Loew's Capitol Theatre

1645 Broadway,
New York, NY 10019

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BoxOfficeBill on February 19, 2005 at 12:09 pm

An impressive show, Eugene. Though I was living in NYC at the time, I don’t recall having heard about it. By that time, of course, the Cinerama proscenium had covered up the orginal stage where the great shows took place. I don’t know whether any of those performers had every played at the Capitol before — possibly Hope and maybe King did. In the late ‘40s, Hope, Lewis, and King certainly appeared in stage shows at the Paramount, which always attracted the biggest, most popular names. The Capitol usually offered something offbeat and perhaps more sophisticated.

Sophistication notwithstanding, the stage show at the Capitol that I remember most was headlined by Arthur Godfrey. It opened in February ’49 and accompanied MGM’s “The Bribe” with Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner. Oddly, despite my gargantuan memory of films in that period, I can’t recall a single frame from that picture, except for the impression of some dark and shadowy furtive movements. But the stage show was the main attraction anyway. Godfrey brought on a bunch of his talent-scouted newcomers, introducing each with his gravelly-voiced and slightly cynical, “Well, well, well, isn’t that just wonderful now.” At age seven, I naively believed that the show was being broadcast directly to radio, since at the time Godfrey hosted a popular daily morning CBS show that featured song-and-music routines by winners of his Monday night “Talent Scouts” (remember Julius La Rosa? Holly Ukulani?). It of course wasn’t a direct broadcast, but in that pre-television era, it provided us with images that we then transferred to our home listening experiences.

Another stage show I remember opened in June ’49, accompanying “Neptune’s Daughter” with Esther Williams (“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” struck me as unaccountably risqué, but I couldn’t imagine what the star might do to warm up with Riccardo Montalban; and Red Skelton struck me as funnier in any event). The evident feature of the stage show was a tuneful singing trio whose bee-bop style must have been the rage, but whose name escapes me now. What I recall more vividly was the comedian Jerry Lester, a precursor of the zany Ernie Kovacs and less-zany Red Buttons. Lester alternately bounced around the stage like a manic-but-less-impressive Jerry Lewis, and he then stopped for monologues that would descend to the maudlin, like a crude avatar of Steve Allen. As it happened a few years later, he preceded Allen on early-television late-night talk shows with an original format cooked up to feature him and the curvaceous Dagmar, called “Jerry Lester’s Bean-Bag Club.” One of my aunts owned a TV, and at her house, I’d beg to stay up late to glimpse the comic I remembered from the Capitol.

A third memorable stage show accompanied the ’49 Christmas presentation of “Adam’s Rib,” which I saw as a consolatory turn-away from the long lines for “On the Town” at RCMH. Hardly a consolation prize, the film was great, and the stage show offered a pitch-perfect match. It featured Eddy Duchin and his Orchestra, with some impressive finger-work at the piano in classical-sounding pieces (Chopin?) that drew the attention of even this mass-pop-culture-bred kid. I sensed that something larger that what I knew was happening. And I liked it even better than the flashy acrobat act that was more obviously but pleasantly designed for my boyish tastes. The name “Eddy Duchin” meant nothing to me at the time, but years later I recovered the memory when scrolling through microfilmed back issues of the NY Times from the period.

iemola1 on February 19, 2005 at 9:52 am

The Closing of the Capitol was, as the folder holding my ticket said, “a gala, live stage show (which will) mark the final performance in the 49 year old history of Loew’s Capitol Theater. Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Alan King, Ed McMahon, Doc Severinsen and other great stars join in a benefit performance never to be repeated, never to be forgotten, a salute to the theatre where Gershwin introduced "Swanee”, where Roxy made his name, where WEAF fisrt broadcast a stage show live and created the networks, the Capitol, where violinist, ballerina, comedian and film massed 5000 each performance making culture and crowd pleasing common enterprise. The great show will benefit the Center for the Communication Arts at The Catholic University of America …"

