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“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!
Vincent: “Giant” opened at the Roxy in mid October and had a super fine opening week of $162,000 (Its final ninth week only grossed $37,000). (“Anastasia” pulled in a bit more during the Christmas/New Years weeks in its eight-week run). By the time “Friendly Persuasion” opened in November at the Hall, “Giant” was slipping badly and grossing under $100,000. It did not sustain itself as well as “The King and I” (the previous film) over its nine-week run. Opening round for The King and I was $158,000, with subsequent weeks pulling in $130,000, $124,000, $126,000, $105,000 etc. “Friendly Persuasion” was no world beater but its four-week run began with a moderate $140,000 and ended its four-week run with a similar gross in its final Thanksgiving week. The Roxy had a hard time pulling in $100,000 while the Hall consistantly stayed above that figure.
“Friendly Persuasion” was the first and I believe the only Allied Artists production to ever play at the Hall. Getting a Hall booking was a coup. It was supposed to inaugurate a new era for this B studio. It didn’t. It did only moderate business and issued in a rather long spell of poor business. Except for the Christmas show (“Teahouse…”) the Hall had to take it on the chin with two weeks of “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (the lowest grossing film since “The Hills of Home”), followed by a tepid three weeks of “The Wings of Eagles,” and then “The Spirit of St. Louis,” which was very disappointing at the box office despite a strong Washington’s Birthday opener. Bravo to Boxoffice Bill for bringing back the memory of the organ chiming in with film’s finale as the great contour curtain fell. Luckily audiences returned for “Funny Face and the Easter show. There were always dry spells but that one in 1956-57 gave a preivew of things to come and proved that audiences were beginning to get very selective even when going to the Hall.
Not a very important point, in your photobucket above I see that the first level above the orchestra in the fire exits floor plan is called the Mezzanine. In all the years I can remember, and those when I was an usher there, it was called “The Rocking Chair Loge” which was posted directly below the orchestra and balcony price. The Roxy hoped for a big hit with “A Farewell to Arms” and instituted reserved seating (a la Music Hall) in the loge only. The film flopped and the loge went back to general seating after the first week.
As I had the good fortune to work at the Roxy during a peak business period – from June 1956 to Jan 1957 I can attest to the huge crowds, longs lines and major films that played there. “The King and I” opened late in June and played nine weeks. Its attendance rivaled the Music Hall. Grosses were never comparable because the Roxy had children’s admission of .50 (if I remember right). The Music Hall never had a special children’s admission. “Bus Stop” had patrons lining up for a three hour waits all Labor Day and played 6 weeks. “Giant” followed and also played nine weeks followed by “Anastasia,” also nine weeks and an even bigger hit. All I can attest to is the hard week we had every night in crowd control. As we have discussed before, the Roxy rotunda could hold over 1,000 people willing to stand patiently waitng for seats. Unlike the Music Hall that had relatively little space for waiting, a street line at the Roxy meant a long wait. I don’t think the Roxy could say that had any better string of consecutive films in their history. If that could have been maintained, who knows how long the Roxy could have reamained open.
To Vito: White Christmas played the Music Hall for seven weeks beginning in October. It was in the nabes for Christmas.
Response to AlAlvarez: You certainly have a right to your opinion, but the truth is that no other presentation house in the world has ever come close to offering (during its golden years, of course) a film and stage show policy that was as consistantly dedicated to a policy that assured the absolute perfection of execution in every department. Whether it was those professionals working in front of the house or in back, every detail was attended to so that the patron would have as close to a magical and satisfying experience as possible. This regard for the highest standards has never or since been duplicated in any other theater in the world. For many years the Music Hall was the destination for the intelligent and the discriminating and it instilled and fostered in many (particularly children going for the first time) a love for the movie and the stage experience that would last a lifetime. Thank heavens, the glorious Music Hall is still with us.
Thanks for the opportunity to see the lobby of the Roxy as photographed and saved in the Getty Images Editorial. However I can’t find Warren’s web link for the Mayfair…can someone help? One more thing: The Roxy photo states it was taken at 12:00 am….I don’t recall the Roxy having midnight shows as did the Paramount, Capitol and Strand. The last stage show usually began at 10 pm (last feature at 11pm)on weekdays and 11pm on Saturday (last feature at midnight). there is also something unique in that there is scaffolding on the right side of rotunda. The crowd also seems to be in an awfully big hurry. On the far right you can also see the bottom step leading to the grand stairway. I remember the steps to the loge were beyond the grand stairway. Does anyone know of any other interior shots…other than in The Best Remaining Seats?
Just a few random bits about this and that: The general admission prices for “The Robe” were as follows weekdays $1 to noon l.50; to 4 and 2.00 after 4pm Saturdays: 1.50 to noon; 2.00 to 3; 2.50 3 to closing. Sunday 2.00 to 1; 2.50 1 to closing. (The Music Hall also adopted a change of price at 3pm on Saturday as opposed to the more popular change at 6pm for other first runs.)
Regarding the accuracy of grosses: Yes grosses were often padded, however other theaters as well as Variety had house checkers which would purchase tickets and check the “Initial” (how many patrons in the house before the start of the first feature on opening day) and do subsequent periodic checks during matinees and evenings. It was easy for savvy checkers to predict and validate the accuracy of the weekly grosses in most cases. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the gross would be for the week based on the opening day patronage plus a peak during Saturday night and Sunday matinee. As far as holdover figures, The Roxy, unlike the Music Hall (which had a rule of thumb of $88,000 for the first four day (Thurs – Sunday to warrent an extra week for most of the 1940s and 1950s), adhered pretty close to a three-week booking for most features, unless it was something really special like “The Razor’s Edge,” “Forever Amber” and “Leave Her to Heaven.”
