Loew's State Theatre

1540 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036

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Ed Solero
Ed Solero on July 11, 2012 at 9:53 am

I wonder what the story was over at the Rivoli Theatre that week, as its name is conspicuously absent from the list of averages given on that page.

BobbyS
BobbyS on July 10, 2012 at 11:32 pm

This is such a great publication and I enjoy reading it Tinseltoes. I would have loved to have walked on Broadway in 1954 and trying to decide what movie palace to visit with stage show added attraction. I probably would have chosen “Gone With The Wind” at the Loews State and I would have been among the thousands…

BobbyS
BobbyS on December 20, 2011 at 12:35 am

What a wonderful link…Thanks Great Movies in Great Theaters!!!

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 19, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I’m sure that was more of a rhetorical question, Tinseltoes, but I’ll follow up anyway: I remembered that she was in the John Huston movie version of Tenessee Williams' “Night of the Iguana” because her role in it was rather similar to that in “Lolita.” I searched her on imdb.com and see that she also appeared with Frank Sinatra in the 1967 detective drama “Tony Rome” and with George C. Scott that same year in “The Flim-Flam Man.” There were other film roles in lower budget films and a number of guest appearances on TV dramas into the 1970’s, but nothing of note. Her personal bio page on imdb is brief, but fairly interesting.

rivoli157
rivoli157 on November 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

As a young kid from LI,I had a chance to experience this theatre,a summer camp trip to see The Bible.Huge, huge theatre. Years later I was here in either Loews State 1 or 2 for various screenings of Oliver!, Love Story, The Owl and the Pussycat, and On A Clear Day You Can See Forever

BobbyS
BobbyS on October 21, 2011 at 12:01 am

Thank you David…. It was worth the wait….I felt I was almost there. The powers of presentation sure knew how to show a special film like this one. I remember seeing “The Robe” in Chicago for the first film in Cinemascope at my neighborhood Balaban & Katz Marbro theater and had the same magical feeling. The theaters where these epics played were just so much part of the whole experience…

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on October 20, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Well, it is far away from New York obviously, but the Seattle Cinerama sure tried to evoke the showmanship of yore with its Big Screen Cinerama and 70mm Film Festival just recently held. Most of the films had their overtures, intermission, and exit music intact and the curtains were used for every show.

Some projection details were a little disappointing occasionally and the print quality varied, but that was to be expected given how rare and hard-to-find some of the 70mm prints were. Also they probably had no way of locating the instructional material for projectionists that the studios provided during the heyday of the roadshow presentations, so the in many cases the lights did not go down at the point they originally would have when the films were first shown in theaters.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on October 20, 2011 at 3:53 pm

There are at least two movie palaces in the New York City area: the Lafayette in Suffern NY (opened in 1924) and the Loew’s Jersey in Jersey City NJ (opened in 1929). I’m happy to say they are both still showing classic movies on a regular basis.

Davidgreene5
Davidgreene5 on October 20, 2011 at 1:19 pm

An easy way to reach that “Happy 50th Ben Hur” page is to return to the top of this page, click on blog, and type in the name of the page in the search bar on the blog page. By the way, does anyone know if the grand movie palace, where movies are presented with style and elegance, has definitely gone the way of the horse and buggy? I once tried to get some people in my locale to consider establishing a new venue of that type, but pressure from a giant cineplex corporation doing business in the area killed the idea.

Davidgreene5
Davidgreene5 on October 20, 2011 at 1:09 pm

“The Entertainment Experience of a Lifetime”

Many classic movies have opened at times when current events have made audiences especially receptive to them. Ben Hur premiered at a time in my life when my age and state of mind magnified the film’s impact to a level greater than any other, before or since.

