Paramount Theatre

1501 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036

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Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on March 14, 2008 at 3:29 pm

In July, 1927, Britain’s Gertrude Lawrence topped the stage show at the Paramount, with a Louise Brooks film on screen. This was probably Lawrence’s first engagement in a movie palace and possibly her last. She performed numbers from her Broadway stage successes, which included the Gershwins' “Oh, Kay” and two Andre Charlot revues. Within a few years, Lawrence would become one of the most beloved “legit” luminaries on both sides of the Atlantic, most memorably in “Lady in the Dark” and “The King and I”:

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on March 9, 2008 at 3:48 pm

P.S. “I’m No Angel” opened simultaneously at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre, also with a stage show. Attendance was reported record-breaking there as well, but I haven’t been able to find figures. The dual booking apparently had no drain on attendance at the New York Paramount, and may have sent some disappointed turnaways subwaying to downtown Brooklyn to see the movie.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on March 9, 2008 at 3:13 pm

In October, 1933, Mae West’s second starring vehicle, “I’m No Angel,” broke all existing attendance records at the Paramount, with about 180,000 tickets sold in the opening week (an average of 25,714 per day). To speed turnover, the stage show’s length was reduced to twenty minutes. The Paramount’s ushering staff was increased from 43 to 74 members, and police frequently had to be called to control the street crowds:

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on March 1, 2008 at 3:39 pm

At the Paramount, Gary Cooper performed four shows M-F and five on Saturday and Sunday, a total of 24 for the week. The front rows of the orchestra were always packed with women, many of whom stayed from opening to closing. Cooper needed a police escort to get back and forth to his suite at the nearby Astor Hotel. Here is an excerpt from a review in The New York Times: “What you feel about Gary Cooper ‘in person’ will all depend on (1} what you feel about Mr. Cooper on the screen and (2) what you feel about personal appearances in general. He is supported by Sari Maritza and Raquel Torres, and the little makeshift ‘skit’ which serves as a pretext for his adorers to gaze at him is no stupider than others of its kind. Screen players, as a rule, are predetermined successes on the stage, and do not have to stoop to the vulgur expedient of ‘putting themselves across.’ Otherwise, they must somewhere have discovered that ‘being cute’ is not acting and that looking handsome is not the end and aim of all stage technique.”

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on March 1, 2008 at 2:50 am

Cooper’s subdued laconic on screen style doesn’t strike me as one that would have effectively translated on stage. I wonder how well it went over in the upper reaches of the Paramount. If his claims of exhaustion are to be believed (and there’s no reason to doubt it), I wonder if he didn’t tucker himself out from having to project to the theatre’s back rows. I can’t make out the details on the ad… does it say how many performances were scheduled for the day?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on February 29, 2008 at 6:21 pm

Unlike some of his rivals, Gary Cooper became a Hollywood star without prior theatrical experience. In December, 1933, he acted on the stage for the first time anywhere at the Paramount Theatre, teamed with Raquel Torres and Sari Maritza in a one-act parody of his latest movie, “Design for Living” (which just happened to be showing across the street at the Criterion Theatre). The playet ran about ten minutes, and was augmented by the usual Paramount stage revue, including singer Gertrude Niesen, the Diamond Brothers, and Charles Previn & Orchestra. On screen was Paramount’s “Sitting Pretty,” with Jack Oakie, Jack Haley, and Ginger Rogers in an peppy musical that introduced the chart-topping “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” The first week grossed a smash $51,000, enough to warrant a hold-over, but Cooper claimed exhaustion and the run continued without him, with several new variety acts replacing the playlet.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on January 10, 2008 at 3:30 pm

The Paramount had to cover all bases in its marketing. The Daily Worker had the lowest ad rates of any newspaper in the metropolitan area, so it wasn’t unusual for movie theatres to advertise there. 1946 was also a time before the Communist “witch hunts” started.

AlAlvarez on January 10, 2008 at 3:04 pm

I suspect that since Hollywood was producing so many pro-Soviet films during the war at the government’s request, it was a worthy investment at the time.

