Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

205 W. 46th Street,
New York, NY 10036

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Showing 51 - 75 of 76 comments

VincentParisi on September 12, 2005 at 8:15 am

What a beautiful auditorium the Globe had. It’s hard to reconcile Warrens photos with the theater I’ve know since ‘71(The Rothchilds) always to me the dreariest of the old Broadway theaters. Though the Virginia certainly gives it a bit of competition.
People are again complaining about a lack of theaters for Broadway musicals coming in. What a joke!

RobertR on September 12, 2005 at 7:53 am

Warren is this the 3-D show you talk about? I have been trying to find out what this show at the Rialto was?
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BoxOfficeBill on July 22, 2005 at 4:58 pm

The oddest feature of that theater that I recall as both a movie house and as a playhouse was the downward sloping, horizontally splayed beaux-arts cornucopias on each side of the proscenium, retained after the ‘58 renovation eliminated the second balcony. I haven’t been in that house since the '99 renovation, so I wonder what that recent job entailed. I wish there were a site like this for NYC live playhouses.

Benjamin on July 22, 2005 at 8:56 am

The info from the 1928 photo that shows a movie playing at the Globe is very interesting. The Internet Broadway Database has the following as the last live shows at the Globe: “She’s My Baby,” opened 1/3/1928; “Three Cheers,” opened 10/15/1928; and “Cat & the Fiddle” (a big time production with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II), 10/15/31. There does seem to be a big break between “Three Cheers” and “Cat & the Fiddle” that would have allowed some movies to play at the Globe before if finally gave up live shows altogether in 1932 (according to the William Morrison book, see below) or 1935 (the introduction at the top of the Lunt-Fontanne page on this website).

Here’s the link to the Internet Broadway Database. Once you are on a theater’s page, if you click on the name of a show that played there, I believe it will tell you the dates the show was at that theater.

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Here’s some more info on the Lunt-Fontanne, this time from the William Morrison book, “Broadway Theaters: History and Architecture” (pgs. 63-65).

Sadly, Charles Dillingham [the producer who built the original theater] lost his fortune in the 1929 Crash. His beloved Globe was foreclosed and converted into a motion picture theater in 1932. Thus it remained until Robert Dowling and the City Playhouses Group bought the theatre in 1957 and renamed it Lunt-Fontanne. The architectural firm of Roche & Roche was commissioned to design the remodeling. Among other improvements, they closed the Broadway entrance, installed a new box office eestibule, and reconfigured the auditorium into a single-balcony “shoebox” house … . The Nederlander organization purchased the theater in 1973 and still owns it today [1999].

The book has some terrific photos of both the Globe and the Lunt-Fontanne, including a slightly larger version of the photo found in the Stern book that shows the Mezzanine loung as it looked just after the 1958 renovation.

By the way, “Broadway Theaters: History and Architecture,” by Willliam Morrison, is one of those inexpensive Dover paperback picturebooks. It has many other wonderful photos of old Broadway theaters. Although the primary focus is on Broadway “legit” theaters, many of the theaters in the book also showed movies at one time or another (like the Globe/Lunt-Fontanne) and are thus listed on the Cinema Treasures website.

One Amazon reviewer said the book contained a good number of factual errors, which may be true since I believe I was able to detect a few myself. (But to be fair to the author, I don’t know how the number of errors in his book compares with the the number found in other books — all these books seem to have at least some errors. And the pictures alone are well worth the price, in my opinion.)

The list price is $17.95, but brand new copies were on sale at the Strand bookstore a few months ago for about the same price as they are on Amazon ($12.21). At the Strand, there were also used copies of “Best Remaining Seats” [didn’t check the prices] and a half-priced(?), brand new “reviewer’s copy” of “Cinema Treasures” ($20.00).

When you go to the sachsmorganstudio website that RobertR links to be sure to see all the photos of the Lunt-Fontanne.

The page that is linked to is a “before” photo that is probably the theater just before the renovation. Given what’s been posted about the theater at one time being painted matt black, I doubt this photo reflects the original Arthur Boys decor from the 1950s.

