Showing 26 - 50 of 123 comments
From one former Roxy usher (1956 – 57 seasons) to another: Hey Frank, It’s great to hear your recollections. Since I have already shared so many of my memories on this site, I won’t bore the contributors with a recap. But the back stage elevator assignment always filled me with terror as we had to level with the floor manually being careful not to create a step for the skaters. I wonder how many of us are left (standing)? I do remember taking Louis Armstrong up and down numerous times (I believe the film was Boy on a Dolphin). I hope I’m remembering correctly.
Thanks for your memories Richka. But the loge stairway was exclusively for the loge patrons. There was no access to the balcony from there. General admission patrons had to use the grand staircase in the front of the rotunda. I’m surprised to hear about ushers doing tricks. When I was there you would have been fired if you crossed your arms let alone do acrobatics to entertain the patrons. Discipline was strict and we had to be at our post at attention at all times, especially during pressure business. No time for comedy. But I don’t doubt what you say, only that times must have changed. Only concession stand was in the lower lounge. I worked there.
The photos are wonderful (double sigh). The photo of the lobby, however, includes only the entrance to the loge (about halfway into the rotunda)on the second level. Before the stairway to the loge is the grand stairway to the balcony, also on the left and seen as soon as you enter the theater from the outer lobby. Towards the center orchestra doors (to the extreme right…not seen in photo)is an alcove where patrons could take a huge elevator to the balcony.
If you have the time and inclination and go back through these amazing emails you will find one in which I mentioned the films that played there when I was an usher. I began working evenings while going to school. It was the final week of D-Day The Sixth of June with R. Taylor and Emmet Kelly the renowned clown heading the stage show. Business was poor for that run but they knew they had to prepare for big business and took on a lot of help. The King and I ran 8 weeks, then Bus Stop for 6 wks, then Giant for 9 weeks, then Anastasia for 8 weeks. all huge grossers attracting long lines to 6th Avenue during peak hours. Business slipped precipitously soon after. But what a great experience for 95 cents an hour.
Communication from the ushers to the various house managers was constant from all sections of the theater. This was relayed to the lobby from the doormen to the managers to the cashiers by phone. Every usher kept track of the flow and knew exactly how many (or few) seats there were in his charge. Ushers reported to managers by telephone every five minutes during busy times and we also used hand signals to give both numbers and locations. As far as the loge was concerned, patrons would often change their minds once they had purchased a regular admissions ticket, if the wait for orchestra seats appeared to be too long. Because the loge only seated 1,000 patrons, it would fill up quickly during pressure business.
Unquestionably the Roxy. The screen, unlike RCMH, was curved and the sound much better as well. The only time the Roxy removed seats (the entire loge was closed)was for Windjammer in Cinemiracle.
To Ziggy, what a treat it is for this Roxy usher (1956 – 57) to see these rare photos. For your amusement, may I share this: There was a small desk placed on the first landing to the (rocking chair)loge where a cashier would sit and exchange tickets for those who wanted to sit in the loge after already purchasing a regular priced ticket. This happened frequently when the patrons saw too many people waiting for orchestra seats. One more thing: It’s hard to believe that the huge crowd waiting in line were there for a Ritz Brothers film in 1937. Perhaps a stage headliner was the draw. I’d love to see a photo of the rotunda from the lobby to the orchestra entrance. Not even in “The Best Remaining Seats.” Thanks again
To continue: Four or five open boxoffices were common during peak times at the Hall and Roxy. Five minute breaks were the norm. The Hall had a 15 minute break after the first show on Sunday at holiday time anticipating tight initials. As to opening only 15 minutes before the start of a show: That referred to the doors between the foyer and the auditorium where patrons were held until the house was ready. The box office would start selling as early as 1 hour before the start of the first feature, depending on how long the street line was. Hope that answeres some of the questions. The Roxy, however, rounded out it times to the nearest five. 5:18 was posted as 5:20 and 1:18 was 1:15. Its fun to look at the other movie house schedules on Broadway, if posted.
