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Simon, thanks for clarifying this point once again. It’s interesting to remember that during the original five year run under Roxy himself it was the theatre itself that was the main attraction with its huge orchestra, organ, and stage spectaculars including the ballet corps, the male choir, and the Roxyettes. For those who don’t already know, these shows were created by the same people who later made the Radio City Music Hall famous for its stage spectacles: producer Leon Leonidoff and choreographer Russell Markert. The movie was just one piece of the whole amazing show.
After the exit of Roxy and all of his staff and performers to the Music Hall the Roxy Theatre really struggled for a few years, as Simon tells us. It’s parent company Fox Pictures was in receivership and didn’t have enough top product to fill the Roxy’s screen. After the advent of the 20th Century-Fox merger and better corporate support of the Roxy Theatre through Fox’s theatre arm, the Roxy flourished again, especially during WWII as all theatrs did. It remained a leading World premiere film showcase until its demise in 1960. Remember that 20th-Fox’s CinemaScope process had its world premiere at the Roxy with the film “The Robe”.
The Roxy remained a major first run house until the very final weeks of its existence. MGM’s “The Gazebo” with Glenn Ford had its New York debut run at the Roxy, opening January 15, 1960 along with a Roxy stage show. This ran until February 26. Then the Roxy’s last two engagements, filling out the weeks until it closed, were a rerelease double bill of “On the Waterfront” and “The Caine Mutiny”; and then, opening on March 9, “The Wind Cannot Read”. There was no stage show during these last two bills. “The Wind Cannot Read” was a British import starring Dirk Bogart. Not a major release in the US, but by no means a B-picture.
Well here’s another photo that show women ushers at the Roxy as late as 1947.
Dated 1947, it has this caption: “Roxy usherettes (l to r) Marie Prange, Sheilah Knox, and Jo Ann De Santis dispense coffee and doughnuts to line of movie patrons headed by Mrs. Lily Vieder, at the premiere of "Forever Amber” outside the Roxy Theater, New York City
Date Created/Published: 1947.
Here’s the link. Only a tiny thumbnail is available. Pic is under copyright.
The year of this news release is 1944. Thanks, this is very interesting. I like how the Roxy takes credit for inventing the idea of women ushers, while I would guess they were already employed in theatres around the U.S.
I’m guessing this photo and the news release next to it are related? If so, this is from November 1944.
This is amazing! Was the original a slide?
Here is a link to the photo I mentioned. It is from the Library of Congress, dated 1945 with the caption “Head usherette Capt. Rosemary Smith inspects line of uniformed usherettes who are holding gloved hands up to be examined, Roxy Theater, New York City.”
Here is a link to the page, the photo may be opened in three different formats and resolutions.
Women were probably employed in concessions, box office, and as secretaries and receptionists. Earlier, there would have been a “matron” in the ladies lounge and a nurse in the theatre’s medical rooms. And of course, as cleaners. It’s an excellent question. Perhaps someone with direct knowledge can recall what jobs were open to women, other than as performers, at the Roxy in the 1950s and earlier.
Simon is saying that after WWII the Roxy went back to an all male usher staff. That sounds right, even though I wasn’t there, I’ve never seen a picture of a female usher at the Roxy except during wartime. I have a photo that I downloaded, I don’t know where from, that shows an older woman and her staff of wartime usherettes at the Roxy. The uniform is a very basic uniform dress with one row of buttons all the way down the front. If it’s not already in the photo section here, I will try to add it the next time I’m at my computer. Cheers
What you say is true. The Roxy must have had huge operating expenses, and while I don’t think it ever lost money it must have been clear by 1960 that it’s days as a big moneymaker were quickly dwindling. However, I think the Roxy was doomed more by the value of its Midtown Manhattan real estate. From the time it was acquired by Rockefeller Center in the early 50s I imagine the plan was to just keep it going until the most advantageous deal could be made to capitalize on its location as Rock Ctr developed the west side of Sixth Ave. First the air rights were used for other development and then the lot was finally used for a new office building. Rock Ctr already had Radio City Music Hall and had no interest in keeping two huge movie palaces going. It probably never had a chance to survive after about 1952.
