Ziegfeld Theatre

141 West 54th Street,
New York, NY 10019

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BoxOfficeBill on January 5, 2005 at 6:41 pm

Vincent—that could be true. I did not see “South Pacific” there, but I did see “Anatomy of a Murder” which followed it there in Summer ‘59, and the house seemed unchanged (perhaps they had dismantled the special screen). The last film I saw at the Criterion was “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (day-dating at the Tower East)in Summer '66. Same old trappings, but the audience was so garrulous that I decided to avoid Times Square for serious films and to take my business to the East side. I’ve never been to the Ziegfeld, since I decamped from NYC before it was built. Should I visit it if I happen to be in town?

VincentParisi on January 5, 2005 at 5:50 pm

But BOB in the Variety review of South Pacific it seems to say the Criterion installed a large curved screen just for this presentation. He comments that the heads look like the heads on Mt Rushmore.

BoxOfficeBill on January 5, 2005 at 4:25 pm

My memory of the Criterion stretches back to “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” in July ‘48 and “The Life of Riley” in April '49, through various Disney features in the early '50s (“Alice in Wonderland,” a revival of “Snow White”) to “The Ten Commandments” and beyond. It seems to me that the theater remained the same throughout, clad chiefly in red plaster with a red traveller curtain. (See Warren’s web link posite on the Criterion page last 25 July and my reply on 7 August.) I remember being slightly disappointed that the VistaVision screen for “The Ten Commandments” was not as large or curved as the Todd-AO screen at the Rivoli, but that kind of screen would have required alterations such as thrusting the viewing surface in front of the proscenium, which the Criterion refrained from doing. The theater might have been spruced up for its roadshows with brighter lighting and new fabrics, but in the original colors and with no change in design.

VincentParisi on January 5, 2005 at 3:57 pm

Vito the first time I was in the Criterion it was for MFL in the summer of ‘65 as a fluke. It was raining and we couldn’t go to the World’s Fair. It was a matinee and as a little boy I was amazed that people were all dressed up for the movies. In the suburbs it was even at that time very casual. I had never heard of MFL and thought it was a bore. The experience itself of going to a deluxe Times Square roadshow house was however unforgettable. I have since revised my opinion of the film and had I been an adult at the time I certainly would have been a frequent visitor to that late and deeply lamented movie theater(the last time I was in it was for Alien though god knows I wish it had been some wide screen epic or musical from the 50’s or 60’s.)
What was the Criterion like before the 10 C? Was it much different?

Vito on January 5, 2005 at 12:22 pm

Bill, thanks for the kind words, it was a lot of fun and we took a lot of pride in being a projectionist in those days. I dearly miss that.
Vincent, you mentioned seeing the Criterion before it was cut up, remember when it was renovated for the roadshow of
“10 Commandments”? curtains, seats, walls, everything was red.

VincentParisi on January 4, 2005 at 6:37 pm

CC were you ever in the Rivoli or the Criterion before they were sliced and diced?
As for my previous post about the empty perf at the Ziegfeld I got my info from a talkinbroadway site. The home page has a beautiful color interior of a picture palace. Does anyone know which it is?
Do they know they have a movie theater to epitomize a legit house?
Speaking of which a little while ago a Japanese Decca cd line had an opera series which used what they obviously thought was the interior of a great European opera house on its cover. Well that great European opera house was the Paradise in the Bronx!

chconnol on January 4, 2005 at 1:13 pm

I would not blame The Ziegfeld for the poor turn out for “Phantom”. The movie is not getting good reviews or word of mouth and it’s being marketed poorly (probably because the releasing studio knows it’s got a stinker).

In 1995, I saw “Braveheart” here and it was packed. I know some people here knock the Ziegfeld but I thought the place was awesome.

With the right movie, the place can be amazing. I like “Chicago” and I can only imagine that it must’ve been impressive there.

There are articles in the NYTimes about the dismal movie season. Yes, grosses are up for the studios but all the articles point out that it’s because the ticket prices are higher. Actually ticket sales are down by about 6%. It’s the second year in a row. There’s been talk for awhile about posting actually number of tickets sold along side the grosses. But the studios are frightened by that prospect because it would reveal for all to see just how movie going is slipping.

Why are ticket sales down? Easy: the movies lately SUCK!

You want people to plant their money paying butts in theater seats, make something worthwhile.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on January 4, 2005 at 12:39 pm

And with Vito in the booth we’d have one of the best projectionists in the business right off the bat. I’d sure love to have the chance to put my money where my mouth is … if I actually had the money!

