Showing 176 - 200 of 267 comments found
EdSolero, I was in the theatre when it was being triplexed and remember the contractor being very proud of the dressing room facilities he had made for the strippers who were supposed to perform. The house also had a runway down the middle (shades of the Columbia — everything old is new again!) When the city balked at having a porno triplex with a live show added to the plethora of porno operations already in existence at the time, the runway was removed and the theatre reverted to film. I remember standing on the stage trying to determine the maximum width of the screen image by looking at the projection port,and then walking left and right until it was blocked by the walls of the two upstairs theatres. As I recall, the stage wasn’t very deep, but deep enough for the girls to come out and work the runway. I don’t know whether the dressing rooms the contractor referred to were original, or whether he carved out an area for them backstage — I suspect the latter.
I don’t think there were ever any serious consideration of multiplexing the Hall even during the crisis when it looked as if the Hall were closing in the late ‘70’s. There was also talk of putting supports through the roof of the auditorium to support a high rise structure above the auditorium and stage house, but again these were largely ideas bandied about in the press of the “how do we save the Music Hall” category. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts one of the Vice-Presidents who had lunch years later with the former head of Rockefeller Center told me that Alton Marshall told him that there never was a real consideration of destroying the Hall, but rather it was a ploy to allow them to change the format to something economically more feasible. Whether or not that was the case I don’t know (after the Center did destroy both the Center Theatre and the Roxy), but the only times I heard mention of multiplexing the theatre was by the stage hands joking about how many screens could be squeezed in.
Wow! I didn’t realize that its been 20 years since the Ziegfeld did the “Lust For Life” and “The Professionals” presentation. I remember them well as I was filling in as projectionist for those screenings. I think it was one of the last times I worked at the Ziegfeld, and one of perhaps two times that I worked there after they started showing films with a platter. I also noted the irony that the film that was most based on color, “Lust” was the one that was most faded. Of course our 70mm print of “Exorcist” at Radio City was also almost completely faded as well. I can sympathize with the projectionists at the Ziegfeld who had to patch “Lawrence” together. It took me about two hours to get the “Exorcist” print in (what I hoped) was running condition. We didn’t get a chance to pre-screen anything (a departure at the Hall) for the Warner’s series, which was probably just as well, as I’m not sure the “Exorcist” print would have survived another screening.
The McClurg Court was a Lubliner/Trinz theatre. I was still in Illinois when it opened, and I vaguely remember hearing a story that the McVickers was made available for the stage presentation of “Fiddler on the Roof” with the stipulation that it get the motion-picture when it was made. While the McVickers continued to run legit stage shows, the McClurg Court was built specifically to do the first run of the movie “Fiddler”. That was the only movie I saw there since I left to come to New York not too long after the “Fiddler” run opened, but I do remember being impressed that at intermission the entre'act music was piped through to speakers in the lobby/concession area so the audience would know that the 2nd half was about to start. I was actually working part time as a projectionist at an Essaness Drive-In and in towns with Plitt Theatres and neither circuit was involved with the McClurg when it opened.
“White Christmas” would have the same aspect ratio if projected at 1.85 (one of the suggested ratios), however if projected at the same size as a vertical 35mm print would appear much sharper, since the film area is much larger. VistaVision is eight perfs wide or two frames of 35mm film. If an eight perf horizontal print is slightly squeezed and unsqueezed as in the Technirama format it ends up being 12 perfs wide or just about the same width as a 70mm image. As a brash teenager in Illinois when “White Christmas” opened at our local Balaban & Katz theatre I remember the manager telling an audience that he had seen it in Chicago at the State/Lake and we were in for a treat. He saw a horizontal print, and we had a normal print, but still the image was amazingly sharp since it was printed from a negative made from a reduction of the VistaVision negative. I (in my youthful “wisdom”) commented that someday they would combine VistaVision with CinemaScope to come up with a picture that was both wide and sharp. Of course they did that the next year with “Oklahoma” in Todd-AO shot on 65mm film. My predecessor at Radio City, Ben Olevsky, always thought that VistaVision at the Hall was better looking than 70mm, but at the time “White Christmas” came out, few had seen projection from a larger-than-35mm print, and of course most of the 70mm material that Ben ran at the Hall was a blow-up from 35. The work print material I ran at Sound One for the three films that used VistaVision looked great of course, but it was projected on a 10' wide screen, so it didn’t have the impact it would have if presented in a theatre. By the way, projecting it is impressive since it runs at double the normal speed. At 180' a minute it moves! That’s faster than 70mm at 24 FPS which runs at 112.5 feet a minute. Ben said he could hear the projectors running during “White Christmas” when the elevator to the booth got to the First Mezzanine level, and they had to drape the spot ports on either side of the VistaVision projectors with Duvateen to cut the noise down in the house.
