Radio City Music Hall

1260 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020

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Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 22, 2004 at 4:25 pm

The RKO Theatres circuit managed the Music Hall through most of the 1930s. During that period, many RKO Radio movies played at the RCMH, but the stage shows were always in-house and did not feature big “names” from anywhere. If I recall correctly, the radio team of Amos & Andy, which had a movie contract with RKO, did appear in one of the first stage shows, but that was the only time that stars from any medium did.

VincentParisi on July 22, 2004 at 4:06 pm

The only hope for the Music Hall would for the city and various sponsers to take over. It needs to be treated and maintained as a city landmark as much as Grants Tomb or Central Park. It needs to be managed by people who appreciate its history and resources. I believe the last year the Hall showed a profit was ‘55. After that I imagine it was propped up by the Rockefellers.
But this is a city that will spend a fortune of the taxpayers money on a sports stadium in Manhattan something that they wouldn’t even do in the beginning of the last century when the city was a fraction of its current density. This will cause us great security risks , congestion, and financial burdens while its very rich sponsers become even richer.
So I guess we won’t be seeing football games at the Music Hall but how about a golf range?

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on July 22, 2004 at 3:16 pm

How long were RKO and Radio City associated? Did the stage shows under RKO exclusively feature acts/stars under RKO contract? Or were the stage shows always produced in-house. Of course vaudeville was all-but gone by the time Radio City opened, but as the RKO Palace continued to operate with a “variety” policy for many years, I’m curious if RKO’s contract players dominated the Music Hall’s “great stage.”

JimRankin on July 22, 2004 at 3:05 pm

EdwinM remarks that: “Recently attended an Andres Rieu concert and the Boston Pops and the curtain just sat there in the upward position and didn’t move once.” This should not be faulted to the Music Hall, for it is customary at concerts to NOT use moving drapery, since the tradition is to emulate a standard concert hall which does not usually have a true stage or proscenium, and therefore no real drapery. The other uses of a true stage (legit theatre, opera, ballet, etc.) DO make use of moving/changing draperies to signal the opening, middle parts, and closing of a production, but not so for concerts. Still, I lament with you that the use of the wonderful House Curtain in RCMH (the vast Contour-type of curtain) is evidently so rarely used or moved these days. Who knows? Maybe the stage hands' union now requires a special person just to operate the Contour House Curtain, and that would be another expense for the management, which now exists for profit, NOT showmanship. It is sad, for as was said earlier, the raising and use of the vast golden curtain was part of the magic that made the Hall above and beyond the other theatres. We can but hope that a wiser and less money-focused administration will take over there in future.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 22, 2004 at 2:39 pm

Many of the ballets and production numbers at RCMH were repeated over the years, using the same sets and costumes from the theatre’s warehouse. One of the most frequently revived of all was Ravel’s “Bolero.”

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 22, 2004 at 1:28 pm

Here’s another stage show for the books. I believe I saw it with “Home Before Dark” with Jean Simmons (don’t hold me to this one). The finale was danced to the ballet music from “Faust.” It was a Dante’s Inferno number during which huge flames shot up from various holes in the stage floor as the entire company including the dancers (corps de ballet and the Rockettes) whirled around in a sort of orgiastic frenzy until (once again) the stage was engulfed in smoke. This was an unusual number in that the curtain didn’t descend during the climactic moment but the cast came forward for bows. The curtain came down after the bows. Can anyone remember any other really bizarre stage shows? I know a mini-opera version of “Madama Butterfly” was staged during the mid-1930s and held for a second week with a change of the film. I believe that was the only time a stage show was held over but not the film. The Paramount would do that on occasion.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 22, 2004 at 1:18 pm