Click on “What Have We done” and then scroll down to the Lunt-Fontanne entry. Click on the Lunt-Fontanne entry and you will see a photo of what the Sachs Morgan Studio is apparently proud of. (Again, maybe I’d like it better in person, or maybe having seen the original Arthur Boys decoration, I would still be dissapointed.)

Also, be sure to click on the picture of the chandelier, and you will see what the new interior looks like from the left balcony (about where I was sitting when I saw “Little Me” — on its last Saturday matinee? — in the early 1960s).

Paul Noble
Paul Noble on July 22, 2005 at 8:06 am

When I saw “My Favorite Spy” at the Globe in 1951, there were two balconies. During the transformation into the Lunt-Fontanne, the theater was rebuilt and the second balcony removed.

VincentParisi on July 22, 2005 at 5:31 am

Boy! And today we think that we have sensory overload! How glorious is that photo!

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on July 22, 2005 at 4:22 am

I went to see Sandy Duncan in “Peter Pan” here in the 1980’s (I had a seat in the balcony). If memory serves me right, the auditorium was painted a light shade of blue and I bleieve there were painted murals of cherubs and clouds on the ceiling. The auditorium struck me as being rather charming.

When I next went to see a show at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre around 2000 (“Titanic-The Musical”), the interior had been painted matt black and there was no decorative features at all. There was a crystal chandelier in the centre of the ceiling. All very disappointing.

RobertR on July 22, 2005 at 4:06 am

It’s not like that anymore. I think that picture was taken as the renovations were starting. Fortunately the Lunt Fonatine is painted Creamy ivory with gold gild and looks beautiful now.

VincentParisi on July 22, 2005 at 4:02 am

There seems to be some confusion between Robert’s photo and Benjamins comment’s. The blue interior of the photo is what the theater was like when I was attending it and it was the dreariest of settings. Yet Benjamin extolls this design. Then claims the photo is of its recent redecoration and not very attractive.
But this is exactly what I remember from the 70’s to the early 90’s!
I don’t believe the theater is like this now(at least I hope not.)
So Benjamin exactly what period are you refering to?

moviesmovies on July 22, 2005 at 3:25 am

Recall seeing ‘A Funny Thing Happened…’ here.

Benjamin on July 21, 2005 at 5:52 pm

I get the impression from various sources that when the Globe was transformed into the Lunt-Fontanne it was more than “just” redecorated. Although I could be wrong, it seems the theater was virtually gutted and rebuilt and, as can be seen from a quote later in this post, the interior design at the Lunt-Fontanne seems to have been pale-blue from the very beginning (although it may have been a different pale blue, and perhaps it might have been used more discriminatingly).

Of course everyone is entitled to their own taste, but when I first saw the interior of the Lunt-Fontanne for a 1962 (?) performance of the “Sound of Music” (orchestra level) I was enchanted. I thought the interior was magical, and a large part of its charm seemed to me to be due to the wonderful light blue color of the interior. (But then again, I was just a kid!) A year or two later I saw little “Little Me” (balcony) and felt the same way.

As I got to see more and more Broadway theaters, it seemed to me that the Lunt-Fontanne was way up in the top category in terms of beautiful interiors. (And, if I remember correctly, some drama critics like, perhaps, John Chapman of the “Daily News,” felt the same way.)

However, it should also be said that in those days the competition was not all that strong because most Broadway theaters seemed to suffer from indifference and neglect by their owners. For example, if I remember correctly, the ugliest Broadway theater interior in my mind was that of the Eugene O'Neill (last matinee of “She Loves Me”), where the entire interior, ornamentation and all, seemed to be painted over with a dull grey.

So I think even theatergoers who weren’t bowled over by the actual interior decoration of the Lunt-Fontanne might have appreciated the care, money and aspirations that the owner and the interior designer invested in the design — instead of just putting together a “schlock” design, at least they tried to do something special. And even ambitious “bad” taste is better than cheap, thoughtless or callous indifference.