Vito on January 4, 2005 at 11:48 am

Ok Warren, Bill, Vincent and all, I say we buy the place, throw Clearview out and run it properly. Starting with a 70mm festival.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on January 3, 2005 at 10:44 pm

They’re holding a 50th-anniversary Todd-AO festival in Bradford, England in March. I wish Clearview would listen to what Vincent is saying – there’s no reason why we couldn’t have that same festival right here at the Ziegfeld. People would come from all over the world to see it.

VincentParisi on January 3, 2005 at 10:11 pm

On a theater chat site a writer who was at the Ziegfeld to see Phantom last night(a Sunday!!) says there were about 14 people in the audience. This was built in ‘69 to be an exclusive theater not a competitor on showcase. How long can this go on?
I know I’m beating a dead horse but you guys have got to have a Todd AO anniversary festival to bring more than 20 people into the theater. Install a larger screen in front of the old one like the one you had for Cinerama in '73, get the PR and watch the crowds come. I mean have any of you who currently work for Clearview or Cablevision ever heard of Todd AO or Cinerama?
I’m probably speaking a foreign language that’s been lost.

ErikH on January 3, 2005 at 9:34 pm

Regarding the “house allowance” for the Ziegfeld referred to in the Daily News article. Until the mid-1990s or thereabouts, Variety published the grosses for individual theaters in Manhattan, and those entries often included the weekly “nut” for that theater (“house allowance” in Variety-speak). The Ziegfeld’s weekly “nut” was in the $30,000 range; higher than any other film theater in Manhattan, including the Astor Plaza. As that figure must be at least 7-8 years old, I assume that the Ziegfeld’s “nut” is significantly higher now.

I doubt that the current run of “Phantom” is clearing the weekly “nut”; I attended an early evening Ziegfeld showing on a weekday between Christmas and New Year’s and there weren’t more than several dozen people in the audience.

When the Ziegfeld has an NYC exclusive, it can do huge business; during the early weeks of “Chicago”’s run, many showings sold out hours in advance. But the “Chicago” exclusive run was an anomaly; the only other Ziegfeld exclusive in the past few years that comes to mind is the Disney animated film “Brother Bear.” It stands to reason that the revenue from rentals for special screenings/premieres is the only way that Cablevision/Clearview can keep those doors open.

Vito on January 3, 2005 at 9:30 pm

Bill, I would have to agree Phantom is not very good. Sure glad the console is gone. Thanks for letting me know. I think the Digital projection is gone as well, Phantom, although available and playing in other theatres in Digital format, is on film.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on January 3, 2005 at 9:23 pm

“Phantom” was in scope and it did look great on the Ziegfeld screen, but something was missing from the whole enterprise compared to the Broadway version. Emmy Rossum sang beautifully, though. This was my second time seeing her at the Ziegfeld in 2004, the first being “The Day After Tomorrow”.

I agree with you, RobertR, about “Chicago”. That was a knockout when it played an exclusive run at the Ziegfeld. It felt like the good old days had returned, for a while at least.

chconnol on January 3, 2005 at 8:40 pm

With an over the top director like Joel Schumacher at the helm of “Phantom” what did anyone expect? But in a place like The Ziegfeld, it’s the only place I’d even consider seeing something like that (and I won’t).

RobertR on January 3, 2005 at 8:24 pm

Gone are the days sadly where Broadway shows make great musicals like Oklahoma and Sound of Music. I did love Chicago though. Was Phantom in scope?

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on January 3, 2005 at 7:58 pm

Vito: I was there on New Year’s Eve and, sure enough, the control console is gone. It was replaced by the new seats. Phantom of the Opera was not so hot, unfortunately. What was dramatic and compelling on the Broadway stage becomes no big deal in the movie version. During the more boring moments I’m glad I had the Ziegfeld’s walls and ceiling to look at!

chconnol on January 3, 2005 at 2:50 pm

Here’s the article from the NY Daily News. These links eventually go away and you can’t read the article later on.

It’s not the most hard hitting article but at least The Ziegfeld is getting some press.

Ziegfeld defies multiplex trend
Monday, January 3rd, 2005

When “The Phantom of the Opera” opened recently at the Ziegfeld Theatre, fans of New York’s largest single-screen movie theater hoped the musical’s song, “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” didn’t prove prophetic.
Known as the place to have big premieres in the city, the Ziegfeld is in its own cinematic drama, fighting for its financial life against the more popular multiplexes. While Clearview Cinemas, which owns the 35-year old theater, shows no signs of giving up without a fight, it’s clearly defying the trend.