It cost me all of ten dollars to attend. I was sixteen years old.

stukgh on February 18, 2005 at 9:13 pm

There’s a surprisingly poetic note about the use of the name “Moses” in “Ten Commandments”, as mentioned in the commentary track of the DVD. DeMille made sure that each character got to repeat the name “Moses” three times at one point in the film, usually a crucial one. Each character said it and with a different intent and tone. So early in the film we have mom calling kid Moses three times with motherly love; Pharoh repeating it three times with his dying breath — and I THINK Anne Baxter’s 3-play may have been in the classic scene mentioned above (that would certainly add silliness to the line!). It’s an unexprectdly subtle and sincere touch to such a lovably overblown film.

BoxOfficeBill on February 17, 2005 at 7:19 am

Warren— Thanks for your spirited account of Gable’s live turn at the Capitol in Feb. ‘34. Everyone should read the full account in your richly detailed “Clark Gable: A Biography,” pp. 116-17. The delicious passage about the police escort from the Waldorf-Astoria where his wife Ria and his current flame Elizabeth Allan were staying (in separate suites, no Walls of Jerico there) punctuates your riff on the Capitol. Did you ever wonder what went on in Major Bowes’s nine-room apartment above the Capitol between the acts? What, for example, might The King have nibbled on while there? Cheesecake from Lindy’s? Fittingly, the Capitol hosted the premieres of most of Gable’s later pictures, GWTW of course, but also notably “The Misfits” too.

BoxOfficeBill on February 16, 2005 at 4:37 pm

Yes— “Stromboli”! The newspaper ads were terrific, but the only person I knoew who saw it was one of my aunts, and she panned it: “It was …awful.”

BobFurmanek on February 16, 2005 at 1:34 pm

Wasn’t the “Farewell to the Capitol” program a stage show with many old stars who had played the theater? I seem to recall hearing that Jerry Lewis was part of the program. (He had played the Capitol in the late 40’s with Dean Martin.)

VincentParisi on February 16, 2005 at 11:36 am

Warren I have for a long time wondered why Happened was such a disappointment at the Hall. It seems like it would have been such a sensation yet it only ran a mediocre week. Gable appearing live a the Capitol explains everything. Also Carrie and Bovary seem like they should have been at the Hall.

And CC if you are such a fan of old movies(I personally find most movies after ‘70 unwatchable though I did like Groundhog Day) why are you making suggestions of the Hall showing films like Pulp Fiction to bring in the crowds?(Only teasing, I enjoy your posts a lot and want you to get out to the Loews Jersey the first weekend of March. You will be happily stunned.)

bufffilmbuff on February 16, 2005 at 9:38 am

Actually the best line in TEN COMMANDMENTS comes fairly early on when the slave Mamnet(Judith Anderson) threatens to reveal Mose’s true identity and her mistress (Nina Foch) says “Your tongue will dig your grave old woman.” Hard to top that one…. though this movie is full of lines like that.

BoxOfficeBill on February 15, 2005 at 3:53 pm

Warren — Yes, “accompanied by short subjects.” When the Capitol again dropped stage shows in ‘51, newspaper ads (at first) emphasized that “short subjects” would pick up the slack; and so they did: the live organ interlude accompanied by a bouncing-ball sing-along, “The Capitol News” (remember the specially designed theater-header with the US Capitol Building radiating electricity?), a Tom and Jerry cartoon, a live-action short (or two), and coming attractions with a report from MGM about works-in-progress, in that order and each segment punctuated by a closing and opening of the rippling lime-green traveller curtain.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on February 15, 2005 at 2:28 pm

Another funny line, from early on in the film: Cedric Hardwicke to Heston: “We have heard how you took ibis from the Nile to destroy the venomous serpents which were sent against you when you laid siege to the city of Saba.” Try saying that 3 times fast! Whether you take it seriously or not, “The Ten Commandments” is a real cinema treasure.

chconnol on February 15, 2005 at 1:53 pm

Bill Huelbig: RE: Baxter’s immortal line: THAT’S THE ONE! A few years ago I sat down to watch it with my Jewish wife (I only mention her being Jewish because she kind of took the movie a tad seriously).