SPearce on January 10, 2008 at 5:52 am

In my May 10, 1946 copy of the NYC edition of the (Communist) Daily Worker are some select movie ads (obviously not all theaters in NYC advertised in this newspaper), including one for Paramount Times Square indicating:

Paramount Presents Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix in “The Blue Dahlia” A George Marshall Production, Doors open 8:30 a.m., then a musical note separating columns and on the right side of the ad:

In Person DUKE ELLINGTON and his Orchestra, Stump & Stumpy, Extra The Mills Bros. (This is the show I would have wanted to see.)

I look at this historically as someone then determined it was worthwhile to run this ad for this show in the Communist Daily newspaper. If it wasn’t for the content, then perhaps management had a vested interest.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on January 4, 2008 at 9:50 pm

Sinatra also performed at the Paramount in the spring of 1943, opening May 26th with “Five Graves to Cairo” on screen. I believe this was the first time that Sinatra received top billing in the Paramount’s stage shows. The supporting acts were Gracie Barrie & Her Orchestra and comedian Gene Sheldon. Sinatra’s portion was entitled “Frank Fiddles” due to the Paramount’s house orchestra being augmented with a large string section.

AlAlvarez on January 4, 2008 at 9:43 pm

The engagement was three weeks but it was hampered by a weak film title (Columbia admitted it was expecting Sinatra to bring in the crowds) and missing dates when Sinatra developed laryngitis shortly after opening.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on January 4, 2008 at 9:17 pm

Sorry, Ed, I don’t have any boxoffice figures. But I’m sure that you can find them reported in issues of weekly Variety from November, 1947. The engagement started on November 14th, and might have been for two weeks to include the Thanksgiving holiday.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on January 4, 2008 at 7:49 pm

I’ve read that those Capitol Theatre shows drew disappointing attendance. As I indicated above, Sinatra saw his popularity tail-off around this time and I’m curious as to just how well (or poorly) these shows at the Capitol were received by the public. Do you have any B.O. figures, Warren?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on January 4, 2008 at 5:18 pm

Frank Sinatra defected from the Paramount for an engagement at the larger Capitol Theatre in November, 1947, with Columbia’s “Her Husband’s Affairs” (Lucille Ball-Franchot Tone) on screen. The Capitol booking marked the first time that Sinatra appeared on the same bill with future Rat Packer Sammy Davis, Jr., but they didn’t perform together. Davis was still attached to the Will Mastin Trio, one of the supporting acts on the bill, along with Lorraine Rognan and Skitch Henderson & Orchestra.

JohnMLauter on January 4, 2008 at 3:31 am

Sonnyboy—the war ended in 1945, some men like my uncle stayed in Germany as occupation troops, but my Father came back home in 1945, his tour of duty having been satisfied as the war had ended. He was in the service from 1942-1945, and that was about the normal duration of service. Was your father a career man?

sonnyboy on January 4, 2008 at 2:45 am

Fantastic. I think we may have it. My parents are going through their memory banks to see if it was Benny G or Johnny L with that extra added attraction: Young Blue Eyes.

Personally, I’d rather have been at the Benny Goodman, Jack Benny show.

And I am going to buy Pete Hamill’s book to make sure we know just who’s horse head it was.

Thanks all. I believe the investigation is being erased from the board.

AlAlvarez on January 2, 2008 at 5:17 am

PARAMOUNT December 30, 1942-January, 1943
BENNY GOODMAN and his Orchestra
Extra added attraction! Frank Sinatra
January 26 at 6pm only – Extra! JACK BENNY

PARAMOUNT January 27, 1943- February 23, 1943
JOHNNY LONG and his orchestra
Extra added attraction! Frank Sinatra