Also, looking back, it’s seems somewhat noteworthy to me that the owner and designers tried to do a modern interpretation of an historical style rather than try to impose flashy, but poorly thought out conventional modernism — which was oftentimes done in those days with storefronts, and sometimes even entire office buildings. In fact, I think one of the the fun things about the design of the Lunt-Fontanne is to see how the designer used historical styles in an updated modern way.

(By the way, two other renovated theaters that I thought were among the most beautiful on Broadway for similar reasons were the St. James and, to a lesser extent, the Broadway [also listed on the Cinema Treasures website]. However I don’t think either of them got the same good “reviews” even at the time as the Lunt-Fontanne did.)

If I remember correctly, though, when I saw the Lunt-Fontanne again in the mid-1980s (“Peter Pan,” “Beatlemania” and revivals of “My Fair Lady” and “Hello Dolly”) I don’t think the interior impressed me quite as much. I don’t recall, however, if this was because my taste had changed or because the original Lunt-Fontanne design was not being maintained properly. (I do know, however, that the owners of the theater never bothered to take down an illuminated “Sound of Music” sign [late 1950s?] from the theater’s exterior until maybe the early 1990s?!)

Thanks RobertR for the link to a photo of the most recent redesign! Judging from the photo at least (and photos can be deceiving), my feeling is that the new interior is far less attractive than the original design — actually, it seems somewhat ugly. It’s as though the celestial powder blue walls were replaced by assertive, basement rec room formica “wood” paneling — and the magic is gone! (But, of course, in person I might have an entirely different feeling about it.)

Here’s some info about the Lunt-Fontanne from “New York, 1960” (pg. 442) by Robert A.M. Stern (the famous architect) et al.:

Some existing legitimate theaters were renovated as well, most notably the former Globe (Carrere & Hastings, 1909), which became the Lunt-Fontanne in 1958. [At this point in the Stern text there is the first of about three footnotes that cite various sources, including a July 1958 Interior Design article and a May 6,1958, “New York Times” article entitled “Broadway Agog as Theater Opens]… . Once the most luxurious of Broadway playhouses but used for movies since the 1930s, the theater was redecorated by the British designer Arthur Boys, who was asked by the new owner, Robert W. Dowling, to base his work on the music room of Frederick the Great’s Sans Souci Palace and on Venice’s Fenice Theater. Because according to Dowling, "Going to the theater should be like visiting a charming and gracious home,” he wanted the redesign to have “a new elegance and comfort.” Marya Mannes said that the original Globe had been considered “the most beautiful” theater of its day, “with Grecian pillars and a balcony promenade that drew such phrases as ‘commodious and handsome.’” Although she acknowledged that this style was “no longer supported by public taste,” she found the renovation showy, lacking the dignity required for serious drama: “Mr. Dowling has spent millions in painting the reconditioned house pale-blue and white, encruting it with rococo, stringing it with crystal chandeliers, upholstering it with damask and carpeting it in deepest pile; and what is his idea of a gracious home is my idea of an inflated poweder room.”

On page 441, there is a nice photo of one of the Lunt-Fontanne’s lobby areas with murals by Cosmo di Salvo.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 21, 2005 at 11:58 am

I managed to see Richard Burton as Hamlet at the Lunt-Fontanne on July 15, 1964. I remember that after the performance there was quite a commotion out front on 46th Street as Liz Taylor arrived by limo to retrieve Burton. I didn’t see and haven’t yet seen the Elecronovision version, but I used to own an LP recording of the play, with Burton.

Earlier in the day I had gone to the Art in Greenwich Village to see Rex Harrison in the film Major Barbara, then to the 55th Street Playhouse for a Marcel Carné double bill: Bizarre, Bizarre and The Devil’s Envoy. A rewarding day.

VincentParisi on July 21, 2005 at 11:27 am

When it was in its blue period I thought it one of the ugliest houses on Broadway. I have no idea what it looks like now but I’d like to know what it looked like before.

RobertR on July 21, 2005 at 11:10 am

Here is a picture when it was painted that horrible blue, thank goodness it’s not like that anymore.
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RobertR on June 25, 2005 at 10:37 am

Thanks Warren I just ordered it.