Yes, I was there for the “The Great Nome Fire,” in which a replica of the town was engulfed in flames (I believe the Japanese are masters of on-stage fires, and they were also in charge of the burning of Atlanta in the London stage production of “Gone With The Wind”). The finale had fire engines racing through the town across the great stage spraying water on the fire with giant hoses as smoke billowed up and engulfed the entire stage from floor to rafters. The curtain came down as the smoke cleared showing the destroyed building. There were brighter moments during the first part of the show that included the Rockettes, as dance hall girls. It was a rather impressive but short display, as “The Nun’s Story” was 2 hours and 30 minutes leaving only twenty minutes for a stage show. The other shortest stage show (22 minutes)in my memory was for “The Greatest Show on Earth,” (2 hrs 32 mins). It had a circus theme. But when it comes to short stage shows, we can’t forget the 15 minutes devoted to the ice show (American Indian theme) that accompanied “Giant” (3 hrs 20 min at the Roxy. The running time for the entire show was just under 4 hours includidng breaks.

Ron3853 on July 22, 2004 at 10:49 am

Audrey Hepburn and Dame Edith Evans are still turning in their graves over that one!

VincentParisi on July 22, 2004 at 10:47 am

Strange but true. For some reason, which none of us alive now will ever know, someone in the Hall in ‘59 thought a fitting accompaniment to “The Nun’s Story” would be the destruction and devastation of Nome. So they burned the place 4 times a day. Now I wasn’t there so I can’t confirm any of this but I believe they threw in an earthquake as well.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on July 22, 2004 at 10:06 am

The Burning of Nome Alaska?

VincentParisi on July 22, 2004 at 9:45 am

How lucky you were you got to see a Cagney, Day Cinemascope film at the Hall along with the Bolero. You might envy those who were there opening night(I wish I had been there too though from all accounts it was a very long, tedious vaudeville show, kind of like the current xmas show( midgets too!)
But I have to say I also envy those who were going there on a regular basis in the 50’s and 60’s. All those wonderful movies(and the Bolero, Undersea Ballet, Serenade to the Stars, the burning of Nome, Alaska…)

JimRankin on July 22, 2004 at 8:40 am

Seth and others ask ‘Why’ things are as they are at RCMH as well as the few large theatres still operating around the country, and the answer to that is well displayed in the documentary “The Monster That Ate Hollywood” shown on PBS a couple years back. It is because of conglomerates, the same business type that is devouring the rest our commercial culture and destroying our society. Likely the owners of RCMH are also ultimately a conglomerate and answer only to the ‘bottom line.’ As is always the case, when the ‘bean counters’ take over, artistry goes out the window.

EMarkisch on July 21, 2004 at 8:44 pm

Well put Vincent and thanks for filling in some details on the Bolero number.
As you say there is a total lack of “showmanship” at RCMH these days. 76 million dollars to fix the place up and they hardly use the contour curtain, which watching it in the “old days” go up and down in various configurations was almost worth the price of admission alone. Too bad I wasn’t alive for the opening night show where 20 minutes were devoted to watching it do all sorts of tricks to a musical accompaniment.
Recently attended an Andres Rieu concert and the Boston Pops and the curtain just sat there in the upward position and didn’t move once. Also, I think they also screwed up the acoustics because in our seats on the far left of the orchestra for the Rieu concert there was an annoying echo.
Something else to kvetch about is….why do they have to have that gigantic lighting rig hanging in from of the procenium arch, which destroys the whole art deco effect of how it was meant to look? How did the Music Hall staff ever manage to light those four shows a day quite magnificently for some 35 odd years without that thing hanging there?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 21, 2004 at 4:09 pm

“Premiere Showcase” in NYC was the brainchild of Eugene Picker, who was fired from the presidency of Loew’s Theatres when the Tisch brothers bought the company. Picker, who’d joined Loew’s as a young man and had spent about 40 years with the company, swore to get even by breaking the dominance of Loew’s in the NYC area. He did it with the help of his brother, Arnold Picker, who was one of the top execs of United Artists Corporation. The first “Premiere Showcase” movies were all UA releases, starting with “Road to Hong Kong.” When this concept proved successful, all the other distributors followed suit. Some companies, especially MGM and Paramount, which had long associations with Loew’s, remained, but eventually jumped ship as well. In the end, Loew’s could no longer function as a circuit, and had to book its theatres individually into the various “showcases” that were formed.

