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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.
Also trying to arrange my schedule to attend the one-hour organ concert at RCMH. It always chokes me up as “sense memory” immediately churns up all the days and nights thrilling to the organ interludes, films and stage shows. Perhaps Vincent, you remember that if you went to the first show on Sunday, the doors opened around 11:15 am and the film didn’t start until noon. Dick, Ashley, or Ray would play for more than 30 minutes with a stop (no pun intended). Otherwise you had to be content with the five-minute breaks.
Vincent, you are a purist and as such to be commended. Did you by any chance see “Young Bess” at the Music Hall in 1953 when the breathtaking stage show recreated the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Meanwhile the Guild Theater (next door) was showing the gorgeous Technicolor documentary “A Queen is Crowned.” What a time for anglophiles.
Vincent, you must not be watching the TCM channel. “H.M Pulham,Esq” is a charming and witty film directed by King Vidor and based on a story by John P. Marquand. It stars the gorgeous Hedy Lamarr as the woman who encourages proper Bostonion Robert Young out of his shell. It received rave reviews and did excellent business.
Hey Vincent, this will clear up your question whether the Christmas show always played through the New Year. In 1935, “The Littlest Rebel” played only 11 days (split week)Dec 19 -29 with “Magnificent Obsession” opening on the 30th, also playing 10 days (another rare split week). In 1936, “Rainbow on the River” played Dec 17 – 30. The Girl from Paris (Lili Pons) opened on the 31st. In 1937, “I’ll Take Romance (Grace Moore) played Dec 16 – 29. "Tovarich” opened on the 30th. In 1938, “A Christmas Carol” played one hot week Dec. 22 – 28. “Topper Takes a Trip” opened Dec 29 also for just one week. In 1939, “Balalaika” played Dec 14 – 27. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” opened on Dec 28. That of course, brings us back to “No No Nanette.” However, in 1941, “ HM Pulham Esq” played Dec 18 – 30. “Babes on Broadway” opened on Dec 31. Anyway that sort of establishes that the Christmas show didn’t always make it into the New Year.
The opening of “Kiss Me Kate” was very well timed and thought out. It played 4 very satisfactory weeks during November 1953 and over the traditionally slow Thanksgiving season. That primed it for its wide Christmas release. It followed a hugely successful 5 week run of “Mogambo.” The stage show with “Mogombo” was a salute to air-travel and featured the simulated flight of a huge jet liner across the stage. Does anyone remember more detail?
The Bette Davis film that BoxOfficBill refers to is “Payment on Demand” (not “No Down Payment). Also the original and long publicized title of the Davis film was "Story of a Divorce.” It was changed just before the opening.
Can any of the projectionists remember this. I seem to remember (or am I dreaming?) that showings of “Kiss Me Kate” were projected in both 3-D and regular…either alternately on the same day or every other day.
More trivia: The executive entrance on 50th Street was also used by guests of the management, celebraties, and preferred patrons, who could walk down a few steps, be greeted at the desk then escorted by an usher on to the executive elevator and taken directly to the first mezzanine.
I’m wondering if the RCMH patrons who had first mezzanine reserved seats could enter that way and avoid the crowds, lines and general chaos of the lobby. The Metropolitan Opera also allows patrons who have dinner reservations on the Grand Tier to use the entrance located in the underground shopping and garage area.
The underground boxoffice was also very useful in that large prepaid -groups could be guided there to gain entrance to the theater and avoid conflict the patrons waiting in the street line. However, as far as my memory serves, the underground boxoffice was closed to individual patron ticket sales when there was a street line. As you can surmise, it would have been unfair to allow admittance to the theater by this little known route while others (possibly)were waiting in the rain and snow.
It’s interesting that during all this talk about the Christmas show, no one has mentioned another seasonal and religious-oriented tradition: “Kol Nidre” that was presented every September (app.)during the high Jewish holy days. Like the “Nativity,” it preceded a regular show with the Rockettes, ballet, choral ensemble and symphony orchestra. The traditional “Kol Nidre” melody was played by a solo cellist at stage left and sung in cantorial style by a solist (seen) the choral ensemble (unseen). The backdrop was simply rolling clouds. There was no accompanying narrative, but it was reverential, brief, and tasteful. I can’t tell you when it began or how many years it remained a tradition.
Thanks BoxOffice Bill. However when “Anastasia” played there, the house had already converted to an “all ice” program sans Ave Maria. However the stage show at the time Anastasia played was quite lovely and featured a Christmas in Japan finale that featured a stunning backdrop of Matsumoto mountain.
Does anyone remember the “Ave Maria” prologue that the Roxy Theater presented each Christmas season? Of course, it could not compete with the Music Hall’s more spectacular “Nativity,” but it was (almost) a tradition there.
