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Thanks, William, for that brilliant vision back to the glory days of movies in Times Square. I was only 13 at the time and got to attend only one of those engagements, “2001”. If only I was the age I am now back in 1968 – I would’ve went to see ‘em all.
Rhett: you may be aware of it already, but here is a website that you will definitely enjoy:
and you’ll like this article for sure:
I’d say Theater #1 was on the left and Theater #2 was on the right. I saw Diamonds Are Forever on the right side. I remember thinking that the screen was smaller than I’d expected. This was the first time I’d been inside a twinned theater – little did I know that this was soon to be the wave of the future, sadly.
I never saw this theater when it was single-screen, but I think it was split right down the middle to make it a twin. There was half a balcony and half an orchestra in both theaters on either side. I’m basing this on seeing Diamonds Are Forever there in 1971. I know in later years the full balcony was converted into a third theater.
It never drew the crowds that the Tenplex did over on Route 4, but this theater was packed when they showed Aliens in 1986. It also had anti-movie demonstrators on the sidewalk outside for The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988.
Rhett: I also watched Star Wars on its anniversary last night and made believe I was back in the Astor Plaza. I remember every detail of that screening: the wild audience reaction to the jump to hyperspace, where the laughs came in, even the row I sat in. I also remember feeling that I had to see this movie again as soon as I could, and to tell everybody I knew how good it was. My second time was at the Stanley Warner in Paramus. I wound up seeing it in a theater 32 times, most of them at the Astor Plaza.
Rhett: It’s funny to think about people 40 years from now looking back fondly to Van Helsing. In 40 years they’ll probably still be talking about Gone With the Wind and Around the World in 80 Days. The really good stuff never gets forgotten.
Yankee Mike: I don’t know if it was 12 years ago but sometime in the 1990’s, there was a Warner Bros. Classic Film Festival, followed a year later by a Universal Classic Film Festival. I attended the showings of Bonnie and Clyde, The Exorcist, My Fair Lady, Psycho, Jaws, Animal House and The Blues Brothers. Bonnie and Clyde was a Wednesday night show and attracted a fairly good crowd, but all the other shows looked like sellouts to me.
“80 Days” played at the McClurg Court Theater in Chicago in 1983 (not sure if it was 70mm, though). I’m pretty sure it didn’t play New York in 1983 at all. The only time I saw it in a theater was at the Ziegfeld in 1972, when I was 17. It was on a special double bill with “West Side Story” – 5 and a half hours of Oscar winning Best Pictures from United Artists. I don’t know if they were 70mm prints, but I like to think they were.
Bill Kallay wrote:
The Astor Plaza, if it does close and nothing is done to save it, should run a swan song of classic films that played there. The Original “Star Wars” Trilogy. “Raiders Of The Lost Ark.” Even “Logan’s Run.” The place would be packed.
What a great idea. The theater could go out in a blaze of glory.
I have similar fond memories of the opening night of “Star Wars” at the Astor Plaza. While waiting in the downstairs lobby for the earlier show to let out, someone yelled out to the people leaving the theater, “Is it a war, man?” They let us in before the earlier show had cleared out, and there were lots of people still in their seats watching the credits roll by, and giving individual rounds of applause to special effects people and the Dolby System logo. I knew right then I was in for a rare moviegoing experience, and indeed it was, just as the Astor Plaza has become a rare big-screen single screen theater. It’s going to be a sad day when it finally closes.
Rhett’s comment about the Cinema 23 reminds me of the first movie shown at Loew’s Meadows 6 in Secaucus, NJ: “Blade Runner”. I’d thought it was a widescreen film but the screen was masked at 1:85, until about an hour into the movie when somebody realized the mistake and the screen opened up to full Panavision width. Opening night problems, I guess.
I can remember Kate Cameron being the first string critic in the ‘60’s. She always gave four stars to all the big roadshow pictures. I believe Wanda Hale was second string, followed by Kathleen Carroll who did become head critic at the paper in the '70’s. Maybe she was assigned to “2001” because she was the youngest? Most of its audience turned out to be younger people (my dad was 39 at the time and he hated it).
