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Hi, Bill. Thanks for your very kind comments.
I arrived at The Pittsburgh Press in October 1967, a year before Kap Monahan’s retirement. His departure created a space for me in the Features Department (entertainment and style/women’s/living pages).
His direct successor, though, was Tom Blakely, who had been Kap’s backup on theater and movies for about 20 years. I did TV & radio while Tom was Drama Editor. Then I moved over and succeeded him in January 1972.
I saw Kap at parties and picnics during his retirement years. He and Tom have both been gone for maybe 30 years now.
The razing of the once-revered South Hills Theater (Cinema 4 in its chopped up final days) has begun.
I stand corrected. What a couple of us remembered was the plan to twin it – a plan that never materialized. The same could be said of Showcase West’s goal of installing stadium seating, which never happened.
The second and final Nixon Theatre – this one – was named for the first. Neither had anything to do with the late U.S. President.
Todd-AO was inaugurated with “Oklahoma,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “South Pacific,” “Porgy and Bess” and “Can-Can,” all of which had their Pittsburgh premiere roadshow engagements at the Nixon.
I concur. The legit theaters east of Broadway sense “off the beaten path” to theatergoers.
A blockbuster booking such as Denzel Washington in “Fences” can override that perception, but I don’t think people like going down the darker side streets where there’s only one playhouse. They feel isolated, vulnerable and removed from the merry hustle-bustle.
Also, if you go to a show at a theater that’s very much in the middle of things – say the Imperial or the Music Box on West 45th, you notice the titles on marquees of the other theaters, which gives those shows a bit of allure.
The other, more isoloated theaters don’t benefit from that visibility and the street-traffic factor.
This is truest of the Nederlander, which is truly a block beyond the perceived border of Broadway. Again, a big enough hit, such as “Rent,” can override the disadvantage. But in that particular case, “Rent” was helped by its funky nature, as “Hair” would be. “Rent” attracted a disproportionately young (teens, 20s) audience that is just naturally less concerned about the amenities of being in the heart of the highly illuminated heart of Broadway.
At “Rent,” more than any show of its era, you’d see early-arriving patrons curled up on the sidewalk. Fancy that at “Morning’s at Seven” or “Fiddler on the Roof.”
I remember that at the packed performance I attended of Lena Horne’s “The Lady and Her Music” at the Nederlander, she remarked candidly – OK, snidely – about the, uh, theater her show had been plunked down in.
The theaters at Lincoln Center are even farther afield than the aforementioned but have the advantage of being in a cluster of upscale artsy activity and seem, if anything, even tonier than Broadway itself.
The Nixon was still operating during the first half of the 1970s although struggling from the time the subscription series collapsed and the theater stopped getting major (true) National Touring companies.
In October 1975 the Nixon had a touring production of an all-black play called “What the Wine-Sellers Buy” with Bill Cobbs and Ron Trice.
The final production opened Nov. 27, 1975. It was conceived, choreographed and directed by Gene Kelly and was called “Gene Kelly’s Salute to Broadway.”
Its cast of 10 was headed by Howard Keel, Ken Berry, Mimi Hines and Lainie Nelson. Kelly did not visit with the production.
Most of the shows the last two to four years were threadbare productions, mainly “bus-and-truck companies.”
I cannot find a newspaper clipping to confirm this, but I believe the darkened theater was intact until after a final fire broke out in 1976.
Regrettably, my computer skills fall very much short of being able to do that.
I am holding the souvenir program for the opening night of the Eastwood Theatre. It was June 26, 1947. The inaugural attraction was Eliz Kazan’s “Sea of Grass” with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. The final attraction was “Krakatoa, East of Java.”
Do I remember correctly that the golf course where the Masters is played every April is on or near the road leading up to the former Daniel Village Theater?
Thank you, Mike Rogers and Bill Barkley.
Joel (Joseph L.) Navari, I very much regret to say, passed away in a hospital near his Peoria AZ home at 12:31 p.m. April 18, 2010, less than 24 hours after he was admitted.
Here is the death notice that appeared in The Arizona Republic:
Navari, Joseph “Joel,” 66, of Peoria made his transition on April 18, 2010.
He was a husband, father, brother, grandfather, educator and patriot who lived life with passion. He is survived by his wife, Tami Conaway, two sons, Jude Navari, Jason (Amy) Navari; two daughters Johanna (John) Welch, Jocelyn (Tom) Messer; a step-daughter Amy (Duane) Cowan and a step-son Chad Conaway. Also surviving are a brother, Rudy (Jane) Navari ; a sister, Elenora (Joe) Buba; nine grandchildren, Zane, Renata, Isabella, Marlee, Brooke, Cody, Ryley, Tanner and Braden.