BoxofficeBill is right. I remembered it (incorrectly)as part of the stage show (the film was Executive Suite)whose theme was Cherry Blossom time in D.C. and featured the corps de ballet.
Does anyone remember the stunning tapestry-like “Cherry Blossom” curtain – a gift from Japan – that was also featured in many shows during the 1950s?
Don’t forget that that in 1933 this was the very first Christmas show and was not yet a traditon, nor was the holiday time off as extended for school children and workers as it soon became. Also Fred and Ginger didn’t even get top billing in “Flying Down to Rio.” The stars were Raul Julian (?) and Dolores Del Rio. They didn’t sell tickets on their own until “The Gay Divorcee” opened in 1934 and grossed “$96,800 and $80,000 in its two week run Nov 15 – 28. "Roberta” was their next hit there..also two weeks $99,000 and $90,000 (March 7 – 20, 1935). “Top Hat” went through the roof in 1935 with $134,000, $115,000, $98,900 from Aug 29 – Sept 18. Nothing came close in attendance or gross for many years. “Follow the Fleet” and “Swing Time” were also mammoth 3-week hits in 1936. Getting back to “Little Women,” it got raves and was a classic with a waiting public. There were no extra performances, however mornings and afternoon shows were always sold out due to large family attendance. Sorry about the last line in my note above. “Cavalcade” also was a huge hit during Easter week of 1933 grossing $100,00.
Answer to Joe Vogel: The RKO Roxy opened on Dec 29. It was soon renamed the Center Theater following a law suit between the orginal Roxy Theater at 7th Ave and 50th Street and the new management at RKO Center (what we now know as Rockefeller Center). The Center theater had 3,700 seats and was operated as a presentation house i.e. film and stage show. The opening attraction was “The Animal Kingdom” starring Leslie Howard and Ann Harding and was a great success grossing $71,000, $60,000 and $40,000 during its three week run. (Most films that opened at the RCMH during the first couple of years rarely went past one week. However all subsequent films died at the Center Theater when the RCMH switched to films and stage shows beginning January 11, 1933. (It was also the Depression).It’s interesting to note that the Center Theater with almost half the seating capacity of the RCMH drew bigger crowds during its opening weeks than did the RCMH. For whatever it’s worth, here are the admission prices for the Center Theater. Prices changed at noon and 6Pm. Mon-Fri $35; $.55; $.72 Saturday $.83 $.94 $.1.10 and $1.65 for mezzanine reserved seats for evening shows.
For all you trivia buffs: “King Kong” played day and date at the Center Theater and the Radio City Music Hall for it first week only. It grossed $88,000 at the RCMH and then played exclusively for the next two weeks at the Center Theater. The grosses there were $35,000; $35,000 and $33,800.
Did you know that “Flying Down to Rio” with Fred and Ginger was the film that accompanied the first Christmas stage show in 1933. It opened on Dec 21 and played two weeks through January 3. It grossed $98,000 and $100,000. Very fine, but it didn’t break the previous house record of $118,000 set during November by “Little Women.” Ittle eber the previous Easter week by “Cavalcade.” Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you.
Answer to CConnolly: To the best of my knowledge, the Rockettes have appeared in every show but one beginning in January 1933 (througout the golden “olden days”) Leonidoff produced a one-hour version of the opera “Madama Butterfly” for two weeks in 1934. Obviously no spot for 36 tapping geisha girls.The first week of “Madama Butterfly” accompanied the film “Twentieth Century” May 3 – 9 and the second holdover week for the stage show played with “Change of Heart” with Janet Gaynor May 10 – 16. If anyone knows of another show with the famed 36, let me know.
Answer to Vincent about the number of Rockettes: The Rockettes were traditonally 36 dancers, but 46 were on the payroll. Each Rockette would work 7 days for 3 weeks with the 4th week off. The extra ten Rockettes allowed for the rotation, plus illness etc. One thing that many of us remember from the old days was how versatile the Rockettes were. They were often brought back in certain shows augment the 24 member ballet company and were just as good on their toes as in their tap shoes. The reverse was true for the ballet company. Some shows boasted a company of 100 (check out some of the early newspaper ads), including the choral ensemble or glee club.
Imagine standing on line for 3 hours to see one of the best Christmas shows ever at the Music Hall and it only lasted 22 minutes. That was when “Sayonara” was the 152 minute feature. The Nativity was only 7 minutes long followed by a 2 minute overture. The Rockettes did their traditonal 6 minute routine as 36 tapping Santas,followed by the 7 minutes Underseas Kingdom finale featuring Kirby’s flying ballet. How about .95 before noon; 1.25 noon to 6pm and 1.50 6pm to closing. 1st Mezzanine reserved seats were 1.80 matinees and 2.40 for all evenings and Saturday and Sunday. Eat your heart out.