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 21, 2004 at 7:22 am

A major reason for the Music Hall’s decline was the introduction in 1962 of the “Premiere Showcase” concept. Although it was started by United Artists, it rapidly spread to all the distributors, who found they could make more money through saturation release. Fewer and fewer “major” movies became available to the Music Hall, which often had to settle for the leftovers. By 1969, this was the full film schedule, in order of opening: “The Brotherhood,” “Mayerling,” “The Love Bug,” “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium,” “Winning,” “True Grit,” “The Gypsy Moths,” “The Christmas Tree,” “Hail, Hero,” “The Brain,” and “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.” The majority were losers, and some, including “The Christmas Tree” and “The Brain,” are among the worst movies ever made.

SethLewis on July 20, 2004 at 10:46 pm

Vincent is so right about the films he talks about…all of them day dated East and West Side and suburbs except the That’s Entertainments which were exclusive to the Ziegfeld in Manhattan…Sadly in its last few film engagements around 1976 the Music Hall was even daydating with the suburbs on something called Paper Tiger with David Niven and Toshiro Mifune

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on July 20, 2004 at 5:48 pm

Those pictures listed above seem like that same kind that played to empty houses coast-to-coast, helping kill many old theaters in the process. I think Hollywood forgot how to make movies for a while.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 20, 2004 at 5:38 pm

Interesting that Bill would mention those two films above. Although critically acclaimed, neither one did extraordinary business: 4 & 5 weeks respectively under a guarantee. Granted that those films attracted a mature audience, they were hard to sell to the typical Music Hall audience. Curiously, the Hall attracted a more mature audience during its first two decades notably “Randam Harvest” (ll weeks) and “Sunset Boulevard” in 1950 (7 weeks). I guess the dumbing down began right after “Days…” and “…Mockingbird.” That tells us something…maybe about the drinking water.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on July 20, 2004 at 2:01 pm

Interesting that Days of Wine and Roses and To Kill a Mockingbird played back to back. If New Yorkers wanted to see some of the best screen performances from the year 1962 (besides Lawrence of Arabia), they had to go to the Music Hall in early 1963.

VincentParisi on July 20, 2004 at 1:43 pm

Ron-Thanks for the great work but now I’m reminded of all the great films that I would have loved to see at the Hall but couldn’t because I was too young. As you can see the list in the 70’s gets pretty pathetic(with a rare gem every now and then.) And of course most of them I did get to see while regreting the fact that the Music Hall was stuck with such mediocrity to show on its screen(like watching paint dry as they say.)
Well either the Hall couldn’t get anything else because of studio execs or the people choosing the films had pretty horrendous taste. I remember when Wanda Hale was lamenting the fact that a mindless gore fest like See No Evil was playing there. They might have well shown Night of the Living Dead which is a better film.
Films the Hall should have shown from this era;
The Boy Friend
The Way We Were
Prisoner of Second Avenue
Murder on the Orient Express
The Poseiden Adventure
That’s Entertainment 1 and 2
Funny Lady
Lost Horizon(yes, a seriously bad movie but it would have packed the place)

I’m sure there are others I have left out. But PG product was plentiful during this era and every time I saw the ad for the next Music Hall film my heart would sink.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on July 18, 2004 at 6:52 pm

Thanks so much Ron – what a great list and what great memories it triggered. Now I know for sure that the first film I saw at the Music Hall was Bon Voyage, when I always thought it was That Touch of Mink. I was 7 years old for both films. I also got to relive all the films I WANTED to see at the Music Hall but was too young to go see by myself.

SethLewis on July 18, 2004 at 11:26 am

Well done Rob…I know I was there for Mary,Mary…Mary Poppins…True Grit…What’s Up Doc…Viva Max…The Odd Couple and The Out of Towners though it feels like more than that

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 18, 2004 at 10:05 am

Movie credits are fairly easy to come by. But what is desparately needed is a full list of all the stage shows that supported the movies at RCMH, complete with titles, dates, producers, directors, writers, and casts of performers, including the members of the Rockettes, Corps De Ballet and Symphony Orchestra. This seems a worthy dissertation for someone going for a PHD in theatre history.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 18, 2004 at 9:56 am

I wonder if Ron3853, or anyone, has found a website that has compiled the weekly grosses that Variety has only on microfilm.