In the Autumn of 1959, if you lived within an hour’s drive of New York City, you would, sooner or later have seen that giant poster, or billboard created by commercial artist Reynold Brown. The sheer size of those ads, standing by the highway or decorating train and bus stations, with the title spelled out in those massive stone letters really stirred the blood of an already movie-crazy boy in his mid-teens. Perhaps it was that charioteer furiously driving his team straight at you. It may have been the idea that those letters towered so high that crowds of extras perched on top of them seemed no bigger than fly-specks. Whatever the case, that dynamic composition proved so effective that major studios demanded that its style be slavishly imitated in the poster art of many, many subsequent releases. “The Entertainment Experience of a Lifetime”, proclaimed the title headline at the top. At the base, one could read that this irresistible blockbuster would be found in an “Exclusive Reserved Seat Engagement at Loews State Theater” on the fabled Broadway, in New York. Well, they had me persuaded that I would see this thing if I had to move a mountain to get there!

In 1953, when the Fox Studios’ biblical, The Robe, gave the country its first look at CinemaScope, I was one little kid who received the new format with wild enthusiasm. Three years later, on a less panoramic screen, DeMille’s The Ten Commandments served as an eye-popping confirmation that epics of this type would rate high on my “must-see” list. Occasionally a lesser offering in this genre would suggest to my young mind that Hollywood hype might not always prove entirely trustworthy. Weeks after the Ben Hur premiere in November of ’59, friends tweaked my excited curiosity with word that it was sensational, bigger and grander than anything that had come before.

In December, armed with reserved seat tickets that were an early Christmas present, we rode to New York in a mood of fever-pitch anticipation. From a parking garage, a few blocks away, we headed east on 42nd Street, toward the theater. Rounding the corner onto Times Square, I was assailed by a sight that instantly became a lifelong memory. About halfway up the square, on the far side, gargantuan letters stood out like fireworks, spelling BEN HUR, in countless little twinkling bulbs. They seemed to glitter and dance on the marquee and, as if this wasn’t eye catching enough, the name of the film was also emblazoned in towering lighted letters across several stories of the front of the building above. I can recall, in years to come, colossal billboards appearing thereabouts that exceeded the enormity of those letters, but never can I remember anything bigger or more dramatic spelled out in lights.

The outer lobby of Loews State was a bright, high ceilinged affair with a great expanse of lavish colored marble on its floor and walls. We were too eager to get in to the show to linger there, so my memory of that area is sketchy. In one or another of the venues where I was to see the film later on, I recall massive billboard-sized displays on the walls, loaded with color stills and huge printed raves about the film by the critics. On that first encounter, we were in such haste to get inside that we did not linger here, so I don’t recall if these were found in the Loews State lobby that night.

One look at the inner lobby, a long hallway skirting around the outside of the back wall of the actual seating area, and you could see how extensively they had remodeled the place expressly for this premiere engagement. Facing you, as you entered the space, a long succession of pillars and arches ran down the hall, suggestive of Ancient Rome. I believe there was one, or maybe more, gurgling fountains tucked between the arches. You were walking right into the film.

To try to capture a sense of the Orchestra seating area of that theater, I have to compare it with another famous New York venue. Some years before, I had been to an amazing presentation at that baroque temple, The Roxy. The cavernous auditorium in that theater evoked one of those legendary early 20th Century movie palaces, but on steroids! Multiple balconies were stacked, one after another, upward toward the dizzyingly high, gaudily ornamented ceiling. The screen was framed by a giant, ornate proscenium. Along with a mountainous theater organ, to one side of the stage, I believe that the Roxy also had an orchestra pit. It had a spacious stage in front of the screen where live musical productions could be presented prior to the start of a movie.

When you stepped into the auditorium at Loews State, the sight was dazzling, but altogether different. The room felt elegantly modern, and all-new. The ceiling stood high above you, but not so lofty as the one at the Roxy. Instead of all the gilded plaster cherubs and rococo décor, these walls were architecturally, far simpler, embracing the whole area in long, shallow-curved expanses. An immense, glittering chandelier hung from the center of the ceiling. This, along with other less obvious light sources, made the room noticeably brighter than most theater interiors. The whole area was a shining study in gold and beige. The seating space was notably wide, and with a great distance from back to front. The sea of thickly padded chairs swooped downward and then, a few forward rows were raked back up again toward the screen.