A celebration of Joel’s life (was) held Saturday, April 24, 2010, at 3 p.m. at Heritage Funeral Chapel, 6830 W. Thunderbird Road, Peoria.
The family requests, in lieu of flowers, memorial donations be made to Indiana University School of Medicine South Bend – Cancer Research, 1234 Notre Dame Avenue, South Bend, IN 46617.
Very interesting grosses, Mike, but are they for the first day only, the first full week, the entire engagement or what?
Thank you very much, Joe. I had forgotten a couple of the details mentioned in that Boxoffice magazine item. On a related front, I’m pleased to report I located Joel (Joseph L.) Navari, the oldest of the Navari offspring and my good friend from college, and we’ve been communicating since.
Showcase West to close April 15,2010
Friday, April 02, 2010
By Barbara Vancheri and Brian David, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
And another one bites the dust — but not for about two weeks.
Showcase Cinemas West, bought by Rave Motion Pictures of Dallas late last year, will close after business April 15. Showcase Cinemas North, however, is in no danger of going dark.
Although it has been a fixture in Robinson for 32 years and boasts a visible perch above the highway, an easily accessible sea of parking and a dozen screens, Showcase West lost customers to the nearby 16-screen Cinemark at Settlers Ridge Center, also in Robinson.
Cinemark opened in October and appeared to deliver a knockout blow to Showcase, which lacked stadium seating and other now-standard amenities. Plans to renovate were announced years ago and then abandoned.
“The theater is just not grossing well. It has been the subject of a lot of competitive builds and it cannot sustain itself economically as a viable modern theater,” Jeremy Devine, vice president of marketing for Rave, said Thursday.
Managers and employees will be given “some type of severance package,” Mr. Devine said, and they were offered opportunities at Showcase North, but none apparently accepted. Many pleaded distance or scheduling problems or a reluctance to bump existing workers at the theater in McCandless.
Previous owner National Amusements of Dedham, Mass., which continued to operate Showcase West during this transition, had quit advertising in the Post-Gazette, leading some patrons to mistakenly assume the venue was closed.
Customers can use gift cards at Showcase West through April 15 or at Showcase North until Dec. 17. No money will be refunded.
News about Showcase West comes a month after the closing of the Squirrel Hill Theater, a neighborhood fixture for more than seven decades.
Mr. Devine couldn’t say what Rave will do with the sprawling property in Robinson. “We’ll continue to own that. I have to assume they’re looking at re-purposing that.”
Dan Tallon, chairman of the Robinson commissioners, said it was a shame to see Showcase go. “It’s been in Robinson for many, many years, and many Robinson residents have worked there,” he said Thursday.
But Mr. Tallon also said the closing, coupled with the opening of the Cinemark in the Settlers Ridge commercial development, is part of an ongoing business cycle in the bustling township.
“When they built The Pointe at North Fayette, Robinson Town Centre lost several businesses,” he said. “And when [The Mall at Robinson] opened, the peripheral centers lost several businesses.”
But those spaces have filled back in, he said, and a new tenant is rumored to be coming to the former Giant Eagle building on Steubenville Pike, left vacant after the chain opened a Market District store in nearby Settlers Ridge.
“The shopping district is still expanding,” he said. “I’m sure someone will come along and do something with that space.”
Rave opened its first theater in 1999 and is known for state-of-the-art stadium seating and digital projection. With its buying spree at year’s end, it grew from 30 to about 65 theaters and 989 screens and, at the time, Mr. Devine said Rave would evaluate its new properties.
Moviegoers will see minor upgrades at Showcase North in a few months. A new sign will be installed in June, and plans call for more digital screens, an expansion of 3-D capability and a change in concession offerings.
For more information about the old and new owners or show times, see www.national-amusements.com or www.ravemotionpictures.com
In the first third of 1966, the Imperial brought back two of Columbia’s three 1965 films that were major Oscar contenders (“Ship of Fools” and/or “The Collector” and/or “Cat Ballou”) because they were at that time up for several major Oscars.
Can anyone recall which two of the three were paired and even possibly what week they played?
Anyone have grosses for “West Side Story” and, separately, for “Funny Girl” here recently?
The J. P. Harris chain never owner nor operated the Penn.
Like the MGM films, virtually all major United Artists movies had their Downtown engagements at Loew’s Penn with the obvious exceptions of roadshows such as “Judgment at Nuremberg” and “West Side Story” and the minor films that opened on double bills at neighborhoods and drive-ins.
One US film of great consequence that went straight to the nabes was “Dr. No.” Ironically, when the Bond series caught on, “Dr. No” played Downtown repeatedly on reissue double bills.