Vito on July 18, 2004 at 9:50 am

Nice job Ron!
Thank you for sharing

Ron3853 on July 18, 2004 at 8:26 am

Part of the history of a great theater is the films which played there. This is especially true of the Radio City Music Hall, the largest theater in New York City, and truly the “Showplace of the Nation.” I have enjoyed reading the comments posted wherein people remember visits to the Hall and the films that were showing there. Listed below are the films which played at Radio City Music Hall from late 1959 to 1975. Research is from microfilms of Variety and The New York Times. The date listed is the Wednesday of the week that the film opened. In those days, most new films opened on that day, not on Fridays as they do now. I believe in most cases, the RCMH opened its films and new stageshows on Thursdays, although there may be instances where this was not the case.
11/11/59 The Miracle
12/02/59 Operation Petticoat
01/20/60 Never So Few
02/10/60 Once More, With Feeling
03/02/60 Home From the Hill
03/30/60 Please Don’t Eat the Daisies
05/18/60 Pollyanna
06/22/60 Bells are Ringing
08/10/60 Song Without End
09/21/60 The Dark at the Top of the Stairs
10/12/60 Midnight Lace
11/09/60 The World of Suzie Wong
12/07/60 The Sundowners
01/18/61 Where the Boys Are
02/15/61 Cimarron
03/15/61 The Absent-Minded Professor
05/03/61 Parrish
05/31/61 The Pleasure of His Company
07/05/61 Fanny
09/06/61 Come September
10/04/61 Breakfast at Tiffany's
11/08/61 Flower Drum Song
12/13/61 Babes in Toyland
01/10/62 A Majority of One
02/07/62 Lover Come Back
03/14/62 Rome Adventure
04/04/62 Moon Pilot
05/16/62 Bon Voyage
06/13/62 That Touch of Mink
08/22/62 The Music Man
09/26/62 Gigot
10/31/62 Gypsy
12/05/62 Billy Rose’s “Jumbo"
01/09/63 The Days of Wine and Roses
02/06/63 To Kill a Mockingbird
03/13/63 A Girl Named Tamiko
04/02/63 Bye Bye Birdie
05/15/63 Spencer’s Mountain
06/05/63 Come Blow Your Horn
07/31/63 The Thrill of it All
09/18/63 The VIPs
10/23/63 Mary, Mary
11/13/63 The Wheeler Dealers
12/04/63 Charade
01/22/64 The Prize
02/19/64 Captain Newman, MD
03/18/64 The World of Henry Orient
04/22/64 The Pink Panther
05/20/64 The Chalk Garden
07/15/64 The Unsinkable Molly Brown
09/23/64 Mary Poppins
11/11/64 Send Me No Flowers
12/09/64 Father Goose
01/27/65 36 Hours
03/03/65 Dear Heart
03/31/65 Operation Crossbow
05/12/65 The Yellow Rolls-Royce
07/14/65 The Sandpiper
09/15/65 The Great Race
11/03/65 Never Too Late
12/01/65 That Darn Cat
01/19/66 Judith
02/16/66 Inside Daisy Clover
03/16/66 The Singing Nun
05/04/66 Arabesque
06/08/66 The Glass-Bottom Boat
07/13/66 How to Steal a Million
09/21/66 Kaleidoscope
10/12/66 Any Wednesday
11/09/66 Penelope
11/30/66 Follow Me, Boys!
01/18/67 Hotel
02/15/67 The 25th Hour
03/08/67 How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
04/26/67 Two for the Road
05/24/67 Barefoot in the Park
08/16/67 Up the down Staircase
09/27/67 The Bobo
10/25/67 Wait Until Dark
11/29/67 The Happiest Millionaire
01/17/68 How to Save a Marriage & Ruin Your Life
02/07/68 Sweet November
02/28/68 The Secret War of Harry Frigg
03/20/68 The One & Only, Genuine, Original Family Band
05/01/68 The Odd Couple
08/07/68 Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?
09/18/68 Hot Millions
10/16/68 Bullitt
12/04/68 The Impossible Years
01/15/69 The Brotherhood
02/12/69 Mayerling
03/12/69 The Love Bug
04/23/69 If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium
05/21/69 Winning
07/02/69 True Grit
08/27/69 The Gypsy Moths
09/24/69 The Christmas Tree
10/22/69 Hail, Hero!
11/12/69 The Brain
12/03/69 A Boy Named Charlie Brown
01/21/70 Viva, Max!
02/11/70 …tick…tick…tick…
03/04/70 Airport
05/27/70 The Out-of-Towners
07/22/70 Darling Lili
09/23/70 Sunflower
10/28/70 The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
11/18/70 Scrooge
01/20/71 Promise at Dawn
02/17/71 Wuthering Heights
03/10/71 A New Leaf
05/12/71 Plaza Suite
06/30/71 Murphy’s War
07/28/71 The Red Tent
09/01/71 See No Evil
09/29/71 Kotch
10/27/71 The Railway Children
11/10/71 Bedknobs and Broomsticks
01/12/72 The Cowboys
02/02/72 Mary, Queen of Scots
03/08/72 What’s Up, Doc?
05/03/72 Play it Again, Sam
05/31/72 The War Between Men and Women
07/05/72 Butterflies are Free
08/16/72 The Last of the Red Hot Lovers
09/20/72 Cancel My Reservation
10/18/72 When the Legends Die
11/08/72 1776
01/31/73 The World’s Greatest Athlete
02/21/73 Charlotte’s Web
03/14/73 Tom Sawyer
05/16/73 Mary Poppins
06/27/73 40 Carats
08/08/73 Night Watch
09/26/73 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler
10/17/73 The Optimists
11/07/73 Robin Hood
01/31/74 Superdad
03/06/74 Mame
05/16/74 The Black Windmill
06/05/74 Herbie Rides Again
07/10/74 The Tamarind Seed

