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I believe the decline of the Music Hall during the 1960s is well documented. HOwever, those of us who worked there, as well as at the Roxy, will never forget what a class operation they were from managment to the service personel. How a film was presented was of paramount importantance. A patron never saw a blank screen. The film (or studio logo)would begin as the contour curtain lifted and the traveler curtain opened simultaneously. The contour curtain would begin its descent timed perfectly to hit the stage as the film ended. Also no short or cartoon ever started with the traveler opening and closing. Also the organist would pick up on the last note off the sound track and then seque into his medley. If’s fun to remember and hear the responses.
Another bit of trivia about RCMH: trailers of the next attraction were shown, however, there was a one minute “announcement” of the next attraction shown on the screen in which a few lines describing the film would appear over a grey background with live organ accompaniment. It began “The Radio City Music Hall is proud to present as its next distinquished attraction the world premiere of XXXXX. Also on the great stage a new spectacle produced by (either) Leon Leonidoff or Russell Markert. Also the latest Walt Disney cartoon would get a spot on the program if the film were not more than 110 minutes long. One more bit of info: During the 1950s, a film had to gross $88,000 in the four day period from Thursday thru Sunday to warrent a holdover. A good opening week was around $145,000 and would suggest a four week run. The only film I know that didn’t break the $100,000 barrier during its opening week in the 1950s was "The Barretts of Wimpole Street.” It grossed a paltry $85,000 for the entire week, but it was held for 2 weeks, the miniumum run in that decade.
Bravo to Bob Ketler’s home page salute to RCMH. Here are a few very minor corrections. Except during Christmas and Easter week when the doors would open 7:45 am, and on one Christmas occasion at 6:45 am (due to the length of “Sayonara” and to allow 5 shows), the normal house opening was at 10:15 am with the feature beginning at 10:30 on weekdays. Last stage show was always between 9:15 and 9:30, except on Sundays which strangly had a late stage show around 10:15. Also let’s get the seating capacity right. Both the Roxy and RCMH claimed to have 6,000 seats when in reality the Roxy had 5,800 and the Music Hall 5,945. But whose counting right? Has anyone noticed that the new contour curtain (since the magnificent restoration) hangs rigidly on the stage floor and only when it begins to rise does it show the folds. I understand the process, but I remember that the original gold curtain still displayed a hint of a swagger…or am I dreaming. Oh yes, the prices. Throughout the 1950s, or until “Rosemarie” opened as the first Cinemascope film and they raised the admission price by 10 cents the prices were as follows: Weekdays Opening to noon .80; noon to 6pm 1.25 and 6 to closing 1.50. Saturdays .95 to noon; 1.25 to 3pm and 1.50 to close; Sundays 1.25 from opening to 1pm and 1.50 1pm to close. Reserved seats (1st mezzanine)1.80 for matiness and 2.40 evenings and holidays. Reserved seat “subsciption” tickets were also available during the first two weeks of every show. This was very popular among the elite during the 1940s and 1950s and the crowd in the first mezzanine looked like the grand tier set at the Met.
Yes, Leibert was a supurb musician, but he was not alone in keeping the break pealing with the sounds of the great organ. Ashley Miller and Raymond F. Bohr Jr. alternated (as well as in concert)with him. Jim: I am a member of THS and have gone on about six conclaves.
As a former RCMH usher (1958 – 1959), I am delighted to find so many fans of the theater out there, notwithstanding those with such authoritative knowledge…technical and otherwise. One issue that was never brought up, but is interesting to consider is why huge single screen theaters are no longer practical for films is this: We all know how most films are shown today: i.e. not continuous, but rather with an admission to one particular showing. The theater is emptied and swept between performances in most multi-plexes. In the days of the movie palaces, such as RCMH, a 3,000 to 6,000 seater would have patrons entering and exiting at any time from morning to last show. Except for road shows, patrons would not tolerate being kept from entering a theater (except when SRO) at their discretion even if the film was a mystery and in the middle. At RCMH, it took a full hour with four cashiers going (sometimes five plus the reserved seat window)to fill the 6,000 seats on those days (especially during holidays)when the theater expected a “tight initial” (house filled before the start of the first feature). The Music Hall, as did others with thousands of seats to fill, only had a five to ten minute (maximum)break between film and stage shows. Except for the lucky few hundred patrons waiting in the lobby, those in the street line had little hope of getting into the theater before the start of the feature. It didn’t matter to them. We have changed our movie going habits and would not tolerate a film starting before we were in our seats. Except at the Paramount on Times Square during the 1940s(where police actually helped clear the theater of screaming teens who wanted to stay all day), the big theaters counted on a constant flow of traffic. I remember when “All About Eve” opened at the Roxy, the managment tried to seat patrons only during the 30 minute break between shows. It failed because irate patrons were unwilling to wait if there were empty seats inside. Also the problem of getting 6,000 people into their seats in 30 minutes proved next to impossible. That lasted one week and the film went back to continuous showings. Another interesting point is that the Music Hall was not designed for standing lobby crowds (only a couple of hundred would fit without blocking critical exits from the auditorium). The theater was obliged to keep most patrons in the street. However, once the line moved it moved swiftly and 1,500 people could be inside within fifteen minutes. In contrast, The Roxy could hold 2,000 people in the rotunda. That is also why you rarely saw a street line at the Roxy. (I also ush-ed at the Roxy from 1956 – 1957). One of my favorite assignments as an RCMH usher to to do a spot check of number of patrons at the Roxy when a new film opened. I suspect it had to do with a bit of rivalry but also to see if the grosses reported in Variety were credible based on attendance. My wife loves my picture in my RCMH uniform. I also had a thrill watching a FOX newsreel on TCM one night when they showed the opening night crowd of “Anastasia” (ROXY). And there I am…immortalized and standing proudly in the rotunda as the stars pass by.