EdSolero, thanks for letting know about the posting. That booklet was done shortly after I arrived at the Hall in ‘74 and was the last souvenir booklet they did. I still have a couple of copies of it. Chris Rober is pictured in the maintenance photo. I worked with both Chris Sr. and his two sons who are still at the Hall along with (I believe) a third generation of Robers. It really is a family. By the way, “Crossed Swords” was shown in 70mm at the Hall.
In reference to the above: the 2.55 ratio was the original ratio for CinemaScope 35mm composite magnetic releases. The ratio was achieved by printing on stock with narrower than normal perforations (Fox hole sprockets had to be installed on projectors to run composite four-track mag prints.) I wonder if the Jersey will be able to secure (or run) the original mag prints. When we did the restoration of “A Star Is Born” at Radio City we ran a 35mm optical print interlocked to four-track 35mm full coat mag reels, since the only four-track prints weren’t in good enough condition in terms of picture. They recorded the mag tracks from the composite over to mag 35mm full coat, and used the best existing 2.35 optical print or negative to strike the picture (which also carried the 35mm optical track.) I raised the issue with Doug Edwards of the Academy about the original aspect ratio being 2.55, and we debated whether or not to cut plates that would crop the top and bottom of the frame to give a 2.55 ratio. I thought that Cukor would have preferred to have all of the picture information available used, so we ran it 2.35. Interestingly enough, I bought a copy of “The Robe” on LaserDisc only to find that it was 2.35. The DVD copy came out advertised as being 2.55, and sure enough it is, but putting a still frame of each up and switching between the formats revealed that Fox had cropped the top and bottom of the frame to achieve the 2.55 ratio — the sides were basically the same.
In regards to the VistaVision projector question — there are a number of the machines around. Boston Light & Sound has two, and I ran VistaVision dailies on “Men In Black”, “Jungle 2 Jungle” and “Michael” at Sound One in New York, where Vista Vision was used for some of the action and for plates. While we had one of the two B.L.& S. machines, the other was at Bob Harris'place where he was working on the “Vertigo” restoration. In addiiton, I worked with the Hansards of background projection fame, and they may have had some of the original projection heads and did have the Mitchell VistaVision process projection heads that had been used at Paramount where the Hansards had worked during the glory days of VistaVision. One of the stories they told me (which may be apocryphal) was that Paramount’s head process D.P. Farciot Eduart was eventually let go, and in retaliation he took the index he had of stock footage plates in the Paramount vaults. Thus Paramount had thousands of feet of VistaVision plates with no way of identifying what was on each roll.
By the way, I believe only the first three films were actually shown in horizontal VistaVision in theatres in this country. They would be “White Christmas”, “The Far Horizons” and “Strategic Air Command”. The VistaVision machines we had at the Hall were taken out after the “White Christmas” screenings. Unlike 70mm projectors which could screen normal 35mm prints, VistaVision projectors could only screen horizontal prints (that might have included Technirama if they had released enough prints at the same time) and most booths couldn’t accomodate those machines and the standard 35mm machines at the same time. Radio City was one of the few booth that even had four machines, and there the VistaVision mahcines were placed in the effects ports just outside of the main booth.