The number of single screen theaters in the U.S. dipped to 1,684 last year from 2,280 in 2001, said Jim Kozak, spokesman for the National Association of Theater Owners. Multiplexes have changed the way movies are watched – from large, communal events to convenient ways of filling two hours.

“There’s just something about those old single-screen theaters that are just so stately and interesting and harkens back to a different time,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of the movie trade group Exhibitor Relations.

“But if the business model is that teenagers love the stadium seating and they want to have a bunch of choices at the multiplex where they can decide to see one among ten different film, that’s where the business is heading. The profitability of those theaters will dictate if they stay in business or go the way of the dinosaur.” Degarabedian said.

The fossilized remains of what was recently the largest single-screen in Manhattan – by 130 seats – can be seen in Times Square. The marquee of the Loews Astor Plaza still advertises M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village,” the film that closed the theater’s 30-year run.

Real estate costs have driven many of these big single-screen theaters out of business – although Radio City Music Hall and the Beacon Theater were converted into live venues.

Clearview Cinemas spokesperson Beth Simpson reassures fans of the W. 54th St. icon, which boasts 1,195 seats. “Staying competitive with multiplexes is not really what the Ziegfeld does,” said Simpson. “It’s a completely different experience.”

For the year-to-date, however, the Ziegfeld ranked 159th in ticket sales in New York, according to Nielsen EDI, a box office tracking service. The gargantuan AMC Empire 25 multiplex near Times Square ranked No. 1.

The Ziegfeld’s house allowance – the cost of running the theater in a given week that is subtracted from the gross before a film’s distributor can take its cut of the receipts – is reputed to be one of the highest in the nation.

Still, the Ziegfeld remains the popular choice to rent for gala premieres for movies like “Cold Mountain” and the “Harry Potter” films.

“The places in New York to have a premiere of what they do regularly in Los Angeles, they are pretty few and far between,” said Ian Mohr, a film reporter for Variety. “If you want to get that vibe of the glitzy Los Angeles-style red carpet premiere in New York, it’s very difficult to do unless you do it at the Ziegfeld. ”

Celebrity glitz adds to the theater’s historical legacy – the lobby showcases memorabilia from the original Broadway “Ziegfeld Follies,” performed on the same site – but it’s regular folks who will determine the theater’s future.

“As long as there are passionate movie-goers out there who enjoy the Ziegfeld experience, I think that this theater can thrive,” said Simpson.

RichHamel on January 3, 2005 at 2:48 pm

Article today in the Daily News. Appears safe for now.
View link

DonRosen on December 30, 2004 at 1:47 pm

If this theatre goes bye-bye, where will those flashy premieres be held?

longislandmovies on December 30, 2004 at 1:38 pm

How many more years could this theater have in the world of high realestate values?

Vito on December 30, 2004 at 11:55 am

Yes Astyanax, around this time of year many movies scheduled for wide release in early 2005 have an exclusive limited run in order to qualify for Academy Awards. Why not do something like that for perhaps 10 days – two weeks exclusively ay RCMH or Ziegfeld?
Bill, I was glad to see Phantom is being presented in 35mm film
(although 70mm would have been great),and not Digital as is is in some other locations. Wonder if they took they Digital equipment out again. I hope they did.

Astyanax on December 29, 2004 at 1:42 pm

What would it take to convince exhibitors that there is a market for presenting movies in exclusive runs either at the Ziegfeld, RCMH or even the smaller Cinema I. Phanthom of the Opera, the Aviator, even Return of the Phoenix & Alexander among the current crop of releases deserved an exclusive run. Having seen Mike Nichol’s Closer on opening day at the Loews' 19th St., felt like I was sitting in a bomb shelter during an air raid. Very different from having seen Carnal Knowledge at it’s initial release at the Beekman. Poor Marcus Loew, a sad tribute to Loews on the company’s 100th year anniversary.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on December 29, 2004 at 12:40 pm

I don’t think anyone has actually operated the console in many years. I’ve seen lots of movies there and the only time I saw the console not closed up was that time in 1972. It might not even be there anymore – they may have taken it out when they replaced all the seats several years ago. I’ll be sure to check for it the next time I’m there. The Phantom of the Opera is playing there now – sounds like a good movie to see at the Ziegfeld.

Vito on December 29, 2004 at 12:28 pm

Bill,I used to like to hang out around the console at RCMH to watch that guy in action. He would never really speak to anyone but he was busy taking care of business. His, in contrast to the Ziegfeld guy’s, job was important to the presentation. By the way.,when you go back to the Ziegfeld and there is someone at the console, ask him what he does for a living and what his purpose is in being there. Then ask him to take a break and let the pros in the booth handle the show.(sarcasum)