Radio City Music Hall

1260 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020

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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
Ron3853 on July 17, 2004 at 6:04 pm

Are you thinking of the Guild?

Camden
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.

Camden

VincentParisi
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
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
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.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on July 14, 2004 at 1:45 pm

Simon L how do you know all this great stuff? Did you attend the MH during this era?
I think that during the 70’s 2001 made below 90 grand. Also during the 70’s films were kept well past their expiration date. Airport played well after its grosses dropped and I worked there during Robin and Marian which seemed to play forever which even before and during Easter week played to empty houses. After that was 1776 and The Blubird where you could have shot off cannons and not harmed a soul(you’ve never seen an emptier and sadder theater than the Music Hall in the mid 70’s.)An old man there who had been a Roxy usher in the late 20’s told me that The Odd Couple had as many people on its last day after 14 weeks as it had on opening day. And a ticket seller told me it was the last film where the pressure was unrelenting. How in the world did things change so fast?

JimRankin
JimRankin on July 14, 2004 at 1:31 pm

I am very sorry to hear from the previous comments that the wonderful and ‘signature’ CONTOUR CURTAIN no longer works as some seem to remember it. I wonder if some people are not confusing it with the AUSTRIAN FOLD curtain, where, unlike the Contour, there are continuous horizontal swag folds from one side of a vertical panel to the other, from top to bottom even when the curtain is fully descended. This Austrian Fold type can be rigged to either rise entirely as does a typical ‘drop curtain’, or it can also be rigged to gather up from the bottom as does a Contour type. A true Contour Curtain, on the other hand, looks very like a standard drop (‘guillotine’) curtain when at full descent, but when opening it gathers up from the bottom to form swaged folds similar to the Austrian, but only for a ways up from the bottom, the distance depending upon how far it is raised to fully ascended position. It is also quite possible that the controls for the Contour in RCMH are now starting to malfunction with age, and the owners are reluctant to put the money into repairing them. For those interested in this singular Contour Curtain rigging method, there is a very rare photo of the control panel for it showing the 13 lines of peg switches completing the X-Y coordinates to achieve the desired pattern and height once raised, on page 23 of MARQUEE magazine of the Theatre Historical Soc. of 3rd Qtr. 1999, along with a great deal of other technical info about RCMH by Lyman C. Brenneman. Let’s hope that at least this signature feature of the opulent opening days can be retained in at least this one theatre where it is so much a part of the unique experience.

PHOTOS AVAILABLE:
To obtain any available Back Issue of either “Marquee” or of its ANNUALS, simply go to the web site of the THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA at:
www.HistoricTheatres.org and notice on their first page the link “PUBLICATIONS: Back Issues List” and click on that and you will be taken to their listing where they also give ordering details. The “Marquee” magazine is 8-1/2x11 inches tall (‘portrait’) format, and the ANNUALS are also soft cover in the same size, but in the long (‘landscape’) format, and are anywhere from 26 to 40 pages. Should they indicate that a publication is Out Of Print, then it may still be possible to view it via Inter-Library Loan where you go to the librarian at any public or school library and ask them to locate which library has the item by using the Union List of Serials, and your library can then ask the other library to lend it to them for you to read or photocopy. [Photocopies of most THSA publications are available from University Microforms International (UMI), but their prices are exorbitant.]

Note: Most any photo in any of their publications may be had in large size by purchase; see their ARCHIVE link. You should realize that there was no color still photography in the 1920s, so few theatres were seen in color at that time except by means of hand tinted renderings or post cards, thus all the antique photos from the Society will be in black and white, but it is quite possible that the Society has later color images available; it is best to inquire of them.

