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A year ago, myrtleave posted that the Peerless never had a 3-D or CinemaScope screen. Partially true. In ‘53 or '54, I recall that we were given 3-D glasses as we paid the two dimes for our admission and watched one of the coming attractions, some kind of jungle movie. My whole row and the one in front quickly ducked a spear that was thrown our way by the natives (or so it seemed), but “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” originally shot in 3-D in '54, was projected in flat B&W.
I believe that CinemaScope as a process debuted with “The Robe” in 1953. The Peerless screen used to be referred to a “postage stamp” size, but at some point in the summer of ‘54, the theater did close for a while for some renovations. (Was it closed for 3 weeks? 2 months? Time is relative and very “iffy” to kids, even though we developed a knack for knowing what time of day it was by the way the shadows fell through the ties of the elevated structure above!) When it opened its doors again for business, there was a larger screen – perhaps not CinemaScope in size, as the width of the theater across Waverly Ave. would not permit that, but definitely larger than the one they had. There might even have been a new lens on the projector to accommodate this wider view. The new screen was a topic of conversation, both s and kids alike, for quite awhile afterward.
I believe that CinemaScope as a process debuted with “The Robe” in 1953. The Peerless screen used to be referred to a “postage stamp” size, but at some point in the summer of ‘54, the theater did close for a while for some renovations. (Was it closed for 3 weeks? 2 months? Time is relative and very “iffy” to kids, even though we developed a knack for knowing what time of day it was by the way the shadows fell through the ties of the elevated structure above!) When it opened its doors again for business, there was a larger screen – perhaps not CinemaScope in size, as the width of the theater across Waverly Ave. would not permit that, but definitely larger than the one they had. There might even have been a new lens on the projector to accomodate this wider view. The new screen was a topic of conversation, both s and kids alike, for quite awhile afterward.
Silly me. I posted on what I thought was the RKO Madison site today, only to learn from Lost Memory that there was also a Madison theater in Brooklyn near the RKO Bushwick. Live & learn…
Bway (in ‘04) and PKoch (recently) remarked in their posts about the very faded painted ad on the Madison’s wall, barely visible from street level or frm the Wyckoff Ave. station of the M line. I mentioned in the other “Madison” post that I have a VHS tape from Sunday River Productions in MA which shows that whole scene clearly as the old gate cars swung left onto Palmetto St. toward Seneca Ave. station. The painted ad is vivid and extremely eye-catching. (It’s called “NY Els of the 1950s.” Retails new at $39.95, but a good used copy can be obtained on eBay usually for less than $10 – well worth it for the memories.)
“Psycho” was my introduction to the RKO Madison during the summer of ‘60. A neighbor who unfortunately couldn’t decipher weekend movie start times in the local newspaper got us there and parted the black curtains to get to our seats just in time for the ear-shattering sounds and gut-wrenching sights of Hitchcock’s infamous shower scene. To this day, while viewing the DVD or tape, I always remember that scene as the beginning. Impressionable minds, they say…Ha!
Have really enjoyed reading your combined memories of Cypress Hills, Brooklyn 11207/11208, ice cream parlors, banks and train shops, Fulton St., Arlington Ave. and other familiar streets, but I especially liked your stories about the Embassy, the second of my childhood “Popcorn Palaces.”
During the summer of ‘58, after moving from downtown Brooklyn to Highland Blvd. in East New York, my dad and I started walking to a movie he wanted to see at the Embassy, Tyrone Power’s “Witness For the Prosecution.” This confused me, because the only Embassy I knew of was in the heart of midtown NYC – and we were gonna walk there? We’re not even headed for the el or the A train subway station at Broadway Junction! “No, ya dope,” he replied. “This is another Embassy, the one I went to as a kid in the '20s & '30s. We’ll be there in 20 minutes.” (I guess a little knowledge can often be dangerous.)
On my own, I got to see a lot of flicks at the Embassy between 1958 and 1963. I was riveted by a jazzy gem of a dizzying thriller in ‘58, “I Bury the Living” with Richard Boone, TV’s Palladin (“Have Gun, Will Travel”). Creepy. There was also “Al Capone” with Rod Steiger in '59, my first encounter with him as an actor (though I later got to see his excellent portrayal as Brando’s brother Charlie in a re-release of “On the Waterfront”).
One newsreel stands out in my mind, and I saw it quite a few times – the late Floyd Patterson becoming the first heavyweight to regain the crown. He cold-cocked the Big Swede, Ingemar Johannson, into oblivion in the 5th round. All that wine, women and song must have gotten to Ingo, and I watched his foot twitch for 8 minutes as he lay on his back in those white trunks in the center of the ring. That was quite an image burned into my young brain.
The interior of the Embassy wasn’t as plush or as regal as the RKO Bushwick, but it was comfortable and a considerable number of steps above the hapless Peerless Theater that I used to frequent on Myrtle Ave. There was a balcony, but I don’t recall any restrictions as I was a teen in those years. Elvis movies. Make-out time. Ay!
As stated previously by others, it is now a light brown-bricked senior citizen center, totally utilitarian and non-descript as architecture goes. I walked by on a rainy Sunday morning just last March. The whole area remains economically hard-pressed, with a bodega or supermercado on virtually every block under the Fulton Street portion of the Jamaica El. Sad.
Cinemaphiles obviously abound on this site. Less than 20 minutes after I posted, PKoch adds a marvelous reply, the second one I’ve received today.
Nope, never got to see “Mr. Sardonicus,” although that punishment poll seems all too reminiscent of my parochial school days. And you remember very well the names of those special effects employed by the purveyors of shlock.
