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On this day in 1944, one of the funniest movies of all time, Preston Sturges' “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek,” starring Eddie Bracken and Betty Hutton, opened its world premiere engagement at the Parmount Theatre. The B&W Paramount release somehow managed to get Production Code approval for its audacious treatment of wartime morals and illegitimate babies (in this case, sextuplets born to a dizzy blonde who can’t remember the name of the father). The Paramount’s stage bill was topped by Johnny long & His Orchestra, jazz pianist Hazel Scott, and comedian Gil Lamb.
Half a century ago today, RCMH raised fears for its future with the opening of its first “beach party” movie, MGM’s “Where the Boys Are,” which starred Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Yvette Mimieux, and Jim Hutton, snd “introduced” Connie Francis, already Queen of the MGM Records label. The CinemaScope and MetroColor romp was accompanied by the stage revue, “Viva l'Italia,” devised by Leon Leonidoff as a tribute to that nation’s Centennial. A number of Italian specialty acts never seen in the USA before were added to the cast of house regulars. At this point of time in 1961, 5,000 general admission seats were priced at 90 cents for the first hour of opening, $1.25 until 5:00pm on weekdays, and $1.75 evenings as well as all day on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. Reserved seats were pricier. In the evenings, patrons could park their cars in the Rockefeller Center Garage for 50 cents, by presenting their check to a Music Hall boxoffice cashier.
Awaiting demolition, with marquee messages “Any Surplus Is Immoral” and “A Man Can’t Know What It’s Like To Be A Mother”: View link
Tomorrow night (1/19) will mark the 86th annniversary of the grand opening of the E.F. Albee Theatre, advertised at the time as “The World’s Masterpiece Among Playhouses.” The inaugural Keith-Albee vaudeville program featured some of the top entertainers of the era, including female impersonator Karyl Norman, dancer Bill Robinson, and comedians Smith & Dale. The bills ran for one week, with a matinee and evening performance daily.
Ironically, “Kid Millions” had its NYC premiere engagement at the Rivoli Theatre, opening on November 11th, 1934. The film clip montage shows the Rivoli Theatre marquee with “The Count of Monte Cristo,” which opened there on September 26th of that same year. Pretty fast work!
Some recent exterior photos in the first and second parts of this new article about 116th Street: http://www.forgotten-ny.com/WALKS/116th/116th.html
On this night in 1930, “The Rogue Song,” MGM’s first all-talkie feature photographed entirely in Technicolor, opened its world premiere engagement at Grauman’s Chinese with a gala performance attended by scores of stars and industry VIPs. The Goodyear Blimp hovered overhead, blasting recordings by Lawrence Tibbett, the great opera singer who made his screen debut in what was being advertised as “The Picture That Will Change Motion Picture History.” It not only didn’t, but is now considered “lost” except for a few sequences, some including featured comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The Grauman’s Chinese engagement also included a stage presentation, “The Kit Kat Club,"
with Abe Lyman & His Band.
Some great views of midtown marquees in the opening to this 1934 film clip featuring Ethel Merman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lWQF30YAT0
A 1998 color view of the United Artists Theatres marquee can be found with this article. The B&W photo of the Paramount Theatre has been linked several times at the Paramount’s CT listing: View link
It’s probably a longshot, but you might try contacting the musicians' union for for information about players at the Roxy Theatre. Also the third floor Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center in NYC. They do have some material donated to the library by people who worked at the Roxy, but much is stored off-site and requires advance rservations to consult.
Seventy-five years ago today, Samuel Goldwyn’s B&W comedy-musical “Strike Me Pink,” starring Eddie Cantor and with Ethel Merman topping the supporting cast, opened its world premiere engagement at RCMH. Leonidoff’s stage revue, “Winter Cruise,” was a travelogue in three spectacular scenes featuring the house performers and a novelty act called The Six Abdullas. The program proved popular enough to hold-over for a second week, with Eddie Cantor himself making stage appearances at all shows on January 23rd only.
On January 18th, 1949, the Trans-Lux 60th St. on Madison dropped its newsreel policy in favor of single first-run features, starting with the American premiere engagement of J. Arthur Rank’s “Take My Life."
The B&W drama starred Marius Goring. one of the leads in the boxoffice smash, "The Red Shoes.” Greta Gynt and Hugh Williams co-starred in the Eagle Lion Films release.
On this day in 1960, the Roxy opened the final film/stage presentation of its lifetime. On screen was MGM’s “The Gazebo,” A B&W CinemaScope comedy starring Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford and based on a moderately successful Broadway play of the same title. Performing on the Roxy’s “Starlit Stage” were singer Dick Roman, Maria Neglia & Her Singing Strings, adagio dancers Harrison & Kossi, novelty act Les Marthys, musical clowns The Bizarro Brothers, and the house orchestra conducted by Robert Boucher. Despite low attendance, the booking lasted five weeks while the Roxy’s death and burial were being arranged.
