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In answer to BobbyS' questions: ToddAO was Mike Todd’s answer to Cinerama. He’d been in volved with Cinerama and wanted a process to emulate it with the picture “coming out of one hole” as opposed to the three projectors required for Cinerama at the time. The process was named after him and the American Optical company which developed the 70mm process for him. “Around The World In 80 Days” was his signature picture in the process. In a sense it combined the wide screen of CinemaScope with the sharpness of VistaVision which used two frames of 35mm moving horizontally through the camera to provide a larger negative.
Coming from Illinois I saw quite a few 70mm presentations at the Michael Todd, and I suspect the Capitol’s screen was much larger. The Michael Todd was converted from a legitimate theatre (either the Selwyn or the Harris I can’t remember which was which since they were both taken over by Todd and were side by side – the other house was the Cinestage after Todd took it over and was also 70mm equipped), therefore it wouldn’t have been as large as the Capitol which was a true “movie palace”. Nonetheless, the screen had great impact because it was proportioned to fit the house just as the Capitol’s was.
Bill: I remember that storm well. I alternated doing relief work at two theatres close to Radio City, The New York Experience and the Ziegfeld. The operator at the Experience asked if I could open or him the day after the storm, but then decided to stay in the city. I was expecting to stay inside when I got a call from the opeator at the Ziegfeld saying his car was stuck in a drift. I kept a set of Ziegfeld keys in my apartment and took off for the theatre just a few blocks away. I remember thinking there would be no one there after such a big storm, but was surprised when I got to the theatre and found the line for the opening show extending around the block. They had plowed the sidewalk, but the snow was piled so high you could just see the tops of people’s heads above the pile. I stayed there until closing that night, and every show was sold out. Nothing gets between a New Yorker and thier movies!
Hate to be the dissenter,but having spent a lot of years in that booth at the Ziegfeld lifting double reels of 70mm onto projector spindles (and in one instance dropping a double reel of “Ghandi” on my foot as I was putting it on the rewind – I figure it was the first 20 years of Ghandi’s life) I can’t say that I’d miss that these days. While I’m still a working projectionist at 75, I really don’t think I could lift those anymore (although we can still do 70mm in my booth, and I did try to get a screening of “The Master” 70mm print in here last year.)
technman707This really belongs on the Music Hall page, but in response to your last comment: I was asked by the comptroller of Radio City to take a look at a theatre in the Bronx that was asking Rockefeller help in establishing a dance company. We rode up on the subway with the Rock Center lawyer and he was talking about the public hearing for Radio City. Some woman in the audience said, “You destroyed the Roxy and you destroyed the Center Theatre and now you want to destroy the Hall.” To which he replied, “Well two out of three isn’t bad!”
Actually,the marquee was put up for the Mark I-II-III incarnation. When they triplexed the theatre, they also chopped up the lobby to add storefronts. The entrance under the marquee led directly to the downstairs house, and to the right was the staircase leading up to the upper lobby and the two upstairs screens. The rest of what had been a lavish lobby was cut off from the theatre by the stores.The marquee for the DeMille was removed and that small triangular marquee replaced it.
I think the porn people did the triplexing and added the storefronts. I met the contractor a few times and think he had also done work for the operators in other houses they had.
techman707: there was a great deal of attention to the Radio City situation. I had just come back from vacation to pick up the Daily News the next morning and see the huge headline that Radio City was closing. Later that day Alton Marshall the president of Rockefeller Center called all of us to a meetin in the large rehearsal hall to tell us about the closure. The Rockettes made headlines by picketing out in front of the theatre in costume in January. There were also public meetings to protest the closure. Today the Rockettes are largely given credit for saving the Hall, although a friend of mine who was a vice president at the Hall had lunch with Marshall a few years later and was told that they really didn’t want to close the Hall, but had to shake loose from the movie/stage show policy. A deal was made with the state to help save the Hall and it was announced from the stage on what was to be the closing night that it would be saved.
Bigjoe59: Mark I-II-II did appear on the marquee very briefly before Peter Elson took over. I can’t remember the name of the operators, but I was told they had some other porn houses in the city. When Peter took over he changed the name to Embassy I-II-II. He had a thing for calling his theatres “Embassy” after the original one (now a city tourist center)which he also operated.