All feature times were in minutes at all the Broadway and neighborhood theaters up until the drop of continuous showings and start of separate admissions for each show. The short breaks, particularly at the Hall and Roxy, weren’t meant to encourage concession purchases, as there weren’t any, certainly not in the 30s, 40s and 50s. That was a later phenominun. Only neighborhood theaters might have had concession stands. The time schedules were prepared to fit in the most number of shows during day; to allow for a moderate spill of patrons between stage and film showings as most patrons walked in at any time. A full house at the start of a day (Saturday or Sunday) was rare but a headache at the Hall and Roxy. Imagine 6,000 people coming up the aisles.
You guys are funny….still can’t differentiate between the original Roxy and the New Roxy that became the Center Theatre. Anyone who makes that mistake from here on deserves a severe reprimand.
Few of you will remember (very few) that most of the first run Broadway deluxers showed their feature until 4 AM, especially during the war years. Also remember that many factories employed round-the-clock shifts with many patrons looking for entertainment at odd hours. You can be sure if the customers were not there, they wouldn’t stay open. The grind houses on 42nd, in particular, never seemed to close. I don’t know the policy at the Roxy regarding this, but the Music Hall reduced its regular price of $1.50 to .90 for the midnight feature (no stage show)only.
Answer to mjc: That was indeed,only for New Years Eve. Generally the last stage show began at 10 PM with the last feature at 11 PM, except for Saturday night when the last stage show began at 11 PM and feature at midnight. The Roxy made it a policy to have their last show a bit later than the Music Hall in order to get the overflow and others who missed the last show at the Hall. During the war years, the Hall ran an additional midnight showing of the film without a late stage show.
I know Warren is the expert with the exact grosses retrieved from Variety. But I’d like to take a stab at it just from memory. I believe that “…Show Business” was a huge disappointment to Fox despite the big campaign. I remember that Ethel Merman was on hand opening day at the Roxy to sell tickets…that’s right…they put at the box office with a regular cashier as a gimmick at the opening show. The opening week was around $90,000 (pre-Christmas) with the following holiday week jumbing to about $142,000 (not a record by any means). “Forever Amber” did $!80,000 as did “Stars and Stripes Forever.” It fell considerably below $90,000 in subsequent weeks , but Warren can tell you whether it played four or five weeks or more. What I can tell you is that seeing “…Show Business” on that great screen, especially that grand finale, was something else.
Here’s one consideration that many people who watch the grosses between the Roxy and Music Hall srarely consider. The Music Hall always attracted a heavy morning and matinee crowd, mainly comprised of tourists. The Roxy business did not have the pull of tourists and business was heaviest at night and ran their shows much later, often until 1 Am, except for the rare family film. As a former usher at both theaters, I can tell you that the Roxy also had a policy of special children’s prices at all times which kept the grosses down. The Music Hall never had that policy.
I don’t have the Roxy grosses for “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” but I’m reasonably sure, if memory serves, they hovered around the $120,000, 110,000, 100,000 or so for the run. The “Band Wagon” grosses were, as follows: 171,000, 157,000, 159,000, 156,000, 147,000, 133,000, and 117,000 for its 7 week run.
Thank you Mike…I’m in heaven. Now I can play and hear the grand organ medleys before after the movies on my big screen TV. All I need is an usher to say “immediate seating in all parts of the theater,” or “exits and lounges are on the left.”
Mike, that site listed to hear the various organ doesn’t produce sound for some reason. I have no problem with sound on other sites. Am I not doing something I should? I clicked where indicated and all I got was a blank screen saying “done.” And I was so looking forward to hearing them.
Although “All About Eve” did excellent business, the attempt to keep audiences from arriving during the middle of the performance was a total failure. It lasted only one week with continuous shows re-instated in the second week. Patrons were not accustomed to this policy, as at the Music Hall.Many disgruntled patrons. More often than not the house was only half full. Also seating up to 6,000 people for any given performance, reserved or not, was not practacle if not impossible. there was only a thirty minute break between shows and even with six boxoffices (I doubt they used that many)open they could only accomodate approximately 3,000 during that break. Even at the Music Hall, it took one hour to fill its 6,000 for a “tight initial” as it was called when the house was filled before the first show. tastAs It too
The reserved seat policy was as follows: As a rule matinees tickets were good from house opening to 3 PM. Evening tickets were good anytime between 7 PM and the start of the last overture. (usually around 9:15 PM). On holidays a different reserved seat plan went into effect. Tickets for morning shows were good from house opening, usually around 8 AM, to about 10 AM. You could not stay for a second show in those seats but could go up to the second mezzanine if you chose to. You had to vacate your seats for the matinee audience whose tickets read “good between 1 PM to 3 PM.” These times are approximate and based on the running time of the feature. Empty seats in the first mezzanine would also be sold as non-reserved but at the higher admission price between 3 PM and 4 PM to keep the seats filled.