Another factor was the building code which decreed that theatres couldn’t have anything built above them for fire safety reasons. The air rights for those spaces were worth more than the buildings. I remember a lawyer for Rockefeller Center telling me (and joking about it) after the Music Hall was saved, that a woman attacked him verbally during the Music Hall hearings saying, “You tore down the Center Theatre and you tore down the Roxy”, and him replying, “Well, two out of three isn’t bad!” Rockefeller Center actually managed the Roxy in its last days as they did the Hall (the Center already having been torn down.) They were interested in extending the Center across 6th Avenue, which they did. Almost none of the buildings that were there in the early 60’s when I first started visiting N. Y. and the Hall were there in ‘74 when I started working at the Hall. For a time the Hall had its roof area landscaped and used as a recreation area for the stage hands and the Rockettes (an amenity taken away, I’m told, when the Rockettes went union.) That expanse is enormous stretching for almost half a block east to west and from 51st St. to 50th St. north to south. Similar expanses were above all of the palaces in the city, which meant a lot of real estate footprint was taken up by very little building. Even more so than drive-ins where the value of the land they were stiuated on became more valuable than the business, Manhattn real estate usage was to doom the palaces.
Not only were the projectors in the upstairs booth at an angle, a projectionist pointed out to me the first time I visited that because the screen was parallel to the back wall after the renovation, the furthest projector back had a lens ¼" focal length longer than the other two. The angle of that booth always intrigued me too. I also had the feeling sitting in the downstairs house that while the screen was parallel to the new projection booth, the proscenium itself was actually at an angle on the stage that matched the angle of the balcony booth. I worked in the downstairs booth, but never upstairs. The upstairs booth was also dropped several feet from its original position after the twinning. I remember seeing windows that would have originally faced out on the street about 10' or so above the booth floor, and a radiator that would have been at floor level hanging from the wall above. When I saw “The Agony and the Ecstasy” 70mm roadshow there the booth was dug into the front of the balcony to give a zero degree projection angle to the curved screen which was mounted in front of the proscenium. The angle of the proscenium to the back wall was concealed, but I remember sitting in the balcony and looking up at the original booth and noting the odd angle. Perhaps the auditorium was laid out like the Roxy to some extent with the stage more slightly angled into a corner. Another house like that in Manhattan is the Beacon, with the projection booth and the spotlight booth above it appearing slightly off center as you look at them from the stage.
A couple of comments about AlAlvarez’s post. I was Head Projectionist at the Music Hall and a relief projectionist at the Ziegfeld at the time of the “Abyss” premiere. That premiere at the Hall had a surround system brought in by an outside contractor for the screening. It was huge and not particularly good considering it took a week to take out seats to install it. Nonetheless, the sound at the Ziegfeld would have been better at the time. There was a classic echo at the Hall because of its sheer size. Acousticians had tried to solve them from the time the Hall opened, including Tom Holman of THX. When I would screen new prints I would sit in the middle of the orchestra at the producer’s table, and if I turned my head in the empty auditorium I would hear two soundtracks, one from the screen and one from the backwall. If you sat in the Mezzanines there wasn’t a problem, since you weren’t hearing the slap from the area above the 3rd Mezz. Thus the Zieg had comparatively better acoustics. When we did the “Lion King” premiere, we installed a completely new film sound system with adequate speakers behind the screen and a plethora of surround speakers (I think its up over 100 now). Disney was extremely happy with the sound, and we added more speakers both for the stage system and the surround system for later premieres. Since then, the house has added acoustic treatment installed during the 1999 remodel. For all of the romanticism about the movie palaces, we tend to forget that many of them had enormous acoustic problems because of their sheer size. One of the acomplishments of the Dolby system was to include house eqalization to try to iron out the acoustic differences. Now we are used to E.Q. and digital reproduction and would probably be shocked if we actually had to hear the sound in a Paramount or Roxy as it played when those theatres reigned.