As to the question of lines at the Roxy vs the Music Hall: The Roxy would fill up its rotunda with sometimes 2,000 patrons waiting for the next break…rarely necessitating a street line. And the tunnel leading to the balcony could also hold up to 500 patrons. Although it was against the fire laws, another few hundred would snake down the grand staircase to the rotunda. The Music Hall was not designed to hold patrons in its lobby and could only hold a few hundred at best, making long street lines common.
Does anyone remember when the Roxy organ was no longer being played during the intervals? I know they used canned music during the late 1950s. Was the organ played during the engagement of “The Robe?” And I know this is off-subject, but when did the Paramount, Capitol and Strand stop using their organs during the interval?
I don’t remember hearing any laughter or any audible signs of “getting it” re: the final scenes, during the many times I saw “North by Northwest” in my position as an usher.
Box Office Bill: You are great. Someone ought to put together a book just about the stage shows, Variety always reviewed the shows under “house reviews”, plus scanning all the programs?
I remember “Old Fashioned Garden” (Easter show with “Green Mansions”) for the aroma that was pumped through the vents and permeated the entire auditorium. If you had allergies to floral bouquet you were in big trouble.
Serenade to the Stars was the finale of the show that accompanied North by Northwest. I saw many performances. It was problematic as the lights often short circuited and did not light up in sequence destroying the illusion as the hydraulic stage was raised to its full height. When it worked, it was awesome…when it didn’t, well…a shame. Describe Magic Mirrors. What what done.
There were never seats for those waiting in line either at the Roxy or at the Music Hall. The Roxy had the advantage, however since they could pack patrons, often 10 abreast, from the outer lobby on 7th Ave and 50th St. all the way (virtually a block long) to the auditorium entrance which was to the right of the rotunda in the direction of the elevators to the balcony,leaving ample exit room from doors to the center and left of the rotunda. Waiting crowds never had to mingle with those leaving as ropes were used. In neither theaters were the lounges used for waiting, unless you had reserved seats or didn’t care if you lost your place in line. The Roxy also allowed (although it was against fire regulations) patrons to wait on the grand staircase to the balcony. That line often stretched from the balcony to the main floor. This is the reason, street lines were rare at the Roxy, except for those few gigantic hits like “Forever Amber,” “Wilson,” “The Robe,” “The Razor’s Edge,"and "Stars and Stripes Forever.” Sorry about my memory about the underseas ballet…they did it so often I often mismatch film and show. Does anyone know what production was repeated the most?
Sayonara was a huge hit…possibly the highest Christmas grosser in their history playing nine weeks. People love to cry at movies and Christmas is no exception. Brando was big boxoffice. The pity with that engagement was the short 25-minute show, although it did include the famed underseas ballet.
Getting back to waiting in line at the Music Hall: Remember that the foyer was not built for hold outs like the Roxy Theater which could accomodate 1,500 people standing in the rotunda and another 500 in the tunnels leading to the balcony. The Music Hall foyer was designed for reserved seating throughout with the exiting doors to the orchestra opening directly into the foyer. A full initial (6,000 seated for the first show in the morning; often on a Sunday during holiday times)would require the foyer and all doors free of waiting patrons; at the break, entrances on both 50 and 51st street would be opened to speed things up. It was always a problem getting people in between breaks. Actually the management preferred a continuing spill to keeps things moving smoothly. Most days the foyer line would be kept to a minimum just to feed the standing room within the orchestra. Therefore a streetline would be a typical sight before breaks even if there were seats available. With all boxoffices going for the initial, it took one hour to fill the house.
Vincent, I believe the new regime (Dore Schary) at MGM wanted to bring prestige to their new policy of low-budget “message” pictures, so “The Next Voice You Hear” was the kickoff. It also played the lower half of double bills soon after. Except for “Sunset Boulevard” and “King Solomon’s MInes,” 1950 had such notable bombs as “A Woman of Distinction,” and “No Sad Songs for Me.”
Warren, speaking of logical bookings, it would have seemed appropriate for the Hall to book “Annie Get Your Gun” (which went to Loew’s State rather than “Father of the Bride.”(although it was a hit there for 6 weeks. Go figure.
Look at the opening day ads for the Music Hall during the late 1940s and 1950s and you’ll see at the bottom: Special Pre-release engagement. Getting a Music Hall date was so prestigious that many films would get booked there well before their carefully scheduled general release. The major Christmas release would often play the Hall in October such as “An American in Paris,” “White Christmas.”
Warren, I believe the faster release of “Young Bess” was prompted by the current interest in the coronation of the Queen as seen with the great success of “A Queen is Crowned” documentary.
Question for BoxOfficeBill: Other than going to the library to view Variety’s grosses through the years on microfilm, is there a web archive or site that offers that data? I know that Variety’s own site does not offer that even to subscribers.
Warren: The nice thing about the presentation of “Shane” at the Music Hall was that the opening credits appeared on the regular size screen before the screen widened. This was an impressive effect. It’s too bad all the subsequent wide-screen and Cinemascope films weren’t presented that way as it helped to create a sense of awe as the screen widened.
Hey Myron, Welcome to the club. The answers to all your questions are on this this site and this location. Please take the time (well spent) and start at the top, take notes, memorize all the data and get an education. To make life a bit easier for you, “The Bells…” was the Hall’s Christmas film in 1945.