08/21/74 The Girl From Petrovka

From this point, my records only show first-run films that were reviewed in The New York Times. Certainly, the films below did not have such long runs, indicating that the Hall began to be used for other events or was dark.

11/06/74 The Little Prince
03/05/75 At Long Last Love
05/21/75 The Wind and the Lion
06/25/75 Bite the Bullet
07/30/75 Hennessy
11/04/75 The Sunshine Boys

As can be seen, during the period from 1959 to 1975, most of the films which played at Radio City Music Hall were indeed, family-friendly, which along with the accompanying stage shows were selected to draw in not only New York residents but the large tourist trade. There were only rare instances when RCMH featured a film with “adult” themes, such as “The Days of Wine & Roses,” “The World of Suzie Wong,” and “The Sandpiper.” Of course, many big films received their American and NYC premieres there. A number of films which played the Hall were those which were set in NYC. And special consideration was given to booking films from the Walt Disney studios, cute romantic comedies, and the film versions of successful plays and musicals from Broadway which in New York had built-in name recognition. Almost all of the films which were made from Neil Simon comedies got their NY premiere at the Hall. Finally, a big consideration was given to films which had the name box-office stars of the time such as Cary Grant, Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Sophia Loren, Julie Andrews, Goldie Hawn, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Debbie Reynolds, James Garner, Paul Newman, John Wayne.

(If I have made omissions or there are corrections, please post and let visitors to this fine website know. I realize from reading above that these films are listed in a book about the Hall, but not all of us have access to it, and so they are now on this site. My research and interest in films began in 1958 when I was only 5, so perhaps someone who has access to data about the films which played there in earlier decades will be kind enough to put it here. I am trying to get my research information on the Cinema Treasures website for all of the major theaters in the large cities around the country so it will be easy for future theater scholars to find it. Thank you.)

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 17, 2004 at 7:35 pm

I believe the theater that “Camden” is referring to is the Guild. It was a classy little art house operation (about 500 seats)that specialized in British films. It was very comfortable and posh during its heyday and had a lovely lounge one level below the theater in which coffee and small cakes were served to patrons waiting for the film to end. Like the Music Hall it used its trailer curtain effectively opening and closing between the news and the feature. One of its greatest and longest running hits was the documentary “A Queen is Crowned” that ran for six months and had long lines. Also “Gate of Hell,” was another smash hit from Japan (played about six months or more)and is considered was the breakthrough film from Japan. Its breathtaking use of Technicolor and portait quality cinematography are landmarks in film making. The Boulting Brothers comedys from the U.K. were great favorites. The Guild enjoyed its greatest success during the 1940s and 1950s. Sometimes there was a long line waiting to get into the Guild while the Music Hall had immediate seating. Patrons arriving from 5th Avenue would get confused when they saw the line and had to be told to continue walking toward 6th Avenue to the Music Hall entrance.

Ron3853 on July 17, 2004 at 6:04 pm

Are you thinking of the Guild?