Just a note about sound at the Ziegfeld. It has been one of the best sounding houses in the city, and to this day Dolby techs still check out the sound (and in the case of the last “Star Wars” the picture since it was played on a Dolby cinema server) regularly. “Chinatown” was issued before Dolby tracks became common. It is mono, unencoded optical sound that you’re hearing. Not even a Dolby “A” noise reduction system was used. Those tracks are also susceptible to scratching and wear, much the same way as vinyl record tracks were. Try listening again when they do a contemporary print or a digital cinema presentation. I always admired the sound there when I was running 70mm prints, even though I agree with the statement that the house is too long to have a really impressive wide screen image.
A double 70mm reel packed out to the edge (and sometimes over it at the Ziegfeld) weighs more than a full 6,000' 35mm reel, at least in part because of the magnetic tracks which do add some weight. When we started using 6,000' reels at the Hall some of the older operators on the crew protested. I took a single 70mm reel up to the hospital and weighed both it and a full 6,000 reel and could point out that the 6,000' 35mm load weighed less. I don’t think in most cases they doubled 70mm before I was there. I was always a lttle afraid of doubling 70 at the Hall because of the way the Simplex reel shafts were made, but I never had one snap off. The Ziegfeld had ZeissPrevost 70mm machines which were made for 70mm when I was there so I didn’t have the same concern.
I do remember getting called to the Ziegfeld on an emergency after a blizzard one Saturday when we were running “Gandhi”. Since I live a few blocks away, I kept a theatre key and a booth key at my apartment, and would frequently get called. On that day I took a 70mm double first reel off the projector, and slipped putting it on the rewind shaft. The reel landed on my foot. While it didn’t break any bones (or damage the reel) it was not a pleasant sensation! Then I thought, “Why shouldn’t it hurt? I’ve just dropped the first 30 years of Gandhi’s life on my toe!”
If you check the Widescreen Museum, Martin Hart has a copy of the original CinemaScope handbook on line. The cuved screens were also meant to emulate to some extent the Cinerama screens although the curve was shallower, dictated by the projection throw as a radius. Another reason for the curve in addition to focus was light distribution. The Fox “Miracle Mirror” screens were aluminized and fairly high-gain. You could actually run Polarized 3-D on them. In addition they were embossed with lenticulations to further focus the light into the audience. There were for a while “Miracle Mirror” screens which were designed for theatres with a steep projection angle such as the Music Hall which has a nominal 19 degree downward projection angle. The lenticulations would be embossed at a 5 degree tilt to bring the light (which would be be reflected off the screen at a downward angle into the orchestra) up to cover at least the back of the house and front balcony. Fox insisted on a curved screen for all CinemaScope installations, which meant the Music Hall couldn’t run Scope until MGM released “Knights of the Roundtable” a year later. They wanted it at the Hall and said they didn’t care if the screen were curved.
Vito: Yes we ran reel-to-reel for MFL, but since one reel (and case) had been destroyed I was able to splice the two reels on one. We did use 6,000' 35mm reels after we installed xenon lamps to save strikes on the bulbs, and as did the Ziegfeld, we doubled up a number of our 70mm prints combining two reels on one. You could usually do that because the 70mm single reels were designed for 30 frame 70mm release and could accomodate two of the average 24 frame 70mm release reels. When I think about all those double 70mm reels I lifted at the Ziegfeld I shutter — I’m not sure I could do that now! We did use platters for “Lion King” because Disney wanted Dolby Digital sound and there was no 70mm digital format at the time. Thus we interlocked a 70mm print to a 35mm print with Dolby Digital running on the next projector. (Although this really belongs on the Hall site, we also ran “Napoleon” and other silent features on 6,000' reels to make it easier for the conductor to keep the score synchronized consistantly on each show by minamizing any discrepency that might occur with multiple changeovers.The opposite situation occurred with the Universal festival. We were running archival prints and the studio didn’t want them assembled on platters or 6,000' reels. We always wanted to accomodate the producers when we could.)
