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I recall an even earlier ad in Variety in which the “Cleopatra” cast consisted of Joan Collins, Stephen Boyd and Peter Finch. I’d forgotten that Collins was the first to drop out. Or perhaps, as the budget escalated, Fox opted to replace her by (famously) agreeing to pay Elizabeth Taylor the $1 million she asked for.
My recollection of the sequence of events is that it shifted from first-run to late-run bargain house after Showcase Cinemas North opened and, with incomparably greater corporate clout and state-of-the-art amenities, took control of first-run product.
Might you be referring to the Art Greenwich, which was twinned in its final years?
Thank you for your kind comments, Rivoli. As it happens, my high school graduation 50 years ago was in Loew’s Penn. Just finished staging my 50th reunion weekend, but not there. Sure spent a lot of hours at the Penn from about 1948 to 1964 (when it stopped being a moviehouse)watching MGM, United Artists and Paramount first-run films. I’ve read with interest your remarks on many Pittsburgh and Manhattan theaters.
The two main roadshow (reserved-seat) moviehouses were the second and final of the two theaters here known as the Nixon (“Oklahoma,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music” and many others) and the Warner (“The Ten Commandments,” “Gigi,” “Ben-Hur,” “Hello, Dolly,” all of the Cinerama films).
Occasionally a roadshow opened elsewhere Downtown, as when “Cleopatra” went into the Penn or the Fulton nabbed “El Cid,” “The Longest Day,” “Lawrence of Arabia” (when its just-begun run at the Nixon was interrupted by a major fire)and “Funny Girl.”
By the 1960s, almost all first-run theaters in Pittsburgh were owned and operated by the Stern family’s Associated Theatres, whose holdings also included several art houses in the city’s East End neighborhoods.
Associated began booking major roadshows into such theaters as the Squirrel Hill (“My Fair Lady,” “Doctor Zhivago,” “Becket”), the nearby Manor in Squirrel Hill (“Star,” “Doctor Dolittle,” “Fiddler on the Roof”) and the King’s Court in Oakland (“A Man for All Seasons,” “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” and “Oliver”).
By diverting these normally prestige pictures into smaller theaters such as the art houses, Associated could keep its larger Downtown houses free for shorter-run commercial pictures that open big and flame out faster.
There was less to lose by playing fewer art pictures in the East End. Associated could be pickier about which art house hits played here while the aforementioned art houses were occupied for months at a stretch by roadshows.
They found that while audiences from the southern, western and northern sectors of Western Pennsylvania may not have frequented the art houses when art films played there, audiences from those sectors WOULD make the trek to the East End neighborhoods for “event films” such as “My Fair Lady” and “Doctor Zhivago.”
By the early 1960s, almost all Downtown Pittsburgh moviehouses
At the risk of turning this into a forum on “The Big Fisherman,” I can tell you that it was a rare roadshow flop in its day, as was “The Diary of Anne Frank” at about the same time. “Big Fisherman” had a modest 10-week run (none of them big) at Pittsburgh’s Warner Theatre, which was our Cinerama house and which had great long runs of two other religious-themed blockbusters, “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur.”
“The Big Fisherman” has never been available on home video, and I’ve never known it to be shown on cable. I’ve been trying to see it since missing it in theaters the first (and only) time around. It has had no “after life.”
Simon, I’m intrigued by your box-office numbers regarding “North by Northwest” topping the non-holiday record held previously by “High Society.” I followed the RCMH figures (and those of about 200 other theaters) scrupulously in Variety for decades. But especially RCMH’s numbers because that was the theater that, more than any other, enjoyed the pick of the litter. Is there any chance you kept a log of RCMH’s weekly figures, film after film?
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, while the Tri-State was in its heyday, the weekly playbill/program featuring current and forthcoming features was inserted in all copies of The Pittsburgh Press distributed in the Burgettstown/McDonald/Bulger/Midway area.
Sonny, I, too, have gotten notices of multiple new CT postings that were not visible when I checked for them. This happens especially on the Radio City Music Hall site for whatever reason. Then I discovered that by clicking on the word COMMENTS, the most recently posted messages – the ones I’ve been notified about – become visible.
I was in the dumpy re-do of the Mayfair/DeMille only a couple of times after it was triplexed. One was shortly after the butchery for a single-feature re-release opf “Battleground.” (All three of the classics showing that week were of war films, one of the others being “The Longest Day.”)
A later visit to catch up with “Fade to Black” was even less felicitous. I was in one of the upstairs chambers alone one late morning. Very steep ascent. Just generally feeling uncomfortable when a cat appeared out of nowhere, leaping onto the seat beside me. The suddenness of its pounce startled the bejeebers out of me.
After the movie I approached the upstairs doorman, a young man with a thick accent, and asked about the cat. I anticipated his response, although he was even more forthcoming than I expected about cats roaming freely because of the theater’s rat problem.
Thank you very much, CT contributors. I appreciate the kind words.