VincentParisi on July 21, 2004 at 3:56 pm

Darling Lili was the last time the Florence Rogge Bolero was done at the Hall. I kept hoping to see it at some point during the early ‘70s as I had missed it that summer of '70. They never did it again and then decided in the bizarre thinking that has continued to plague the Hall ever since to stage Bolero in a summer show called Encore but with completely new sets, costumes and choreography by Geoffrey Holder. I didn’t bother to go because I knew it would be a travesty and I ask for the millionth time can somebody tell me why they don’t do Leonidoff’s wonderful Nativity anymore which would open the stage show and then lead into the secular part allowing for a grand Christmas finale? Which of course they wouldn’t do now because the clowns who run the place(yes you are)have no sense of showmanship.
Maybe they’ll use the place this autumn for football games?

Ron3853 on July 21, 2004 at 3:35 pm

Re: Seth’s question on Premiere Showcases

I’m from Pittsburgh, but it was the same in every big city in the mid-60s…the studios had more product than first-run theaters in which to show them (particularly when good product led to long runs in the downtown movie palaces), so they put together networks of second-run neighborhood houses to serve as first-run houses for a week or two for films that were more cheaply-made or of an exploitational type…good examples would be the Elvis Presley or Jerry Lewis vehicles which came out two or more times a year. Using names like “Showcase” “Red Carpet” and “Blue Ribbon,” they made it seem like it was something special that you didn’t have to go all the way downtown on the trolley to see a new release.

EMarkisch on July 21, 2004 at 3:28 pm

While we are in RCMH time machine mode, I would pick June 1955. On screen was LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME with Doris Day and James Cagney. Featured in the stage show was the Ravel’s BOLERO production number, which was so incredible to my 15 year old mind at the time that I sat through the movie and stage show a second time just to experience that number a second time. It started with a completely dark RCMH, the low drumbeats started and a pair of dancers was spotlighted center stage in the darkness. As the music kept building in volume, more and more dancers appeared and started to fill the stage. As the thundering finale was approaching, which by that time involved all of the Rockettes, the Corps de Ballet and God knows who else filled the stage. For the final crescendo of the music, huge drums on those mini-stages on the sides of the theater were played. It was quite a spectacle to behold.

They attempted a revival of this number in the late 70’s, I believe, as part of one of their summer shows after the screen and stage show combo had been abandoned. However, it was totally unmemorable and a mere shadow of its former self. It lacked the energy and large number of cast members required on stage to recreate that 1955 rendering of RCMH magic.

BoxOfficeBill on July 21, 2004 at 3:24 pm

I second William Dunklin’s kudos for your description— Here a couple of supplements: Before CinemaScope brought alterations to the narrow picture sheet space that eliminated a solid draft curtain (with “Knights of the RT” in January, rather than “RoseMarie” at Easter), the contour curtain used to rise before the main film in a fully lit house revealing the yellow traveller behind it. When the studio logo flashed on the traveller siumultaneously with the last organ notes, the lights dimmed and the traveller parted. That way, spectators saw the contour rise in full lighted glory, and enjoyed it in a fractional pause before the film began. The larger CinrmaScope screen eliminated a backstage draft curtain that kept the whole tableau in place, and so that was the end of the pre-film treat. Another supplement: The introduction of big screen in 1953 (with “Shane”) eliminated the spectaculkar MagnaScope effect mentioned elsewhere above, whereby certain spectacle scenes in movies were shown on an enlarged screen, when the masks widened from the standard 27'x35' size to a (at that time) manouth 36'x48' size. I remember the effect for the stampede scene in “ing Solomon’s Miones” (1950), the storm scene in “Plymouth Adventure” (Thanksgioving, 1952), the Busby Berkeley acquatic scene in “Million Dollar Mermaid” (Christmas, 1952), and, oh yes, the train wreck scene in “Greatest Show on Earth” (January 1951). When “Shane” opened in May ‘53 at a time when B'way movies were going WideScreen, the Music Hall advertised shhowing the film o"On the Panoramic Screen.“ I was hugely disappointed, because they simply showed it on the Magnascope Screen, without installing a cuurved wide screen as the Capitol, Loew’s State, and others had done. I saw "Band Wagon,” “Roman Holiday,” and LKiss Me Kate" (defiantly not in #D) that way. By the time of the Christmas show (“Easy to Wed)), the CinemaScope screen was in place, though that Esther Williams splash was made for and shown in c theby-then conventional 1x1.6 ratio on it 32'x52’ or so). In those early ‘Scope years, the Music Hall narrowed the screen to the (now) tiny 27'x35’ for the news , cartoon, and coming attraction announcement (with, yes, the traveller aopening and closing between each segment).