Suddenly, I became concerned about those reserved seats. I had learned that, at Cinerama screenings, there was a relatively small area in the theater, near the center, and not to far back, where your feeling of being really immersed in the visuals was optimal. I knew that the tickets to this show assigned you to certain specific seats. You couldn’t make changes. We found our designated location. It seemed well centered, but I saw so many rows in front of us that I feared we were too far back from the screen. I was soon to learn something extraordinary about the combination of the MGM Camera 65 format and the particular screen they had built at Loews State.

A month into the run, Ben Hur was already a very popular movie. It was the Christmas season, and this feature was particularly fitting for the occasion. The huge room was filling up rapidly. We sat gazing about at the elegant setting and leafing through the pages of the souvenir book. People were conversing in tones that suggested that we were not the only ones filled with awe and eager anticipation. In the front of the room, there was no proscenium. The whole front wall was a massive gold curtain. It divulged no indication of the actual shape or size of the screen that stood behind it. The voices of the audience grew louder.

If you are familiar with the Miklos Rozsa score for this production, you will easily imagine what happened next. Suddenly, everyone was startled; fairly stunned by the electrifying musical sting that heralds the start of that rousing overture. That musical jolt raced up your spine like a locomotive. The crowd was silent for a bit and then, after a smattering of nervous laughter, they listened closely to the music. The multi-channel sound system was so clear that you could almost see musicians performing in an invisible orchestra pit. The ring of bells, or a triangle, or the snap of a tambourine seemed to emanate from very precise locations before you. The array of richly theatrical musical themes, in their lush orchestrations, evoked the exotic, ancient world of the film that we were about to see. Furthermore, the composer had managed to continually convey a feeling that this was going to be the most toweringly grand picture you had ever seen.

Eager to have their “make-or break” cinematic gamble pay off, the producers of the film had apparently worked closely with the theater’s management to design a start to the show that would be wondrously memorable. They had placed a cue near the end of the overture for the houselights to begin a very slow dim-out. The music grew more hushed, with instrumental effects that conveyed a tingling, suspenseful sense that it was all just about to start. You could see people looking about, registering that the place was slowly growing dark. This had us all so very primed to see the show begin.

When the room was nearly dark, the same musical sting that had jolted us minutes before was played again, this time, quietly, with a slow, portentous tone. As the music ended, the great gold curtain began to rise. Apparently long chains, suspended from the ceiling, were sewn inside the fabric. They made a faint tinkling sound as they drew the curtain up. As it rose, its bottom edge formed a great scalloped archway that ascended to a surprising height above our heads.

There was a second curtain, a sheer one, behind the one in front. Again came that mighty sting, played this time with vigorous forcefulness, as a still image of the MGM lion appeared through the sheer curtain, which now parted at a stately pace. When that audience got its first look at the vastness of the opening shot in the film, you could hear a great gasp run up all of those many rows like a gust of wind. With a screen that appeared to be nearly as wide as a New York City block, any concern I might have had concerning the location of our seats was, at once, eliminated. It was as if we were sitting inside an immense hangar, and the entire front wall had opened up to confront us with a horizon-spanning panorama of ancient Judea.

The screening of that film was absolutely flawless. Later, I was to learn that the theater had an unusual contractual arrangement with the lab that supplied the prints they showed. It stipulated that they had the right to refuse any print that was discovered to be flawed in any way. It wasn’t until decades later, with the advent of the digital age of High Definition movies, that I would ever again see movies looking so clean and lacking any scratches and emulsion flaws. For a boy of fourteen, that glorious epic, replete with the Star of Bethlehem sequence, the sea battle, the renowned chariot race, and the crucifixion, and all of it, presented in this glorious manner, would prove so astounding that, over a half century later, I have never forgotten the brilliant showmanship that was at play in that theater on that unforgettable night.

By Dave Greene

AGRoura
AGRoura on October 20, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Mr. Greene, Sorry for previous posts. Quite a good reminiscence. Brought back memories. Thanks.