Aside to Lost Pittsburgh: I don’t think I can lay my hands on the story about what occupies the former drive-in properties, but I do have an original of the most commented-up story I ever did: A 1983 roundup of what occupied at that time the sites of many dozens of former Pittsburgh area moviehouses.
As I recall, the indoor theaters story led to the followup on what happened to the drive-in properties.
I’ll send you a Xerox of the indoors story by postal mail if you email me at
Enrolling with this link.
For the record, nothing about the floor plan of the theater changed after it ceased being a late-run neighborhood house and started being a first-run art house. The seats were replaced, I seem to recall, but the structure and layout were the same.
The Shadyside Theater had no balcony. The Balcony restaurant, as it was called, was named for the fact it was upstairs. It did, in fact, occupy the area formerly used for the theater’s projection booth plus the (former)air space over the smallish lobby and the back several rows of seats.
The Strand Theatre is on Cinema Treasures. It’s No. 6947. I have not gotten around to putting an entry on there yet. Can’t give you the Strand’s closing date offhand. It was mostly a second-run neighborhood house but tried a bit of art in its later years. I believe that it had the second-highest capacity (to the Schenley) of all the Oakland theaters.
You’re thinking of the Strand, which straddled the years from the era of the Schenley through the early years of the King’s Court. The Strand was on Forbes Avenue like the other two.
There was a bowling alley on the second floor of the Strand.
But its main distinction was being one of the only two Western Pennsylvania theaters that I know of (the Etna in Etna being the other) where you entered the theater from behind the screen and walked up a slope toward the projection booth to select a seat.
One correction in the caption under the photo of the Miller marquee for “Three Faces of Eve”: Joanne Woodward may have been unavailable to attend the premiere because she was making a picture with Marlon Brando, but it wasn’t “The Young Lions”; it was “The Fugitive Kind.”
In Pittsburgh, as in Manhattan, “The Trouble With Harry” played its first-run engagement in the city’s most prominent art house, the Squirrel Hill. Being a Hitchcock film, “Harry” did move on to neighborhood engagements, most often shoring up a different, but also same-time, Paramount release, “Anything Goes.”
Does anyone have any idea how the Castle festival performed at the b.o., taking into account the fact that double bills in shoebox auditoriums limit the turnover? By chance the featival included all of my favorites – three in the “Whistler” series, “Homicidal” (Is it even possible to be fooled by that one?) and “The Night Walker,” especially for Vic Mizzy’s spooky and imperishable score.
Gimmicks notwithstanding, Castle’s mysteries and thrillers are hopelessly contrived and often plain terrible (“13 Ghosts”), but he was such a consummate ham that he kept me returning as a kid. Anyway, I hope “Night Walker” did well and that Film Forum is encouraged to book more of such Americana festivals.
I, too, collected and devoured the rep schedules from several Manhattan sites – Thalia, Elgin, Bleecker Street (as I recall), Gramercy (briefly), Carnegie Hall Cinema, Hollywood Twin, 80 St. Marks (where fixed combinations tended to play together whenever they returned) and, by far the best, the Regency (and later Frank Rawley’s scheduled for the Lincoln Art, or whatever it was called when he moved there from the Regency).
I loved reading the descriptions, scrutinizing the feature times, spotting the occasional error in show times and keeping them all handy so that at any hour of the afternoon or evening back here in Pittsburgh, I could envision what was going on on every screen.
When my semi-annual two-week trips to NYC were on the horizon, I especially looked forward to the schedules, knowing I’d soon get to partake in the rep house banquet.
Now the only schedules are from Film Forum, and I pay $25 every three (or two?) years to receive those.
It’s great having a home video collection, but it’s somehow not the same as knowing that when I got to NYC I’d see the long-available “Sudden Fear” at the 80 St. Marks, the long-unavailable “Call Me Madam” at Lincoln Art, “The Whisperers” at the Regency or “Burmese Harp” at the Thalia.
And then to pick them off in double bills all day every day while scurring around Manhattan on subways and awaiting a Broadway show in the evening.
“Love Story” definitely premiered at Loew’s State, where I first saw it. Not at RCMH.
I do clean house daily. That’s not the issue. The apparatus you’re using to post some videos is triggering a “sign up or get lost” message. No way around it. Never ran into this on Cinema Treasures before. I believe that in all cases (wasn’t kleeping track at first), short video clips are involved. It’s OK, though. If I’m missing only video clips, it won’t impair my ability to learn more about the theaters from the texts. I won’t address this issue again because I don’t want to clutter the flow of historical commentary. Thank you, though.
Doesn’t work, Tinseltoes. No amount of clicking on the empty box activates it. It seems to require subscribing to something called eFootage. But thank you.
Just within the past few days I’ve found I cannot access any of the clips being posted on various Manhattan sites without going through some sort of licensing process.
Is this a whole extra step that will be necessary permanently, or does it have something to do with the way the clips are being posted by one or two individuals?
Is the licensing free and safe?