Virtually wevery MGM movie of any consequence opened first-run at Loew’s Penn. A few minor ones premiered at Loew’s Ritz, often on double bills. (The Ritz was used mainly as a moveover house dfrom the much larger Penn.)
You could count on two hands the MGM films that opened at any other Downtown theater (“The Cobweb,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Athena,” the roadshow engagement of “Gigi,” etc.).
I don’t know anything about any “local stock company” ever operating the Penn.
Al, For years I believed I had seen the final film there, “The Designated Mourner.” Was that the next-to-last 68th Street Playhouse feature?
No question that the structures themselves had incomparably more character than the sterile multiplex auditoriums of today. And I was fascinated by the pairings on those double and triple bills.
On vacations (at first), I would begin many a day with a double feature starting at 8:30 on that block. At first I was more fascinated than not by all of the extra activity in those theaters, including something I’d never seen in an American moviehouse before: vendors selling concessions in the aisles and private duty guards bumping snoozers with a billy club.
After several of those moviehouses had closed around 1990, I pursuaded one of the owners (or perhaps a real estate agent specially dispatched) to walk me through all of the closed moviehouses, all of which I think were for sale. I was surprised this was so easy to arrange for a story that would appear in a Pittsburgh newspaper, and I was thoroughly absorbed by all the little tidbits of information … even as I was trying to absorb as much visual information as I could.
But, alas, they were in horrible condition, and they were not about to be resuscitated to the conditions they probably enjoyed in the 1940s.
I couldn’t agree more with Bway (two posts above). What I first walked up and down the key block on 42nd Street in the mid-1950s as a kid, I was knocked out by the razzle dazzle of all those lights on all those marquees with about 10 double features.
When I started to return to NYC as an adult professional in the late 1960s and finally got into most of those theaters, they were rounding their final corners.
By the 1970s they were inching and then sprinting toward being cesspools with smelly auditoriums, snoring and boozing patrons, frequent pepperings of crude language within the audience and numerous indications of extracurricular patron activities and rodents.
Outside, pimps, prostitues and muggers galore.
I’m no great champion of the Disney company, which made an art of excessive avariciousness a long time ago. But that corporation’s contribution to Times Square, including the renovation of the New Amsterdam, contributed greatly to the gentrification of a block that desperately needed and deserved rescuing.
Since then, the two multiplexes on the block have been drawing a much rougher-than-average clientele, but it’s still better than what we had before.
I’m dumbfounded by criticism of the “Disneyfication” of 42nd Street. The block and indeed the whole neighborhood was putrid before Disney and others stepped in. They destroyed no “character.” There was no character left worth salvaging.
The theater opened the evening of April 14, 1983, for its final screening – the invitational premiere of the locally made “Flashdance.”
A special guest at the premiere was Pittsburgh Police Officer Victor Cianca Sr., who made a cameo appearance in the picture directing traffic. Vic died Jan. 24, 2010. Vic had either just retired or was about to retire at age 65 when the picture screened.
Please, folks. No guessing. It only garbles clarification despite good intentions.
The January calendar page of the 2010 Pittsburgh calendar, as linked above, is more “artist’s conception” that anything. It is the view one might see of the theater building from Fort Duquesne Boulevard. There is no First Street, and if there were, it would be perpendicular to Fort Duquesne Boulevard and five blocks closer to the Point. (It almost certainly existed a century or more ago, but not near this spot.)
To sort this out: As indicated above, the playhouse known as the Gayety became the Fulton, a moviehouse, for several decades. It is/was on Sixth Avenue, with a major exit onto Fort Duquesne Boulevard. Later in that era, the Fulton Mini (a shoebox of a cinema) was installed on the corner (Sixth Avenue at Fort Duquesne)of the building but also facing on Sixth. The Mini had multiple names that changed with ownership; they included Fulton II and Fulton Annex.
The Boulevard of the Allies is many blocks away.
When the Fulton Theater and the entire lower levels of the Fulton Building were renovated as the Byham Theater (used 99 percent of the time for live stage presentations), the main Fulton auditorium was left essentially intact, but the shorter-lived Fulton Mini became part of the lobby – indeed the box office, still with its entrance on Sixth.
The several stories of offices above the theater(s) were converted into the Renaissance Hotel.
Those former Fulton Building offices above the theater once housed the Associated Theatres chain, which morphed, through circuit sales, into Cinemette and then Cinema World.
There were also screening rooms on the ninth and later 10th floors.
Other film-related offices included what little was left of Paramount’s Pittsburgh presence.
The Miller probably had a deal to play most United Artists product, Mike.
“Help!” had just opened at Daniel Village the day before I got to Augusts. I had about 24 hours to kill before I checked in at Fort Gordon. Having seen everything else in town, I found my way to “Help!” and sat through it twice consecutively.