JohnMLauter on January 2, 2008 at 4:08 am

The story has grown out of proportion as a great American urban legend, read Pete Hamill’s great book “Why Sinatra matters”. The much-discussed and embellished story of a contract Sinatra had to get out of was his contract with Tommy Dorsey, the band he sang with after leaving Harry James. Harry basically just let Frank go and wished him well, realized what an opportunity Dorsey was offering. Dorsey was not so easy going, signed hungry young talent to iron-clad contracts giving himself a healthy cut of that performer’s pay should they elect to leave (in Frank’s case, almost 55% of all future earnings) Frank signed to just get free and start pursuing the opportunities that were being offered. The contract was re-negotiated by his agents at MCA (the Music Corporation of America) joined by an army of lawyers. The proceedings were a matter of public record in the courts. Frank ended
up paying Dorsey $60,000 lump-sum to get out of the contract. I’m sorry if that’s not as romantic, but them’s the facts.
Frank was Italian, which for decades before he reached his initial popularity meant they weren’t even considered WHITE by wasps, it took the massive numbers of Americans of Italian descent fighting in WWII to begin the change of opinion against such prejudice. There were many figures in organized crime Frank knew, he sang in nightclubs for a living, and such establishments aren’t owned by conservative wasp businessmen, they were owned by gangsters. No credible researcher or author (including the notorious Kitty Kelley) could find any concrete link to this urban legend.
As an aside, Frank was quoted as being very sad when the Paramount was gutted, and wished that he had a souvenir from the building, even if just a knob from a dressing room door.

HowardBHaas on January 2, 2008 at 3:10 am

Horse’s head in the bed!

sonnyboy on January 2, 2008 at 2:53 am

I have a revision that makes more sense given everyone’s feedback. I was wrong about the dates. I thought I heard my parents say they went to the show at the Paramount before they were married in 1947. My parents just told me that there first date was before my father enlisted and went into the Navy… in the Spring of 1943! My parents were married in 1947 after my father returned from the war.

My father just told me about how Frankie got out of the Harry James contract with a little help from some friends. He also told me how the story was retold within “The Godfather.”

sonnyboy on January 2, 2008 at 1:56 am

Fantastic leads. I am going to have to check both my parents stories again. I feel like a detective trying to get to the bottom of a big mystery. They saw one of the two, but maybe it wasn’t at the Paramount.

Maybe I am not their son. This is getting me all nervous.

This is fun. Thanks for all of your help. I will keep digging.

AlAlvarez on January 1, 2008 at 6:00 pm

I can’t find any record of Frank Sinatra performing live at the Paramount in 1947 but he did appear at the Capitol in November of that year with “petite comedienne” LORRAINE ROGNAN and SKITCH HENDERSON & his piano & orchestra.

How about SAMMY KAYE and his orchestra with IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN starring Sinatra at the Capitol in early March?

THE INK SPOTS and ELLA FITZGERALD took over the Paramount in February of 1947 with EASY COME, EASY GO on the screen.

Rory on January 1, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Sonnyboy, does your local library have The New York Times on microfilm? If so, I’d just go look through the dates you think it was, go to the entertainment section and look for an ad.

sonnyboy on January 1, 2008 at 3:53 pm

Gee, Ed. That does help. But now I have a dilemma. Do I fess up that you were good enough to provide me with an important piece of info or do I go on letting my parents believe there is a chance they are both right? What if this bit of disagreement busts up their marriage after 60 years, 4 kids and 8 grandkids. Yikes.

Seriously, thanks for responding and helping me get at the truth.

Now I can focus my research on one or the other but not both at the Paramount.

I have to admit, I believe my mother’s version with Frank Sinatra, even if it was the swoon you mentioned and his last year before the Mob (how exciting) helped him re-start his career. Whether he got help or not, Frank was a fantastic performer.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on January 1, 2008 at 8:57 am

Hey sonnyboy – HAPPY NEW YEAR! Frank Sinatra was basically “discovered” by Harry James and sang in his orchestra in 1939 before famously (or infamously – depending on the story you read) defecting to the Tommy Dorsey Band within a year. I don’t think you’d have found Old Blue Eyes singing with James in 1947, so the performance your grandparents saw at the Paramount was either one or the other! I suppose either artist might have topped the bill in ‘47 – although Sinatra’s career started to swoon a bit that year and wouldn’t fully recover until after his successful dramatic turn in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY in 1953. Hope that helps just a smidge!