Coate
Coate on October 20, 2011 at 11:19 am

What’s with all the commotion, Tinseltoes, over the “Ben-Hur” link? I posted the link on this page in my Oct. 8th comment. As well, the link is permanently positioned in the right margin of this page under “News About This Theater.”

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on October 20, 2011 at 10:37 am

While I generally prefer the elaborately over-decorated palaces of the teens and twenties, I’m mesmerized by the streamlined rehab of the State as pictured above. I can just imagine the well-dressed crowds arriving for the premiere engagement of Some Like It Hot and I’m so damned jealous and regretful that the golden era is long over.

ChasSmith
ChasSmith on October 20, 2011 at 10:30 am

I’m no expert on finding these things myself, but here’s a link that was posted earlier in this thread:

http://cinematreasures.org/blog/2009/11/18/happy-50th-ben-hur

Go there and scroll way down for David’s post.

And by the way, David, thank you for a delightful read!

Davidgreene5
Davidgreene5 on October 20, 2011 at 1:18 am

Just a footnote: I really miss Loews State. The thought that I will probably never again see such brilliant movie presentations as one could once see there is a sad comment on theaters in our present age.

Davidgreene5
Davidgreene5 on October 19, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Well, this guy asked for it, so I posted it on the “Happy 50th Ben Hur ” blog page. I am not going to clutter this site up with TWO posts of the same voluminous document. It’s on that page now. I hope you enjoy the thing. Whew!

AGRoura
AGRoura on October 19, 2011 at 11:28 pm

I want to read it, damm it, just stop the nonsense and POST IT, PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What is the F problem? POST IT DAMM IT.

Davidgreene5
Davidgreene5 on October 19, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Sorry for the holdup. (Although I posted this same message last night, it strangely vanished.) I was attempting to post a link to the article about “Ben Hur” at Loews State. As I do not have a web site, this was not possible. Here is an email address: If anyone is interested in checking it out, contact me at that address and I will send you a copy in reply. I had a terrible struggle with a balky word-processing app., or this would have been completed days ago. So sorry for the delay and any resulting aggravation to site members.

ChasSmith
ChasSmith on October 16, 2011 at 10:55 am

David, we look forward to reading your memories about “Ben-Hur” whenever and wherever you post them. Thanks!

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on October 16, 2011 at 10:46 am

The old theatres had tons of obstructed view seats that were rarely used but made the house nut higher for film rental purposes. Many multiplexes do that to this day.

Once the house was adapted for roadshow use they expected to sell 100% at each performance so most seats were larger and positions were at least adequate.

BobbyS
BobbyS on October 16, 2011 at 10:42 am

Davidgreene5, You take your time until you are ready to post. Loew’s State isn’t going anywhere. AGRoura must be having a persoanl crisis……

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on October 16, 2011 at 9:42 am

I would wager that a good portion of the original seating count was lost with the modernization that occurred in 1958. The pic at the top, markp, is of the remodeled auditorium. The seat count at the very top is based on the original 1921 configuration. It’s likely that even more seats were lost when the auditorium was divided in the late 1960’s.

markp
markp on October 16, 2011 at 1:23 am

I’ve never been good at math, but 1172 and 1214 sure dont add up to 3327. Looking at that beautiful photo on the intro and reading the intro, a lot of seats must have been lost, presumably downstairs. I went to this theatre when I was in 2nd grade to see “Doctor Doolittle” I remember our school group was upstairs.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on October 16, 2011 at 1:00 am

One can easily remove his own post if he wishes to reconsiders his remarks. I recommend it.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on October 16, 2011 at 12:37 am

Hey AGRoura… why don’t you read the rules about posting that are listed just below. Maybe it is you who should get out of CT! David, please pay no mind to these rude and offensive comments. Things can get heated in these pages from time to time and I’ve gone at it with some people here myself. But I can’t recall another post that has made me angrier and embarrassed at a fellow CT member than the one above. Post your comments in whatever form you feel best and whenever you feel you’re ready. Many of us still look forward to reading them.