2001 played at the Grand. But maybe it had a later run at Hunt’s? Although I don’t remember the Cinestage as running anything except as first-run.
Just curious, does anyone know if the Music Hall was installed with movie projectors from the start? Or did they have to be added, and the booth windows rebuilt, after the variety format flopped? Thanks!
The Roxy was very much in existence in 1956 when the original My Fair Lady musical opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. And I’m sure many people who attended the Roxy had seen the Broadway musical or would later see the movie. (That’s about as close as the Roxy gets to a connection with My Fair Lady!)
Sorry if this is disappointing. The great oval rug got worn out after 20 years and millions of feet took their toll. It was replaced with regular carpet in the sometime in the 1940s.
To save any movie palace and find new use for it as a theatrical force in its community is great. Of course! BUT, the Kings is also architecturally one of the maybe 10 very finest of all of the 1000s of movie palaces ever built. This makes it a huge triumph of historic preservation and restoration. A masterpiece saved. Bravo New York and Brooklyn! This is a treasure not just for Brooklyn but for the nation.
I’m not saying those gates aren’t from the Roxy, but I’d be more convinced if they said “Rambusch” instead of Tiffany. Too bad they don’t have a photo of them in the theatre. Just saying they came from the Roxy isn’t exactly “great provenance” in and of itself.
The Paramount and the Capitol were operated by large theater chains with much greater booking clout than the Roxy, which in its last few years was basically an independent operation. It had its share of blockbuster hits but in between it had to scramble for decent titles. That’s partly why it continued to combine its films with stage shows long after the other Times Square palaces had dropped theirs.
The Roxy was demolished in the autumn of 1960. The famous Life Magazine photo of Gloria Swanson standing in the ruins of the rotunda dates from October 24, 1960.
I don’t think the Roxy was any less viable financially than the Paramount, Capitol or other large ornate movie palaces. It remained a popular theater. All of them suffered from the precipitous decline in movie attendance in the post WWII era that all film theaters did nationwide. The Roxy may have been the first to go, but the writing was on the wall for all of them, at least in terms of continuing on as they had done. If the Roxy had survived another 10 years, no doubt it would have been subdivided and whatnot as all of the other Times Square movie palaces eventually were before they disappeared altogether.
The Roxy closed in March 1960, but its fate was probably sealed much earlier when it was purchased by Rockefeller Center in 1956. They plan well into the future and I imagine their interest in owning the Roxy wasn’t for its future as a film showcase. The Roxy not only had valuable air rights that were coveted by Rockefeller Ctr, but it was also located on very valuable real estate that was adjacent to the site of the new construction that they were developing on the west side of 6th Ave.
Every theater’s status is either “Open” or “Closed” (green for open, red for closed). Then next to that is a description: “1 screen”, etc. So the Roxy’s status is correct. It says “Closed, Demolished”.
I agree that having three status categories: Closed, Open, or Demolished would be more helpful and accurate. But that’s not how the database is set up.
Hooray for the ROXY! Happy 85th anniversary! Never to be forgotten!
There’s No Business, etc… opened at the Roxy on December 17, 1954. (Thx to New York Times online archives)
Brenner is pictured here on the roof of the Roxy Theatre in 1927.
In some fairness to the folks who were around at that time, it’s important to remember that the movie palaces were seen as commercial venues, much like today’s big multiplexes. They were places to exhibit movies and make a lot of money. When the movies, and the people that watched them, moved to the suburbs, it just seemed that the movie palaces' day was done. That they were also architectural masterpieces (some of them) and venues capable of being retrofitted for a future as arts centers and community treasures was never thought of, except by a very few. It took another generation to make this discovery, by which time so many of them were gone.
Yes it’s a criminal loss. The early 1960s was s time when the past seemed immaterial and nothing mattered but the future. The loss of Pennsylvania Station and the Metropolitan Opera House followed closely on the disappearance if the Roxy. The only bright side is that these horrendous losses opened some minds and spurred some to action. Today we do have a restored Grand Central Terminal, Radio City Music Hall and a landmarked Broadway theatre district because of it. But what a heavy price to pay.