Camden on July 17, 2004 at 5:12 pm

What was the name of that movie theatre that was in Radio City’s building but around the corner, and smaller? I saw its last film, an Albert Brooks movie several years ago, and it’s now a retail store. It’s astonishing that a movie theatre at that superb location couldn’t flourish. The chairs were threadbare and the concession stand only sold one relatively small and non-buttered container of popcorn, oddly, but when you stepped outside, you were right in the middle of the Rockefeller Center complex. Sensational location.


VincentParisi on July 15, 2004 at 2:32 pm

Simon much to my chagrin I must agree with you and yes rock(not pop) and rap have eradicated classical culture from society(pace those of you who love rock and rap. Even those of you who love them have to admit that we’ve paid a terribly high price culturally and socially their success. Now don’t get all bent out of shape and be defensive and angry. It’s just the natures of those beasts.)

The Music Hall for all intensive purposes is a white elephant. Just think that it was used for the Kerry camapign and it is about to house basketball games! And by that I mean you don’t need the Music Hall’s resources for much of anything that goes on there now.
There was a large middle class audience that enjoyed a classical ballet and classical overture along with the Rockettes and acrobats and didn’t find it laughable or tedious.
But our society and culture have coarsened and been polarized 10 times over from when The Odd Couple played there in ‘68. The hit movies of that year were in addition to that film 2001, Lion in Winter and Funny Girl. Today they are Passion of the Christ, Farenheit 9/11, and Spiderman. Read it and weep.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on July 15, 2004 at 2:17 pm

Can we really fault the 1960’s – ‘70’s Music Hall management for insisting on “G” rated films even at the expense of profit? Certainly the result was the decline and near failure of the “Showplace of the Nation,” but they were actually trying to uphold a standard. In the face of a cultural and business shift RCMH seems to have tried to keep to the high road. It’s more than I can say for the managers who chopped their halls into mulit-plexes, went to porno or tore the halls down.

All of the super-palace class theaters (think Chicago’s Uptown, Paradise, Marbro, New York’s Capitol, Roxy, Center and many more) were financial balacing acts. We all held our breath when the Music Hall’s future hung in that balance. RCMH, for all its lack of vision in production at least remains intact, doors open and protected from demolition. If the Christmas shows pander to a specific audience AND pay the bills to keep the greatest theater ever built open, I for one won’t complain too much. As long as the hall stands, there’s hope that someday, some brilliant showman will come along who can draw the thousands necessary to make the money to pay the orchestra, the organists, the ballet, the Rockettes, the ushers, the engineers, the stage hands, the projectionists, the costumers, the choreographers, the publicists and everyone else it takes to create magnificent, wonderful, outlandish spectacle at “popular” prices.

I remain optimistic.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 15, 2004 at 1:28 pm

Let’s remember that many of the old movie palaces, at least those that were known as “presentation houses” were a phenomenon. For the first time (from the 1920s thru 1950s) middle class and poor people could experience “classical” music played by a symphony orchestra, world class ballet, the great arias and cantatas sung by a renowned singer and a choral ensemble, all with a film and at popular prices and in a city near you. It raised the consciousness of the nation and brought an unexpected shower of culture to people that could only imagine it through the radio. Even the theaters that catered to the “Big Bands” reached millions that could only hear them on the radio. Like it or not, the era has passed and the dumming down of America has had its effect. The pop/rap scene has virtually eradicated classical culture from our society. Only the elite and wealthy are privileged to enjoy it nowadays. The cost of producing a show that would please Vincent at the Music Hall would be prohibitive. As it is, tickets to the Christmas show now can run as high as $90. Ridiculous. My question: Does anyone know if there are any filmed records of complete Music Hall shows of the 1930s, 40s, & 50s? Also I’ve tried to find the archived records of the grosses of the New York Theaters on the web…without going to micro-film. Is that possible?