Should you not be able to contact them via their web site, you may also contact their Executive Director via E-mail at:
Or you may reach them via phone or snail mail at:
Theatre Historical Soc. of America
152 N. York, 2nd Floor York Theatre Bldg.
Elmhurst, ILL. 60126-2806 (they are about 15 miles west of Chicago)

Phone: 630-782-1800 or via FAX at: 630-782-1802 (Monday through Friday, 9AM—4PM, CT)

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 14, 2004 at 1:03 pm

Another bit of trivia about RCMH: trailers of the next attraction were shown, however, there was a one minute “announcement” of the next attraction shown on the screen in which a few lines describing the film would appear over a grey background with live organ accompaniment. It began “The Radio City Music Hall is proud to present as its next distinquished attraction the world premiere of XXXXX. Also on the great stage a new spectacle produced by (either) Leon Leonidoff or Russell Markert. Also the latest Walt Disney cartoon would get a spot on the program if the film were not more than 110 minutes long. One more bit of info: During the 1950s, a film had to gross $88,000 in the four day period from Thursday thru Sunday to warrent a holdover. A good opening week was around $145,000 and would suggest a four week run. The only film I know that didn’t break the $100,000 barrier during its opening week in the 1950s was "The Barretts of Wimpole Street.” It grossed a paltry $85,000 for the entire week, but it was held for 2 weeks, the miniumum run in that decade.

Vito
Vito on July 14, 2004 at 11:44 am

The curtain at the hall does appear to raise differently as well, I remember visiting the stage being shown the many motors required to raise her. As we know the curtain can be raised in many different ways it all depends on the ways the motors are programmed. I don’t like the way she raises now, it seems to eliminate most of the waterfall effect and it goes up all at once. Even in the full up position it’s almost a straight horizontal line across.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on July 14, 2004 at 7:53 am

Simon L- Knights of the Round Table was the first cinemascope at the Music Hall. Sorry to hear about the new curtain as it used to have many vertical folds. But then the place is no longer Radio City Music Hall(and Rockefeller Center is now a 5th Av Paramus Park.)

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 14, 2004 at 7:39 am

Bravo to Bob Ketler’s home page salute to RCMH. Here are a few very minor corrections. Except during Christmas and Easter week when the doors would open 7:45 am, and on one Christmas occasion at 6:45 am (due to the length of “Sayonara” and to allow 5 shows), the normal house opening was at 10:15 am with the feature beginning at 10:30 on weekdays. Last stage show was always between 9:15 and 9:30, except on Sundays which strangly had a late stage show around 10:15. Also let’s get the seating capacity right. Both the Roxy and RCMH claimed to have 6,000 seats when in reality the Roxy had 5,800 and the Music Hall 5,945. But whose counting right? Has anyone noticed that the new contour curtain (since the magnificent restoration) hangs rigidly on the stage floor and only when it begins to rise does it show the folds. I understand the process, but I remember that the original gold curtain still displayed a hint of a swagger…or am I dreaming. Oh yes, the prices. Throughout the 1950s, or until “Rosemarie” opened as the first Cinemascope film and they raised the admission price by 10 cents the prices were as follows: Weekdays Opening to noon .80; noon to 6pm 1.25 and 6 to closing 1.50. Saturdays .95 to noon; 1.25 to 3pm and 1.50 to close; Sundays 1.25 from opening to 1pm and 1.50 1pm to close. Reserved seats (1st mezzanine)1.80 for matiness and 2.40 evenings and holidays. Reserved seat “subsciption” tickets were also available during the first two weeks of every show. This was very popular among the elite during the 1940s and 1950s and the crowd in the first mezzanine looked like the grand tier set at the Met.

umbaba
umbaba on July 14, 2004 at 6:46 am

I remember seeing Fantasia in 1978 and was awed by the size of the screen. When I saw special showings of Bonnie and Clyde, Psycho, Jaws, The Sting in the late 90’s, while the screen was big, I wasn’t awed. Was it a smaller screen than what RCMH used?

Vito
Vito on July 14, 2004 at 5:00 am

Oh my gosh, go right now to Bob Ketler’s home page and read the magnificent article he wrote on RCMH. I also want to thank Simonl for the walk thru memory lane. I attended just about every new show from the mid 1950s thru the mid 1970s We always tried to see the stage show in the front row behind the lighting guy and then rush up to the top mezzanine to watch the movie.We would sit right under the projection booth. What I would not give to go back there and see one more movie and a stage show for a buck twenty five.