The print of MFL that we played at the Radio City Warner series came from Kit Parker and was amazingly beaten up for a relatively recent release. The film case for one of the 70mm reels looked as if it had been run over by a fork lift. We were doing a concert when the print came in, and I had to take the case down to the stage where our stage crew took the case down to the shop and literally cut the reel out of the case. The reel itself was bent above the print so that the two flanges actually touched, and we had to pry them apart to get at the film. Fortunately, 70mm wound tightly is pretty firm, so the print itself wasn’t damaged, but I had to splice the reel to the next reel. When we called to ask for a replacement reel and case Parker’s office said to send it back on one our house reels —that “those old theatares had reels lying around.”! No — it went back spliced to the next reel. We had played “Exorcist” in the only 70mm print existing just before MFL, and there was a splice in MFL that reminded me of the prior film as so many frames had been cut out that Julie Andrew’s head snapped around much like Linda Blair’s. The “Exorcist” print was also almost completely faded. When the production department head asked if the “pea soup” scene was in tact, I said, “Yes. But think tomato soup!”
By the way, there was some thought given to releasing some prints of Malick’s “New World” in 70mm, since it some of it was shot on 65mm, but apparently there weren’t enough prime theatres left that can do 70mm to make it worth while.
The vents you see in the rectangular space are new. The projection exhaust fan vented through one of the curved windows where a pane of glass had been removed. The booth was asbestos and just plunked down in the space behind the top row. The lamp rectifiers were either mounted outside the booth on a bracket or on the top of the booth. I can’t remember for sure where they were, but I remember walking outside the booth to see what was behind it and seeing the units. That always amused me, since the New York code required that the D.C. motor/generator sets or rectifiers be mounted outside of the booth itself usually enclosed in another room next to the booth. I always thought the rectifiers at the Empire were more of a fire hazard where they were, since they couldn’t be seen from the booth itself, and were sitting there covered in dust. There was a space between the back wall of the booth and the curved window, with the exhaust duct running out of the booth to the window. If you see pictures of the front of the theatre before the move, you’ll see the exhaust grill in the window.
They are running platter. The last time I worked there covering an emergency was in 1990, but I had run a revival series before that and they were using platters then. They still have two 35/70mm Century JJ’s, and the third position is for digital cinema projection. They were using a Texas Instrument prototype projector for the last “Star Wars” and a Christie for “The Island”, with Dolby Digital Cinema Show Store and Player. When they do digital projection for premieres they have a 35mm print running on the platter as a back-up.
Re: The balconies at the original Empire. There were indeed two. I worked a week there as a relief projectionist in an asbestos booth at the back of the top balcony. It was so steep there were hand guide rails at the ends of the seating rows (not really all that unusual in those houses). In addition there was an observation port cut into the booth at floor level so you could stand in the rewind room area inspecting film and look out and down at the top of the screen. They kept losing their intermission music tape decks because audience members would punch through the asbestos wall, get into the booth and take anything that was of interest.
Interestingly, I was in the theatre while the Empire 25 was under construction with a fellow co-worker, and he mentioned to the construction foreman that I had worked in the original Empire. The foreman asked if I would like to go “up top” to where the booth was, and I found myself in a hard hat going up stairs in construciton scaffolding. There is a picture taken of me in the hard had staring at one of the sculptures in the relief work at the top of the balcony. The foreman said that the original top balcony was dismantled and moved down to the position of the original first balcony and a new top balcony constructed in its place, which explains the lack of ornamentation on the top balcony. Since the orignal first balcony was much deeper, it would probably have interfered with the escalator paths crossing from the lobby under the proscenium. It was a revelation to see both the Eltinge mural over the proscenium restored and the work at the top of the auditorium. When I worked there the top balcony was locked off and kept dark. I would take the elevator up to the Brandt offices located above the the curved window you see at the front of the theatre to start my shifts, but at night the manager would have to unlock the gates leading to the balcony to let me down at the end of the show since the offices were closed. While I worked relief shifts up the street at Cine 42, the Empire was the only REAL 42nd St. theatre I got a chance to work in, and I remember it fondly when I see the restored auditorium at the Empire 25.