Today marks the 58th anniversary of the American debut of the legendary cascading fountain system known as “Dancing Waters,” which Leon Leonidoff discovered in a nightclub in Berlin, Germany, and brought to New York for the RCMH stage show,“Many Waters.” On screen was MGM’s B&W melodrama, “The Bad and the Beautiful,” directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon, and Dick Powell. “Dancing Waters” proved such a hit at RCMH that it was re-booked for that year’s Easter Show, and also returned to RCMH periodically over the years. The system eventually ended its transient career with an installation at Disneyland.
The current issue of the weekly Queens Tribune reports:
Some photos turn up early in this recent Forgotten New York article, but I don’t know if there’s anything that we haven’t seen before: View link
On this day in 1944, the Capitol Theatre was celebrating its fourth record-breaking week of MGM’s B&W patriotic fantasy, “A Guy Named Joe,” which teamed Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne and helped to raise featured player Van Johnson to major stardom. The Capitol’s stage show was also noteworthy, a cavalcade of rising MGM contractees headed by Kathryn Grayson, ‘Rags’ Ragland, Nancy Walker, and June Allyson, plus Richard Himber & His Orchestra and comedian Lou Holtz. “A Guy Named Joe” was later remade (disastrously) by Stephen Spielberg as “Always,” with Audrey Hepburn as a Heavenly spirit that was played in the original by Lionel Barrymore. The 1989 release turned out to be Hepburn’s last screen appearance. She died from colon cancer in January, 1993, at age 63.
Today (1/11) also marks the 78th anniversary of the re-launching of RCMH as a movie-stage showcase after its disastrous opening with “live” presentations only. The first film booking was Columbia’s B&W “The Bitter Tea of General Yen,” with Barbara Stanwyck and Nils Asther. I wonder what size the screen measured then?
On this day in 1940, Howard Hawks' B&W comedy “His Girl Friday” opened its world premiere engagement at RCMH. Based on the famous stage play “The Front Page,” the Columbia release audaciously changed one of the two main roles of newspaper employees into a woman, played by Rosalind Russell, cast opposite Cary Grant. Leon Leonidoff’s stage revue, “Town Topics,” offered a sightseeing tour of NYC old and new, including The Bowery, the Little Chruch Around the Corner, the Aquarium, and Grand Central Terminal. The prophetic “Crisis in the Pacific,” the latest episode in the “March of Time” series, rounded out the program.
From December 1951 into April 1952, Laurence Olivier and wife Vivien Leigh acted the title roles in “The Cleopatra Plays” on stage at the Ziegfeld Theatre. Supported by a company of British actors, the couple gave 66 performances of William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” and 67 performances of George Bernard Shaw’s “Caesar and Cleopatra.” Ms. Leigh had previously starred opposite Claude Rains in a Technicolor film version of Shaw’s play.
Tomorrow (January 10th) will mark the 59th anniversary of the opening of the world premiere engagement of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show On Earth” at RCMH. Due to the circus spectacle’s running time of two hours and 33 minutes, Leonidoff’s stage revue, “Star-Spangled,” ran about 25 minutes, but still managed to use most of the resident company of performers. “GSOE” did smash business, but had to be pulled after 11 weeks to make way for the annual Easter Show with “Singin' in the Rain” on screen.
On this day in 1949, Brandt’s Mayfair opened its doors at 8:30am for the start of its NYC premiere engagement of Republic’s “Wake of the Red Witch.” Production of the B&W sea epic sparked a real-life romance between co-stars John Wayne and Gail Russell, which continued on-and-off until the mentally unbalanced and hard-drinking actress died from liver disease in 1961 at age 36.
A short history, with a color photo of the Savoy in its final “adult” phase, can be found here: View link
Tomorrow (January 7th) will mark the 57th anniversary of the opening of RCMH’s first CinemaScope presentation, MGM’s “Knights of the Round Table,” shown on what was advertised as the “World’s Largest Screen.” Leonidoff’s stage revue, “New Horizon,” included a spectacular rendering of George Gershwin’s beloved “Rhapsody in Blue” by the 50 members of the resident Corps de Ballet. The epic adventure with Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, and Mel Ferrer was also MGM’s first CinemaScope release.
January 7th will mark the 85th anniversary of the grand opening of Ascher’s New Terminal Theatre Supreme, described as “The Pride of Albany Park.” Continuous performances started at 1:00pm, with the exclusive Chicago premiere engagement of Fox’s “The Gilded Butterfly” and a stage show with The Four Original Brown Brothers, Bartram & Saxton, Marian’s Dancers, Harry Kogan & His Spicy Syncopators, and “Larson” playing the grand organ. Newspaper advertising claimed “4,000 comfortable seats,” and that “The Gilded Butterfly” would not be shown elsewhere in Chicago for at least six weeks.