SethLewis on July 21, 2004 at 3:21 pm

Two more quickies – It’s a shame that our need for instant gratification doesn’t allow for a slower rollout of big pictures and I’m thinking largely of Disney’s animation resurgence in the last ten years so that there couldn’t still be exclusives at venues such as RCMH…I am curious in how the Premiere Showcase trend emerged in the 60s and 70s…from studio sponsored showcases we found ourselves in Manhattan with amorphous brands such as Flagship, Red Carpet, Blue Ribbon…if anyone can explain

VincentParisi on July 21, 2004 at 1:20 pm

Vito, If you went back in time to Christmas ‘54 I’m afraid you would have blown it. You would have seen Deep in my Heart with Jose Ferrar.
I hope that you would not have been too bummed and you got a second chance to go back to Thanksgiving '54. Then you would have see it.
The Nov/Dec Christmas show only started in '70 when the Thanksgiving show that year was such a bomb(Wilders cut to shreds “Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”) they had to pull it and open the Christmas show early. They never had a Thanksgiving movie again.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on July 21, 2004 at 12:54 pm

If I had access to the time machine, there are lots of trips I’d be making to the Music Hall: King Kong (1933), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), The Yearling (1946), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), I Remember Mama (1948), The Nun’s Story and North by Northwest (both 1959) and, from Ron’s list, The Music Man (1962), To Kill a Mockingbird (1963) and Wait Until Dark (1967 – there must’ve been lots of screams echoing throughout the Hall at the end of that one).

Vito on July 21, 2004 at 12:30 pm

Ahhhh a time machine, lets see, take me to Christmas 1954 to see “White Christmas” in VistaVision at RCMH

Ron3853 on July 21, 2004 at 10:46 am

In my opinion, the greedy studios in conjunction with the nation’s largest theater chains have totally ruined the once pleasurable pastime of moviegoing. They can have their 24-screen multiplex with stadium seating and cup-holders in the seats! It was much better in the old days when downtown theaters showed first-run films exclusively and neighborhood theaters with balconies got them on second-run as part of a double feature. You could see virtually everything but art films at the local “Bijou” or “Orpheum” in your own neighborhood and even walk to the theater. A wonderful bygone era. Somebody invent a time machine so I can go back to the days of Ike and Mamie!

VincentParisi on July 21, 2004 at 10:39 am

I thought Charlie Brown was pretty awful as well(They should have had the O'Toole Goodbye Mr Chips for the Christmas Show)but it was probably one of the most successful films to ever play the Hall. The stage show for it however was the best I ever saw there.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 21, 2004 at 10:34 am

A slight digression from the Music Hall: The common practice of saturation booking policy by the studios explains the demise of all the single screen cinemas with 1,200 seats or more. The Ziegfeld Theater no longer gets the “exclusive” except perhaps for one week prior to general release. And the 1,500 seat Loew’s on 45th St is closing to become a retail store.