Actually, the Ziegfeld used a strip across the bottom of the screen when I worked there as a relief projectionist starting with “Close Encounters” in the ‘70’s. The screen height was the same for 1.85 35mm and 2.21 70mm ratios, but the bottom was masked to provide the correct 2.35 anamorphic aspect ratio. Perhaps they stopped doing that after I stopped working there in (I guess)the late '80’s, but they do have a good projection crew there, and since its a premiere house they do have to be able to meet studio specs for both film and digital presentations.
Vincent – The Hall would very much like to have played “That’s Entertainment” and indeed, we ran a trailer for it at one point (years later I used bits from that trailer in a film effect for one of Bob Jani’s shows until MGM refused us the rights to use the material). I think they may have even booked other MGM films just to get a crack at “Entertainment” but it was MGM’s decision. Perhaps they could squeeze an extra performance a day at the Ziegfeld without having to work around the stage show.
You’re probably right about the film being the attraction in the ‘30’s when other venues also had stage shows, but by the time we worked there I think the production staff took a rather snobbish attitude toward films.
The first show without the ballet company was pretty grim, but don’t blame Peter Gennaro. The company was pulled giving him very little time to do anything. The issue was the mandatory hiring of a whole company. If the company was eliminated, the Hall could hire ballet company members as needed rather than as a whole. Thus the show with no ballet at all.
I can’t help but compare the Music Hall’s position in getting films to that of the Ziegfeld today. Comments on that site have decried the pictures that theatre is forced to play, and the situation is somewhat analogous to that of the Hall in the '70’s. Even though the Ziegfeld is part of a circuit, the booking power is always in the hands of the larger circuits such as AMC, Loews and Regal. The Hall was part of the RKO circuit when it started showing films, and later its size and tourist status gave it clout as a prestiege venue, but ultimately it was the boxoffice that counted to the distributors as the urban centers faded. At one point Rock Center tried to get Disney to take over the Hall, but Disney couldn’t understand how a place with so little parking could ever be profitable. In a sense they did give the operation to Disney when they hired Bob Jani, a Disney alumnus, to rejuvenate the place in '79.
Vincent, The vice-president you refer to was Fred Kellers, and his wife Mary was in the p.r. department at the Hall. I too remember those films well. “Bluebird” is one of my leading candidates as the worst film to play at the Hall (with “A Matter of Time” being another). In that case, its possible that no one at the Hall had seen the picture until it was too late. I remember attending a pre-opening screening for an audience full of kids at the Little Carnegie theatre on 57th street with a gaggle of Music Hall executives who all came out looking stunned. I mentioned splitting product above, which was declared illegal, but at the same time so was “blind bidding” which meant buying a picture (and paying an amount up front) before even having a print available to see and it was a common practice at the time. “Bluebird” was made in Russia, and I don’t think anyone here had a chance to see it, but relied on the reputations of the director George Cukor and the cast to assume that it was a good film. Lest I be too forgiving, films were picked when available for screenings by a Music Hall selection group that included the secretaries of Vice-presidents, and as I mentioned above the movie always was considered second to the stage show. There were limitations on the stage show as well, but those came from across the street in the Rock Center offices. Remember the Center originally wanted to lure the Metropolitan Opera to their new theatres. I always suspect the Rock Center management wanted art and ended up with kitsch, and never quite recovered. They were always suspicious of producers who wanted really lavish shows from Roxy to Leonidoff to Bob Jani (in all fairness, the producers also wanted more lavish productions than the box office could afford). Even though they were peripherally involved in entertainment with RKO pictures, RCA/NBC and the Hall, show business was just not the Rock Center management thing. They cut the ballet company out of the second stage show I did when I started there with almost no advance notice so that Peter Gennaro was left with just the Rockettes and an orchestra with which to piece a show together. The Rockette line was cut from 36 to 30 to save money as well, leaving John Jackson very little to work with. On the other hand, what other company would have tried to keep the format going as long as they did? Granted both the Roxy and the Center Theatre were under direct Rockefeller management when they closed, but perhaps the very stodginess that made the formula stale, also saved the theatre for other uses.