Vincent: It was Kathleen Carroll who panned “2001” in the Daily News. But even she felt, maybe subsconsciously, that it was something special. Her review began like this: “"2001” is not a movie. It’s an experience.“ Wanda Hale actually liked it. She called it a "grand spectacle” in her yearly wrap-up column in the World Almanac.
Brucec makes an excellent point here. In 1989, the first New York showing of “The Abyss” was at the Music Hall, for one night only, and it looked like every seat was taken.
Warren, sorry for going off-topic and off-theater so much, but I think the Music Hall was used for a roadshow attraction at least once, and recently too: “The Lion King” in 1994. I remember having to order tickets in advance. Not technically a real roadshow, I guess, but close.
To add to William’s excellent list, here are a few more Times Square roadshows from the final years of the roadshow era:
“Funny Girl” at the Criterion
“Oliver!” at Loew’s State 1
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” at Loew’s State 2
“Star!” at the Rivoli
“Tora! Tora! Tora!” at the Criterion
“Nicholas and Alexandra” at the Criterion
“Fiddler on the Roof” at the Rivoli
Rhett is right about the current state of the Bellevue, especially considering what it used to be. This theater had 70mm projection and state-of-the-art sound reproduction. It was the first theater in the area outside NYC to show “West Side Story” and many other roadshow attractions. It was where I experienced the most amazing, brain-busting soundtrack I’ve ever heard before or since: “Altered States” in 1981. I would also love to see any pictures of the Bellevue the way it was back then.
Rhett said it all. This theater is the pride of the New York metro area. They always put on the best possible presentation. Showmanship is not dead yet!
That’s very sad, Jim, but I’m sure you’re right. It sounds like all the dire predictions about corporations that Paddy Chayefsky made in NETWORK have come to pass.
Thanks, Pete, for remembering it was MegaSound, and thanks to Rhett and Vincent and everybody on here for all these great movie memories about things I haven’t thought about for many years. I tell ya, this website functions as a sort of time machine for me.
Rhett: the most amazing, mind-blowing soundtrack I’ve ever heard in a theater was at the Bellevue. They were showing Ken Russell’s Altered States in 70mm and something called MagnaSound (I think that’s what it was called anyway – this was in 1981). Like I said, there was never anything else like it before or since. I saw the same movie at the Astor Plaza in 70mm but the sound wasn’t the same knockout experience it was at the Bellevue.
Vincent mentioned the Lee Theater in Fort Lee. I saw SPARTACUS there in 1961. As of a couple of years ago, the land where that theater stood is still an empty lot. If I were a rich man, I’d rebuild the Lee exactly as it used to be.
Ray Harryhausen is coming to the Loew’s! He’ll be appearing at 7:30 PM on Friday, May 14th before the showing of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.
Vincent: The Paramount Theater in Asbury Park is still intact. It’s opposite Convention Hall, on the other side of the arcade. My cousin and I were walking through the arcade last summer and the side doors to the Paramount were open for some reason. It still looks great, and my cousin had a flashback to 1960 when he saw PSYCHO there.
Rhett & Vincent: Thanks for talking about the great old single-screen theaters in North Jersey. I believe Cinema 46 had 70mm projection for PATTON and HELLO, DOLLY in 1970. Now it’s the site of a CompUSA store. The Bellevue in Upper Montclair was definitely 70mm – I saw THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN there in 1968 on a class trip and it was awesome. Nobody ever talks about that movie anymore, but to see and hear it like that was unforgettable. And the Clairidge, of course, had 3-strip Cinerama. I saw HOW THE WEST WAS WON there in 1963 – enough said. I go there once in a while to see current movies but it’s tragic to see it now, remembering what it once was.
I recall my first trip to the Music Hall, age 7, to see “That Touch of Mink” with Doris Day and Cary Grant. The ticket price was 99 cents if you sat in the balcony before noon. Talk about your bargains.