It had been quite a few years since I saw it and I nearly fell on the floor laughing over the badly delivered dialogue and THAT one really got to me. Baxter virtually huffs and puffs her way through the whole movie. Her performance is like one giant breath. Unbelievable stuff. I’m laughing as I’m typing. I just LOVE that line! And how much you wanna bet it wasn’t in the Bible like that.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on February 15, 2005 at 1:48 pm

I remember The Closing of the Capitol being talked about on NBC’s Today Show in September 1968, but I was too young to attend. By the way, CConnolly, was the Anne Baxter “Ten Commandments” line you mentioned, “Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn splendid adorable fool”? There were so many lines like that, but that one came to mind first. During one long-ago annual TV showing, my brother kept track of how many times the name “Moses” was spoken in the film. It ran into the hundreds.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on February 15, 2005 at 1:42 pm

I remember The Closing of the Capitol being talked about on NBC’s Today Show in September 1968, but I was too young to attend. By the way, CConnolly, was the Anne Baxter “Ten Commandments” line you mentioned, “Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn splendid adorable fool”? There were so many, but that one came to mind first. During one long-ago annual TV showing, my brother kept track of how many times the name “Moses” was spoken in the film. It ran into the hundreds.

chconnol on February 15, 2005 at 12:16 pm

Eugene Iemola: can you please elaborate on what exactly was “The Closing of the Capitol”? Was this some kind of (sad) retrospective?

iemola1 on February 15, 2005 at 11:35 am

Hi, everyone.

I’m very excited to be a part of this wonderful webiste and was wondering if anyone here attended, what was billed as, The Closing of the Capitol on Monday, September 16, 1968 at 8PM? I did, and I guess I could use that date and time as the begining of my awareness of the precarious state the grand old movie theaters would soon find themselves in across the nation and around the globe.

BoxOfficeBill on February 15, 2005 at 11:04 am

“Ruby Gentry” opened at the Mayfair (aka Embassy 2,3,4) on Christmas Day ‘52. Jones’s films that played at the Capitol include Minelli’s “Madame Bovary” (opened on 25 August '49, with stage show) and Wyler’s “Carrie” (with Olivier, 16 July '52, post-stage show). It’s grotesque of me to remember these things.

RobertR on February 15, 2005 at 10:53 am

I am a huge Jennifer Jones fan, I just bought the DVD of “Ruby Gentry” and love how they mention “poor Ruby’s from the wrong side of the tracks”. Anyone know where that opened on Broadway?

chconnol on February 15, 2005 at 9:49 am

“Beat the Devil” was/is a notorious BOMB though it’s considered a classic now.

Bogart made it because he had such success with John Huston with “The African Queen”. After seeing the finished product, Bogart blasted the film. The studio felt the same way and pretty much got it in and out of distribution very quickly. It’s a great film but it’s humor is sly. Jones is one of the best things in it. It’s one of the few films that used her comedic abilities. She delivers one of the film’s best lines at the beginning when she gets a look at her fellow, criminal shipmates and says to her unsuspecting husband: “They’re desperate characters. Not one of them looked at my legs.”