Vincent-your question is a little like the classic, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”! The Hall’s films at that time certainly left a lot to be desired. I had come to New York from Illinois and a small circuit which was owned by one of the best bookers I’ve ever worked with. Over the years I would have lunch with him during my vacations and he gave me a course in successful booking, so the contrast with the Hall was even more marked. Nonetheless, neither of your assumptions is exactly true. Remember the 70’s were the start of tentpole pictures like “Jaws” which opened wide rather than on a single screen in a major market. The Hall was a single screen (a very LARGE single screen)theatre competing against the circuits. Even in Illinois in medium markets, theatre circuits would “split” product — a practice which was to get several theatre circuits into legal trouble when the courts declared it illegal. The Hall didn’t as a single screen have the clout to be involved in splits. In addition the Hall was locked into the movie/stage show policy as a national tourist attraction. That meant no “R” rated movies, a huge nut that involved special rates with the film companies, and exclusive right to play a film within a large radius. Theatres in city centers across country were suffering from the flight to the suburbs — note how many of the movie palaces on this site have survived, as the Hall has, by becoming performing arts centers. I was friends with some of the Hall management involved in booking, and I know they suffered when they had to play some of the pictures they were forced to play. Our last picture in the movie/stage show years, “Caravans”, was picked up by Universal only because it would gaurantee us a Christmas Show. That was because of a close relationship between Hi Martin of Universal and Charles Hacker our Chief Operating Officer. Universal was the only major at the time that would go out of its way for us. I too railed at the pictures we played (after all as Head Projectionist I had to look at them over and over). Rock Center did realize that the policy had to be changed. A friend of mine at the Hall who knew the President of Rock Center told me years later that the President told him over lunch that the supposed “closing” that was announced in ‘79 was really done to enable the Hall to drop the policy it was locked into. I don’t think our management was the sharpest theatre team I’ve ever worked with, but I don’t think they were incompetent either. They were locked into a unique situation where the rules that applied to the rest of the industry just didn’t apply. A sea change was coming in film distribution that swamped the Hall and most of the urban centered showcase theatres across the country.
Oops! Of course its “Mr. Billions” (Perhaps “Billious” would have been better!) When Bob Jani took over in ‘79 after the format change both consoles were played at each performance. The two organists were reputedly the youngest in the country to play a dual console gig and were featured in the Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” strip in the Sunday comics. One of the two was Lance Luce, a name I remember because everyone in his family had a first and last name that began with an “L”. One night I was showing a projection lens company representative around the theatre after the last show, and Lance was practicing at the console as we walked up. When we admired what he was playing, he launched into a “Star Wars” medley that included the bar room sequence and utilized the “toy counter” of organ effects in a way that I hadn’t heard before. I always wished the organists (Jimmy Paulin in particular) were given more latitude to chose their selections since some of the music I heard while they were rehearsing made a far more interesting use of the instrument than what was heard during the shows. I remember Ray Bohr playing out of the feature into the intermission, and when I came to the Hall I had shown “Super Dad” in Illinois as a New Year’s Eve special with some other Disney feature. It ended with a wedding and a really nice theme. It was the first feature we played when I started at the Hall, and I asked if Ray could pick up the theme going into the intermission. He did – beautifully blending the Hall organ with the organ in the church on the soundtrack of the film, and then continuing the theme as the contour came in and the house lights came up. That was a transition I’ll never forget!