What fun! I went back to Warren’s 1943 list to see when Sweet Rosie O'Grady played. It opened Oct 17 and stayed only four weeks despite being a huge boxoffice hit. But also noticed that Warren must have gone opening week as he states that Kay left because she didn’t like Kaye. Maybe she didn’t like the fact that Kaye had one more letter in his name than she. And who (trivia time) replaced her? Or did they give more time on stage to Kaye?
It was wonderful to see the ad for “Ginger” starring Jane Withers. It only played a week at the Hall July 18 – 24 in 1935. It’s gross of $59,000 for the week was one of the lowest of the year, but it actually beat the following one-weeker “She” starring Helen Gahagan by $1,000. 1935 was an historical year for the Hall as it premiered the first Technicolor film “Becky Sharp” earlier that summer (June 13 – 26). But more importantly “Top Hat” opened in September and grossed $134,800, breaking the house gross and attendance record and playing 3 weeks. It held that record well into the 1940s. A Shirley Temple film “Curly Top” followed “She” and also only played one week grossing a fairly sizable $82,000. Temple’s “Littlest Rebel” played 11 days over Christmas.
Hey Ron, Charles Francisco’s book The Radio City Music Hall lists all the films that played from 1933 – 1978. There are some errors and omissions but for the most part a very valuable reference. The calendar years are not always in synch with the films of that year. For instance, a film that actually opened in January might be listed as opening in the previous December, but that’s rare. As for the weeks played, that’s a wonderful game to play if you know the business. You can always check with the New York Times on microfilm and also weekly Variety. I’ve done it with the grosses.
As an usher we wore body hugging pants and a jacket with no pockets and tight white gloves. we never considered taking a tip, whether we assisted someone in a wheelchair or escorted a pregnant woman to her seat. The management was strict and we respectfully obeyed the rules and never questioned them. We remained poor but stood tall. End of story.
“Bus Stop” opened on Labor Day weekend 1956. The memory of that first weekend is still fresh in my mind as I was working there as an usher. Attendance was so stupendous beginning on Friday and continuing through the holiday on Monday that the house managers ordered the multiple main entrance doors on 7th Avenue closed because the outer lobby was so jammed with ticket buyers from the time the house opened at 10:30 am. Only the door on the 50th Street side was opened to allow a more orderly entrance to the theater. The crush was intense at peak times for the next four days. About 30 minutes before a break, the length of the rotunda was often packed with people standing ten-abreast (possibly 1,000 or more). The street line stretched from 7th Avenue and 50th Street towards 6th Avenue, and on Sunday actually turning the corner on to 6th Avenue. Two box offices with four cashiers were kept busy as was the staff. Although other films played longer (Bus Stop played six weeks) and grossed more, that opening weekend was almost scary. Nothing could stop Marilyn’s fans from showing up. The inside ushers and sturdy doormen worked plenty of overtime (the pay scale was $.80 cents an hour, $1.10 for doormen).
BoxOfficeBill: I can’t compete with your astounding memory, but as a Roxy usher in 1956/57, I was occasionally sent to do an attendance check at the Hall. What always astonished me was how quickly the Roxy would fill up once the last stage show at the Hall had begun and the door men began announcing that there was waiting in the lobby for the last feature only. You could see hundreds of disappointed people heading back to 7th Avenue to see the last complete show at the Roxy which began around 10 pm. The last stage show at the Hall began, except on rare occasions, shortly after 9pm. The Roxy was never noted as a matinee theater, it appealed to a more middle brow audience who liked a star turn, a big band sound, and no highfallutin dancing. It was only during the war years (1942-45) that the Roxy came close to rivaling the Hall. The Hall, however, is where many of us of a certain age who couldn’t afford the Met or Carnegie Hall learned to appreciate classical music, dance, opera, etc. in a classy setting. What a legacy!