VincentParisi on July 15, 2004 at 11:07 am

I remember telling a ticket seller there who had been there for years
(during the forties she had been at the Strand) that Harry and Walter was not going to be exclusive to the Music Hall in the metro area and she responded that that was it, it was all over and she was right.
Of course the Music Hall hastened its own demise by its threadbare and amateurish stage shows of the period. They got rid of the ballet company which was the backbone of the spectacles(Bolero, Rhapsody in Blue, the Undersea Ballet etc.) which was really the raison d'etre of the Hall and the Rockettes were cut back to 30.
The only (mediocre)spectacle today is at Christmas and I want to know why they got rid of the Leonidoff Renaissance Nativity(which even Pauline Kael liked!) and replaced it with a piece of Christian fundamentalist nonsense.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 15, 2004 at 10:45 am

Thank you Will for the compliments. Remember that I was only at the Roxy (1956 – 57) and Music Hall (1958-59)during the last of the glory days, but also well after the days that you describe above. Yes, the ushers at both the Roxy and Music Hall were trained to exceptional standards to handle large crowds, assist patrons and help in keeping the theater running smoothly and efficiently. We had morning inspections and evening inspections. An in-house tailor shop regularly cleaned and repaired all uniforms and good grooming was essential. I was only 18 years old when I started at the Roxy on the evening and weekend shifts and went to college during the day. The most difficult thing about the job was standing erect and still for long periods of time. No slouching or leaning was tolerated. Neither was conversation with other ushers. Our assignments were given by the captain before we went on the floor. They included an aisle or foyer assignment, center rotunda or near the front lobby. Only doormen (you had to be over 6ft) worked the outer lobby and street. Most everyone preferred the orchestra as the upper mezzanine rarely had the action or flow of patrons. Our uniforms were season specific i.e. white jackets in summer and black jackets in winter. and included a white dicky and black bow tie. We carried flashlights and learned complicated hand signals that came in very handy when relaying messages across such a huge expanse. We had house phones on every level to use reach head ushers and asst managers when needed. The most important function was to keep tabs on seat availability and let those handling the lines (whether inside or out) know how many seats were available and in what location. There was always an usher at the auditorium entrance with a notebook counting the number of patrons (called a spill)that entered every 10 minutes. This gave us a clue as to when seats would become available after 3 hours. No patrons were ever seated during the overture but had to stay in the standing room section in rear of orchestra. Also no seating was allowed during the Nativity or Glory of Easter pageants. To answer you questions above: we did not have sport teams (bummer)or sing. But I did participate with my fellow ushers as escorts for the Rockettes (they rode on a float until we got to Macy’s)the first time they appeared in the Thanksgiving Day parade. To digress just a bit: It was the movie studios that were responsible for the downward spiral of the Music Hall. The studios would not guarantee the Music Hall an exclusive run prior to regular release. The growing number of poor G rated films and the growing number of excellent films with R ratings also hurt.The 1960s introduced the mass multiple run openings across the country. I’m sure you’ve all read enough about that. And NO, I never dated a Rockette.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on July 15, 2004 at 6:24 am

Simon – Thank you for putting down some memories. Your writing style and descriptions are exceptional. Can I pester you for more? Tell us about the training you got to be a Roxy and RCMH usher. Was there any of the military bravura that Ben Hall describes in his book? Were there sports teams? Did RCMH play the Capitol? Did you ever sing in the glee club? Or was all that just publicitiy hype?

Also, what were the accomodations like for the ushers? Is there a vast hidden suite of rooms? Where is it? Did you ever date a Rockette? Was the Center Theatre still there when you were working? Did you ever get sent there?

Details! Untold millions are sitting here eagerly waiting to hear every detail from someone who was there!

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 15, 2004 at 5:01 am

Correction: Previous sentence should read: Also no short or cartoon ever started WITHOUT the traveler opening and closing. Sorry.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 15, 2004 at 4:49 am

I believe the decline of the Music Hall during the 1960s is well documented. HOwever, those of us who worked there, as well as at the Roxy, will never forget what a class operation they were from managment to the service personel. How a film was presented was of paramount importantance. A patron never saw a blank screen. The film (or studio logo)would begin as the contour curtain lifted and the traveler curtain opened simultaneously. The contour curtain would begin its descent timed perfectly to hit the stage as the film ended. Also no short or cartoon ever started with the traveler opening and closing. Also the organist would pick up on the last note off the sound track and then seque into his medley. If’s fun to remember and hear the responses.

Vito on July 15, 2004 at 4:22 am

Yes Simon, I remember the coming attractions made exclusivly for RCMH,I used to think it lent a certain amount of class to the show. I also remember Radio City Music Hall news which was a compulation of the best stories from two or three different news reels.The news began with a wonderful RCMH opening folowed by the best clips from News Of The Day, Warner Pathe and Movietone news. I wish clips were available of those wonderful previews and news openings.