The Castle & Co. gimmicks spawned a nostalgic little flick about a dozen or so years ago: “Matinee” with John Goodman. Don’t think it’s on DVD yet (I have a VHS copy), but it deserves to be.
WOW! What a site Cinematreasures is: less than half an hour after my debut post, Lost Memory replies with a fascinating item of trivia! And I thank you, though I’m still trying to visualize seating 500+ kids on any given Saturday afternoon, but perhaps it was so. The other fact that caught my eye was that the Peerless was owned ‘way back in '27 by Vanderbilt Theatre, Inc., so named, I’m sure, due to the proximity of the Vanderbilt Ave. station of the Myrtle El a mere 1-½ blocks away – but then, so was Washington Ave!
Did anyone else ever see “Robot Monster” there in ‘53 – the one with Ro-Man, the guy in the gorilla suit, diving bell helmet & Lawrence Welk bubble machine? Legend has it that the director, Phil Tucker, shot this dud in L.A.’s Bronson Canyon in just 4 days, and then tried to commit suicide after he saw the final product. Dunno for sure, but it scared the daylights out of us l'il kids!
I read an article in the Daily News last March that the Ridgewood Theater was considering closing its doors in the face of future competition from the Glendale multiplex. I even clipped the article for my ex-wife in San Diego as we had attended many a movie on weekend dates in the mid-‘70s.
As I recall, the theater was always clean and well-kept. The downstairs lounge was huge by any theaters’ standards, short of Radio City Music Hall.
It’s my hope that the owners of the Ridgewood weather any upcoming storm re possible competition.
The time was the summer of 1960. A older neighbor who was a big fan of Hitchcock’s, but who couldn’t read the paper correctly for movie showing times, treated me to “Psycho” at the RKO Madison. As soon as we parted the black curtain to get to our seats, that awful sound effect from the shower scene greeted us. To this day I’ve never been able to watch that movie on VHS or DVD from its proper start to finish!
I have a tape of some transit films from Sunday River Productions taken from the Myrtle El in Ridgewood in the mid-‘50s that clearly shows the RKO Madison and its colorful self advertisement painted on the side of the theater as those old gate cars swung left toward Seneca Ave. Today the ad has faded to the point of being barely visible, and I think the building itself is currently a discount appliance outlet.
The Ridgewood Theatre was very close by, just off of Myrtle, but I read while in NY last March that it is slated to close soon, the victim of a another yet-to-be-built multiplex. Progress, my sweet butt…
Having just posted about the old Peerless Theater at 433 Myrtle Ave., I’ve read with keen interest your memories and photos of the RKO Bushwick. On a recent trip earlier this year, I passed by on the J train train and saw how good the renovations looked.
Back in ‘58-'60, I used to take the number 15 train from East New York to the Gates Ave. station. The going rate for a movie was now 60 cents, 3 times that of the Peerless! But as the Bushwick was a classy place with a very long history, promotion and gimmick guys had a field day: outside the theater when “Macabre” ran, there was a parked ambulance and we had to sign a waiver freeing the moviemakers and theater from all liability if we suffered heart attacks; Vincent Price reeled in the skeleton from the left balcony in “House on Haunted Hill” ('59); and I was actually “tingled” by “The Tingler!” I also lost a blasted molar from a bar of Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy on some other non-memorable occasion.
I’m very pleased to see this distinctive edifice survive into the 21st century!
Having lived at 196 Clinton Ave. from ‘46-'58, the Peerless (one block away under the clanky Myrtle el) was the “Popcorn Palace” of my childhood. Between '53 and '58, my rowdy ragamuffins and I devoured many a Saturday matinee at the ridiculously low price of 20 cents, our parents scrimping and saving so that they could get us out of the house or apartment for 4-5 hours.
“Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” was the first one I saw – at age 7! – along with “Gog” ('54, in beautiful Eastmancolor), “Them!” (also '54), “It Came From Beneath the Sea ('55), "The Indestructible Man” with Lon Chaney, Jr. ('56), etc., along with re-runs of the '43 Columbia “Batman” serial (J. Carroll Naish, an Irish-American actor, as the evil Japanese Prince Tito Daka!), “Don Winslow of the Navy” (another wartime re-run from '41 or so), Randolph Scott westerns, John Carradine horror flicks, Three Stooges 2-reelers, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies up the wazoo, newsreels and coming attractions. We were in kid heaven, oblivious to the fact that the Peerless was a 3rd-rate dump. And I’ve never encountered any other theater that had its concession stand just below the screen!
My mom has said that in the '40s Thursday nights were dish giveaway nights – and no problems as recounted in the late Jean Shepherd’s hilarious short story, “Leopold Doppler and the Great Orpheum Gravy Boat Riot."
As previously stated, the theater had an L shape: entrance on Myrtle and two exit doors on Waverly Ave. Seating has been listed as between 520-560, but I suspect these numbers were padded. 400-450 at best. No balcony. Smoking section for the s was the last 3 rows. The projectionist had to climb a rickety ladder to access the projection booth.
Although my family moved out of the immediate area in '58, I revisted from time to time. It was about '61 that the doors of the movie house closed forever. A church took over. While visiting from CA in '94, I snapped a photo. Louie’s Barber Shop was long gone, as was the marquee, and there was a foreclosure notice on the door for the church to ante up some back taxes. From recent postings, I guess they finally paid.
Last week, I obtained a DVD of Myrtle El color/b&w films, and sure enough, there were 2 separate shots of the Peerless marquee from '66-'67 or so. The name of the old theater was in disrepair and nothing was listed. (I’d be more than happy to provide anyone who is interested on how to obtain a copy.)
I have a ton of memories about this theater, so feel free to ask away in future posts.