“The Littlest Horse Theives” did indeed play the Hall as a replacement for “Mr. Millions”. I remember that engagement for several reasons. We had installed Dolby single channel decoders and E.Q. for up to six tracks of 70mm mag sound (note—I didn’t say we BOUGHT six channels of Dolby equipment, we more or less “borrowed” them from Dolby since we were doing testing for them), but we couldn’t play the new Dolby stereo/optical tracks. Fox was planning to release “Star Wars” in stereo/optical, and did “Mr. Millions” in that format. Because of the status of the Hall, we were able to “borrow” a CP-100 processor from them which we kept until we re-did the whole system for the premiere of “The Lion King”. Thus we spent a lot of time getting ready for “Mr. Millions”, only to have the picture pulled after a couple of weeks. It was our Easter Show that year, and my parents and their friends came to New York from Illinois for a visit. My parents friends had never seen the Hall, and the first thing they saw there was the short-lived “Millions”! I don’t know all of the details, but pulling “Millions” soured relations with Fox because the picture didn’t do enough business to even make the portion of the advertising costs the Hall was supposed to pay, and there was discussion as to who was resposible. The replacement picture was “Theives”, but it doesn’t show up on a lot of the lists of the Hall’s pictures because the booking was for “Millions”.
The reduction in seating could be from two or three reasons. When it was planned to use the downstairs house with strippers a runway was built down the center aisle in good burlesque fashion (the lip of the stage could have been extended as well). Perhaps the seats were never replaced in that area in the orchestra. Also remember that there’s a fairly wide gap between the two upper auditoriums for the light from the center projector to hit the downstairs screen. While as I have mentioned earlier, the space should have been bigger to pass a Scope or 70mm 2.2l image that would fill the width of the proscenium, it was wide enough to accomodate 1.85 projection. That’s a really steep, long balcony, so if seats were removed from the balcony rail to the upper back wall that could probably account for over a hundred seats. As noted above, they weren’t particularly comfortable, so its possible that the balcony (or some areas) retained older narrower seats from a previous incarnation which would have upped the total number of seats. In addition the lobby wall of the orchestra was moved forward during the renovation to accomodate the stores in the former lobby area. That would also have eaten up seats. While I was in the orchestra auditorium during the renovation, I never poked my nose in when I worked there. One of the reasons was that the single entrance was a ways from the stairs to to the upper theatre and the booth, and kind of looked like a dingy alley, so much of the under balcony space had been sacrificed to the shops.
There were several reasons for Ben’s being able to veto 70mm. Most 70mm releases in those days were road shows that were too long to fit into the Music Hall policy of a stage show and movie. They had never done a show with pre-show music, intermission, entr'acte music and exit music until we did a 70mm retrospective in 1974. It wasn’t until “Molly Brown” that there was a 70mm film that was short enough to fit the policy. Ben was friends with the head of post production at MGM who told him that there weren’t going to be many 70mm releases coming up, so Ben was able to convince management that it wasn’t economically advisable to install the equipment, although at one point in time Norelco supposedly offered to give the Hall three machines for the publicity. They did consider it. I had in my files (and may have at home now) a proposal for a 70mm sound system from Ampex, complete with drawings of how it would fit in the booth. Another possible reason was that Music Hall management was more stage than film oriented (and still is). For good reason they trusted their department heads who were regarded as experts in their fields. Ben and Charlie Muller before him were expected to manage a large crew and see that the show never went down. Thus the caution about new technology. When Charlie needed technical expertise he could rely on the studio’s technical departments to supply it. Ben ran 70mm at the World’s Fair in ‘64, and understood an installation of the magnitude necessary at the Hall would very possibly interrupt the presentation, since at that time they couldn’t shut down during the installation time to work out the bugs as many theatres did. As I mentioned above there were a whole bunch of unusual problems associated with the installation that were still there when I came in as Head Projectionist in '74. I actually had a crew member try to choke me (in jest) when he heard we were going to run 70mm, and say, “We don’t want to run 70mm at the Hall.” Ben even hated the color of the ElectroSound system that was installed and which was a copy of the Ampex system originally discussed, and retired about three years after the conversion.
By the way, regarding “Molly Brown”, I mentioned to the head of post at MGM during a tour of the studio (the same one who told Ben there weren’t going to be many more 70mm releases) that I had seen the film in 70mm in Chicago. He said that they were unsure about striking any 70mm prints until they made one with a full stereo mix with surrounds and ran it for an audience. He said it was like they were watching a completly different film. Remember, most people only saw it in Scope and with a mono track. It may not be one of the great musicals, but seen on a big screen with full stereo, it has its moments.