RobertR on June 25, 2005 at 9:45 am

Does anyone know if the Electronovision version exists?

BoxOfficeBill on June 25, 2005 at 9:34 am

Here’s a Playbill from the Lunt-Fontanne in June 1964. If you want to read the fine print, after you click on the URL you must click the image itself so that it enlarges on your screen. I’m sorry that the print-out won’t be so clear.

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The show presented the celebrated Richard Burton performance of “Hamlet.” As directed by John Gielgud (whose off-stage voice supplied the part of the Ghost), the play unfolded on a bare-wall stage with the actors dressed in rehearsal tights, as though it were a first run-through. The performance was subsequently filmed live with the Electronovision process.

I saw the production, but I didn’t see Burton. It was a hot ticket for a limited engagement at a time when Burton-Taylor celebrity mania was still at its height. I showed up at the box office practically at dawn for day-of-sale standing room tickets. That evening as the house lights dimmed, the dreaded theater manager stepped out before the curtain to announceâ€"horrors!â€"that Mr. Burton would be indisposed that evening, to be replaced by his understudy Robert Burr.

Next day, the NYC newspapers ran headlines on the panic at the Lunt-Fontanne that evening as angry patrons rushed up the aisles demanding refunds for their tickets. I stayed on in a less-than-half empty house, guided by the belief that the rest of the cast would turn in especially good performances to compensate the faithful who remained. That, plus the electricity in the air with an unknown actor filling the shoes of the then-most-famous actor in the Anglophone world.

It turned out, I believe, to have been the only performance that Burton missed during the run. Years passed (imagine calendar pages flipping). Just last April on a visit to Indiana, I met a fellow roughly my age, and it turned out that he too had been in the audience that evening. Small world after forty-one years. We both shoudda sat down and watched the thing on Electronovision.

Benjamin on May 26, 2005 at 8:12 am

In the early 1960s (?), I saw the original production of the “Sound of Music” at the Lunt-Fontanne. I also saw “Little Me” there (possibly the last Saturday matinee?). In later years, I saw both “Beatlemania” and revivals of “Hello Dolly” and “My Fair Lady” there.

What I found striking about the theater, especially in the early 1960s, was the quality of the remodeling job that they did when they converted it back to a stage theater from a movie theater. To my young eyes they did a really spectacular job. (But I’ve read some comments from the time, where some people felt they actually overdid it.) I’ve seen numerous pictures of the Globe / Lunt-Fontanne recently, but I’m not sure where. But I think there are pictures of it in the Dover paperback by William Morrison, “Broadway Theaters: History and Architecture,” and in Robert A.M. Stern’s “New York 1960.”

On the outside, the remodeling incorporated two rather unusual — and pleasant — features: 1) a terrazzo (sp?) sidewalk (Terrazzo is a synthetic flooring that kind of looks like polished marble. Many office buildings have terrazzo flooring.); 2) a handsome, ersatz Beaux Art marquee /canopy that had built-in space heaters on its underside. (I’m pretty sure this marquee / canopy is still there.)

Across the street, the Helen Hayes Theater also had been remodeled about the same time. I kind of wonder if it was owned at that time by the same owners, because it shared some of these features. It too had the handsome, ersatz Beaux Art marquee with the built-in space heaters on the underside. (Don’t recall if it had the terrazzo sidewalk.)

Between the two theaters, this street really had a great “look.” Both of the theaters had unusually grand — but, urbane — architecture for a New York City “legit” theater, and it was like having two grand palazzi (sp?) facing each other on opposite sides of a small New York City side-street. Plus, next door to the Helen Hayes, to the east, was the almost equally handsome facade of the Gaiety (although you had to peek up behind the billboard that covered it), and next door, to the west, were one or two brownstones that had been extended out to the sidewalk and contained the original (?) “Dinty Moore’s.” The exterior of Dinty Moore’s had lots of brass (used, for instance, in brass railings), and even in the 1960s they had someone going out there, contantly polishing the brass.