mediagy
mediagy on July 13, 2004 at 11:58 pm

For anyone who might be interested…for about seven years I have had a page on AOL devoted to a salute to Radio City Music Hall. I change photos several times a year. The photos are mainly taken from various souvenir booklets that I purchased beginning in the mid 1940’s. The text is my appreciation of this incredible theater. Several years ago I received a wonderfully nice letter from someone who worked there. She thanked me for feeling about the theater as she herself did. The link is: http://hometown.aol.com/ctrobert8/MainPage.html

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 13, 2004 at 8:16 pm

Yes, Leibert was a supurb musician, but he was not alone in keeping the break pealing with the sounds of the great organ. Ashley Miller and Raymond F. Bohr Jr. alternated (as well as in concert)with him. Jim: I am a member of THS and have gone on about six conclaves.

ERD
ERD on July 13, 2004 at 7:54 pm

One should not forget to mention Dick Leibert, one of the original organists at Radio City Music Hall. He played there for 40 years. Mr. Leibert also recorded many albums, many on the RCMH organ, for RCA. What a superb musician.

JimRankin
JimRankin on July 13, 2004 at 6:19 pm

I hope that SimonL decides to send a copy of that photo of him in his usher’s uniform to the Theatre Historical Society of America at: 152 N. York Rd., Suite 200, Elmhurst Il, 60126-2806 They also have a web site that might be of interest to you: www.HistoricTheatres.org They have a wonderful painting of the ROXY right on their site if you click on the link to it, and possibly they will be willing to trade a cvolor copy of that for your photo(s). By donating such copies, you make sure that posterity knows of your achievements and the glories of the long-lost ROXY, and any other theatres you woked at. Do send a copy of your memories here too! Thank you for them.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 13, 2004 at 5:07 pm

As a former RCMH usher (1958 – 1959), I am delighted to find so many fans of the theater out there, notwithstanding those with such authoritative knowledge…technical and otherwise. One issue that was never brought up, but is interesting to consider is why huge single screen theaters are no longer practical for films is this: We all know how most films are shown today: i.e. not continuous, but rather with an admission to one particular showing. The theater is emptied and swept between performances in most multi-plexes. In the days of the movie palaces, such as RCMH, a 3,000 to 6,000 seater would have patrons entering and exiting at any time from morning to last show. Except for road shows, patrons would not tolerate being kept from entering a theater (except when SRO) at their discretion even if the film was a mystery and in the middle. At RCMH, it took a full hour with four cashiers going (sometimes five plus the reserved seat window)to fill the 6,000 seats on those days (especially during holidays)when the theater expected a “tight initial” (house filled before the start of the first feature). The Music Hall, as did others with thousands of seats to fill, only had a five to ten minute (maximum)break between film and stage shows. Except for the lucky few hundred patrons waiting in the lobby, those in the street line had little hope of getting into the theater before the start of the feature. It didn’t matter to them. We have changed our movie going habits and would not tolerate a film starting before we were in our seats. Except at the Paramount on Times Square during the 1940s(where police actually helped clear the theater of screaming teens who wanted to stay all day), the big theaters counted on a constant flow of traffic. I remember when “All About Eve” opened at the Roxy, the managment tried to seat patrons only during the 30 minute break between shows. It failed because irate patrons were unwilling to wait if there were empty seats inside. Also the problem of getting 6,000 people into their seats in 30 minutes proved next to impossible. That lasted one week and the film went back to continuous showings. Another interesting point is that the Music Hall was not designed for standing lobby crowds (only a couple of hundred would fit without blocking critical exits from the auditorium). The theater was obliged to keep most patrons in the street. However, once the line moved it moved swiftly and 1,500 people could be inside within fifteen minutes. In contrast, The Roxy could hold 2,000 people in the rotunda. That is also why you rarely saw a street line at the Roxy. (I also ush-ed at the Roxy from 1956 – 1957). One of my favorite assignments as an RCMH usher to to do a spot check of number of patrons at the Roxy when a new film opened. I suspect it had to do with a bit of rivalry but also to see if the grosses reported in Variety were credible based on attendance. My wife loves my picture in my RCMH uniform. I also had a thrill watching a FOX newsreel on TCM one night when they showed the opening night crowd of “Anastasia” (ROXY). And there I am…immortalized and standing proudly in the rotunda as the stars pass by.