thinking, jees, all these tourists here for the first and probably last time will never see the famous "sunset” effect of the golden curtain. Some might recall that the newsreels and coming-attraction announcement always took place under dimly blue-lit arches to anable patrons arriving and departing between movie and stage shows to see their way..

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on July 23, 2004 at 1:14 pm

I’ll take a guess and say “A Tale of Two Cities” (1935).

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 23, 2004 at 1:10 pm

The IDEAL Christmas movie would have been “White Christmas,” but RCMH had to play it for Thanksgiving so that Paramount could release it wide at the year-end. “Deep In My Heart” was the Christmas attraction that year (1954)…And by the way, what was the first MGM feature to ever play RCMH?

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on July 23, 2004 at 12:40 pm

Do you think Impossible Years(yes pretty awful and I have a taste for mindless 60’s comedies) was worse than No No Nanette which didn’t even make it to New Years or Balalaika?
And yes Lanza was an ideal RCMH star.
Any other nominees for worst holiday films? (The 70’s dont'count.)

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 23, 2004 at 11:58 am

“The Great Caruso” seemed perfectly suited to RCMH, which always included some classical music in its stage shows and employed a resident ballet corps and symphony orchestra.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 23, 2004 at 11:50 am

With such films as “Sayonarra,” and “Auntie Mame,” (both 2 ½ hours) the stage show NEVER topped 30 minutes. Regular stage shows ran from 40 to 55 minutes. The show could never run past 3 hours total thus allowing for 4 stage shows and five films…except during Christmas and Easter Week. For “Sayonarra” and “Auntie Mame,” the doors opened (except Sunday) at 6:45 am with the picture starting at 7 am. Can you imagine getting your family up and dressed and over to the Music Hall at that time of day? But if you didn’t, you could depend on standing in line for three hours. For those that didn’t like lines or stage shows, you could go to the Music Hall (during the 1940s and early 1950s) and see a midnight showing of the movie alone (it followed the normal last showing of the complete stage and film show) that began with the stage show around 9:20 with the film at 10:10. I think the worst Christmas picture that ever had was “The Impossible Years,” (1968)with David Niven. Yet it broke attendance records.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on July 23, 2004 at 11:44 am

I imagine that MGM (and probably RCMH) thought “Annie Get Your Gun” a disaster (remember the firing of Judy Garland). Even the Capitol would have been more prestigious than the State (and the Capitol still had stage shows then). It’s odd thatRCMH instead chose “The Great Caruso,” and odder still that this operatic middle-brow went on to break records (I remember that the stage show ended with the Underwater Ballet, the first time I’d seen that chestnut). The newspapers announced that “Streetcar” was pulled because “Caruso”’s hold over pushed back its date too far. But I think SimonL’s explanation is accurate. In 1956 RCMH did not flinch from such adult films as “I’ll Cry Tomorrow,” “Picnic,” and “Tea and Sympathy.” As a young teen at the time, I could size up those pictures pretty well. For “The Next Voice You Hear” (yes, I saw that dreadful pic there too), the July 4-oriented stage show ended with the famous electriocal fireworks, and Rockettes clad all in re-white-‘n-blue. Patriotic fever indeed. Box Office Bill

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on July 23, 2004 at 11:14 am

Father of the Bride makes sense for the Music Hall but The Next Voice You Hear?!(You can read about it in the current Vanity Fair with the Reagans on the cover.) This was obviously a favor to Dory Schary.
Annie would have been great at the Hall. And Meet Me in St Louis would have been a much better choice than National Velvet and what about them playing a Date with Judy instead of Easter Parade?
And what was it with the lousy Green Mansions as the ‘59 Easter show?
And then the violent, brutal, action World War 2 film Operation Crossbow as the 65 Easter show?
Even Charade was a pretty dark and violent film for a Christmas show.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on July 23, 2004 at 11:09 am

To Box Office Bill: Thanks a lot for sharing your memories of the Radio City stage shows. You really describe them well – you have a great memory. I’ve been to about 15 shows there but the only one I can remember featured a stand-up comic during the engagement of “2001” in 1975. One of his jokes was “I’m so old I can remember when the air was clean and sex was dirty”, and nobody laughed, out of the thousands of people that were there. I wish I could have seen some of the shows you talked about instead.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on July 23, 2004 at 10:53 am

SimonL and others—

sorry for the typos above—I find it hard to type blindly after running out of space in the visible box allowed — is there a way to edit one’s comments before submitting them tothe site:
Box Office Bill