Before showtime, and during intermissions, the street took on a wonderful festive air. People spilled out onto the sidewalks (especially to smoke) and it looked like a big party! (I remember that at one time, Huntington Hartford’s short-lived magazine, “Show,” had a photo essay on the theater district, and one of my favorite photos in it was of people smoking outside the Helen Hayes during intermission.)

If I remember correctly, the time that I waited outside the Lunt-Fontanne during the run of Richard Burton’s “Hamlet,” Liz and Dick (at that time the world’s most scandalous couple by far) really “went with it”! A “handsom cab” pulled up to the theater, they climbed in and were romantically wisked off by a horse and carriage! (No fringe on the top, though!)

I believe Christopher Gray, who writes the “Streetscapes” column for the Sunday “New York Times,” once wrote an article about the Lunt-Fontanne. It had been rumored that the orginal Globe had what today we would call a “moon roof,” which could be opened in good weather. During the various remodelings, however, the “moon roof” opening was, I believe, plastered over. But, if I remember it correctly, Gray was able to get a close-up look of the remaining mechanism from on top of the roof, and he wrote about it in the “Times.”

BoxOfficeBill on December 31, 2004 at 9:43 am

“The Visit” is a startling play, as it begins with an absurd premise (an old woman demands the death of a former lover for jilting her many decades earlier) and delivers on it when the victim’s friends comply with murder. Farce turns into tragedy. The Lunts were perfectly cast despite themselves, since their talent and celebrity for drawing-room comedy led audiences to expect the latter until the action veered toward horrifying drama. What I most remember about this performance in Summer ‘58 was a stage trick that had escaped me at the time: after Fontanne made her demand, she turned upstage and dropped her shawl, revealing that she wore a backless dress. The audience gasped. A friend explained that the aged actress, bareback in the spotlight, suddenly looked looked like a young woman. To this sixteen-year-old, a bare back was little more than a bare back.

DavidHurlbutt on December 29, 2004 at 11:44 am

THE VISIT, the initial production which opened the newly renamed Lunt-Fontanne Theater, had a large set which used the entire stage. Actors wishing to go from wing to the other without being seen by the audience had to go outside one stage door and around the stage end of the theater reentering at the other stage door.

DavidHurlbutt on December 27, 2004 at 11:06 am

In 1964 when Richard Burton was playing in Hamlet at the Lunt-Fontaine, each night after the performance a bubble-top limo would pull up to the stagedoor and Burton would get into the car where Elizabeth Taylor was waiting. Elizabeth would give Richard a big kiss and the crowds surrounding the car would cheer.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on December 27, 2004 at 10:37 am

The current W. 46th Street address was originally the side entrance for its carriage patrons.

The main narrow entrance that was used from its ‘legit’ theatre opening on 22nd January 1910 until it closed as the Globe movie theatre in 1957 was 1555 Broadway.

dave-bronx™ on August 5, 2004 at 8:55 pm

In the early 1990s, City Cinemas had an architect draw up plans for the Lunt, with it divided into 4 or 5 cinemas. As I recall, the drawings showed 2 cinemas on the orchestra level, 2 in the balcony level and possibly 1 on the stage. I don’t know what the deal was, but obviously it never happened.

BoxOfficeBill on August 5, 2004 at 8:24 pm

That’s right about the Globe’s films. Some of its 40s films were OK. It showed first -run of Hitchcock’s “Rope” before its product improved in the 1950s. It premiered Marilyn Monroe’s “Don’t Bother to Knock.” And “How to Marry a Millionaire day-dated at Loew’s State, diagonally across the street. In the mid-50s I saw (the now classic) "Forbidden Planet” there, and also “A Face in the Crowd."I believe its first play after reverting to live theater was Durrenmatt’s "The Visit,” with M. Lunt and Mme Fontaine themselves starring in it. I remember seeing Sid Caesar in Neil Simon’s “Little Me” ca. 1963 there. Oh, and of course, the famous Richard Burton in “Hamlet” in 1964 — yee gads, the block was lined with autograph hunters then.

RobertR on April 30, 2004 at 7:04 am

What kind of a run was the Lunt Fontanne (Globe) on when it showed movies?