BoxOfficeBill on February 15, 2005 at 9:19 am

The release date for “Duel in the Sun” was 7 May ‘47 (not June as I had reported from faulty memory—I remembered it as a fine, warm Spring day), so you can check it in back issues of the NYT or Herald Tribune as I once did. Off hand, I believe that one other such saturated booking before Premier Showcase might have been for John Huston’s “Beat the Devil.” It opened at the Palace, Albee, and across the RKO neighborhood circuit on 12 March '54. I recall having seen coming attractions for it at the RKO Dyker (advertised to follow, I think, “Beneath the Twelve-Mile Reef” in then-novel CinemaScope) and thinking, “Gee, that movie hasn’t opened in NYC yet!” Did off-beat films with Jennifer Jones in starring roles invite that sort of distribution?

chconnol on February 15, 2005 at 9:18 am

Selznick’s instincts were uncanny. “Duel in the Sun” was his attempt to recapture his glorious experience (not to mention success) with “Gone With the Wind”. It soon became apparent that tastes had changed after the war and heavy handed (and heavy breating) “lurid” melodrama like “Duel in the Sun” (also known in camp circles as “Lust in the Dust”) was passe.

Selznick must’ve known this and released the film wide. It was a big disappointment at the box office. Maybe not an out and out bomb but it failed to recoup it’s considerable production costs.

But it’s a well known film today but not as how Selznick would’ve wanted. It’s probably one of the biggest camp classics out there. I mean that whole wildly ridiculous shoot out scene at the end with Peck and Jones is a hoot! Oh the painful dialogue! It was only topped later by DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments”. Anyone recall Anne Baxter’s famous love line to Moses in that one? Great, campy stuff!

RobertR on February 15, 2005 at 8:52 am


Thats very interesting about the wide release of Duel in the Sun. Am I correct that for a major movie that was almost unheard of back then? What about “B” films, did they ever open saturated like would become the norm in the 60’s with Premiere Showcase?

BoxOfficeBill on February 15, 2005 at 7:45 am

“Show Boat” with Helen Morgan at the Capitol! And before the film version of ‘36 (which opened at RCMH). I guess the Capitol did court sophistication.

BoxOfficeBill on February 15, 2005 at 7:41 am

Among stage shows at the Capitol, one that I most remember featured Skitch Henderson. The film was “Every Girl Should Be Married” with Cary Grant, so it must have been in January ‘49. It came to mind the other day when I heard an NPR interview with Henderson commemorating Johnny Carson. (I had no idea that the young Henderson had studied with Arnold Schoenberg and played Mahler with Toscanini!) His performance at the Capitol combined jazzy piano playing and big-band conducting. I also recall being bored by a male commedian who told off-color jokes that I didn’t understand, but which the grown-ups laughed wickedly at. Perhaps the Capitol tried to court a mature audience.

A yet earlier memory of Capitol sophistication was the opening of “Duel in the Sun” there, a much bally-hooed event for which the theater had suspended its stage show policy. We waited on a long line, and upon reaching the box office were denied admission because I was deemed under-age for the adult presentation (June ‘47, I was five). My mom complained loudly, waving her friend’s employee pass and claiming to be part of management (she wasn’t), and then faulted the theater for dropping its stage show when we could have seen the same film at the Alpine in Brooklyn with much less trouble. From scouring old newspapers, I later learned that “Duel in the Sun” had indeed opened in NYC in a saturated booking, playing simultaneously at the Capitol, Metropolitan, and Loew’s nabes (including the Alpine), no doubt because Selznick had concluded that the film might flop and that it would be best to rush it out quick and greedy. Was it worth dropping the live stage show for a celluloid Jennifer Jones?

ian williams
ian williams on February 15, 2005 at 4:22 am

CConnolly hits the mark with his comment about today’s movies! Fo me too much C.B.W – Crash, bang, wallop!!! Also a good comparison is in telling the life story of Cole Porter. Warners ‘Night and Day’ was made for entertainment; his homosexuality kept quiet. Would the latest ‘version’ of his life, warts and all, in ‘De-lovely’ have been a big hit at perhaps the Capitol around the late forties??? OK, it would have gone to the Warner!!!

bruceanthony on February 14, 2005 at 7:26 pm

Warren Im surprised that “Quo Vadis” didn’t do as well as expected at the Capitol becuase this was a huge hit for MGM.“Quo Vadis” was MGM’s biggest hit since “Gone With The Wind” up to that point in time.brucec