It was an “almost” adult theatre when it was the Mark I, II, III. Because of the city’s restrictions it never did actually run porn.That was when the contractor added the runway into the house which was taken out before it was ever used. It was after Clark, whom techman707 refers to, and before Elson. It was also when they added the two screens in the balcony. Since porn was primarily 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the space between the two balcony screens used as a light path for the second projector to shoot to the screen was pretty narrow. I remember standing on the stage with the man doing the projection work, and walking across looking up at the balcony to see how far we could go before the projection port was cut off by the walls of the two upstairs screens. They could get a pretty reasonable 1.85:1 image but that was about it. Later Elson ran a 70mm print, but alas the big 70mm roadshow image was constricted to the 1.85 size by the upper walls. I would say the planned adult theatre would have been around 1976. They actually used a 16mm projector which would have shown porn, as a feature projector in one of the upstairs screens when it was the Mark,although by the time I worked there in the Elson years all three of the Cinemeccanica Vic X’s were back in use.
The house was completly remodeled after it’s run as a burlesque house and didn’t really have a stage or fly space. I was there when it was being triplexed and it was planned to do xxx movies with strippers in the downstairs house. The contractor built a small stage with a runway into the house as well as added dressing room space for the strippers, but it wouldn’t have been large enough to do any kind of theatrical production. The city put a stop to the xxx policy on the grounds that there were already enough porn houses in the city, and the theatre reverted to showing movies.
According to IMDb “The Great Race” was a Panavision blow-up to 70mm. As rcd55b points out there was only one aperture plate cut for most 70mm presentation, but there were a variety of aspect ratios in the 70mm format. 1:85:1 blow-ups (Days of Heaven, Roger Rabbit, etc.) were “hard-matted” by the labs to fit into the 2.21:1 70mm projected frame. In the case of the Music Hall where we had a downward angle we covered the keystone by adjusting the masking rather than cut a new plate as we would have for 35mm.
We also had an interesting test reel from “Ben-Hur” which was shot in “Camera 65” MGM’s proprietary 70mm process. The image had a slight anamorphic squeeze resulting in an aspect ratio of 2.76:1. (Without the custom anamorphic lens Heston and the cast looked as if they’d dropped a few pounds.)
One other note: Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” was shot on 65mm film, which may have created some complications as 65mm cameras were also designed to shoot full-frame images. Anderson wanted 1.85 as an aspect ratio, and in most cases the lab would just hard matte the printed image, but for some reason, the image on the film was wider than 1.85 but less than 2.21:1, thus exposing things the director didn’t want seen at the edges of the picture (with 35mm if you pull the 1.85 plate in the projector you’re liable to see microphone booms and lights at the top of the set if the image hasn’t been hard-matted.) Thus theatres that ran “The Master” had to cut new 70mm plates. We wanted to do it my room, but no one makes 70mm parts which would have required going to a machine shop to get the plates cut. Just one more complication for anyone wanting to make a 70mm picture today.
David, I’m not sure about “The Great Race”. I saw it in70mm in Illinois and it had an intermission, but the Hall didn’t install 70mm until 1970, and given their reluctance to deviate from the stanard stage show/movie policy, I doubt it.
We did do three films with intermissions when I started there in 1974. They were re-issues of what MGM called the “Fabulous Four” which included “2001”, “Dr. Zhivago” and “Gone With The Wind”. We substituted “Singing In the Rain” for “Ryan’s Daughter”. I had come from theatres in Illinois which ran shows in the roadshow format, so I recall several discussions about how to do it at the Hall. The three we did were all in 70mm and designed to lead up to the 70mm presentation of “The Wind and The Lion”. Overtures were a little tricky. We wanted to precede the first show of the day of “The Slipper & The Rose” in 1976 with the supplied overture, although there wasn’t time for it in later screenings in a day. The projection crew agreed to play the overture even though it would have meant starting before the offical shift start time, but the musician’s union wouldn’t allow it unless we did it for every show, since it would look like we were substituting “canned” music for the live organist who didn’t play before the first feature. With the roadshows, I think we did get the overtures in, and we played the entr'acte music before the 2nd half. (We were able to convince management that it was “call-in” music and the organist shouldn’t play during that break.) We also did the 50th Anniversary presentation of “Gone With The Wind” with intermision music, but lost the battle over the organist who played before the intermission music started on film.
As far as I know those were the only times during the movie/stage show policy that an intermission was done. My predecessor didn’t want 70mm in the Hall, and used the fact that most 70mm pictures at that time had intermissions and were too long for the movie/stage format. He lost the fight when the house was four-walled for “Airport” and Ross Hunter insisted on 70mm. It was short enough that it didn’t require an intermission.
Stephen, thanks for posting the ads for the 1964-5 season at the Hall. The “Mary Poppins” ad has particular signifcance for me as I was in New York for the first time on my own after getting out of college and had come to attend a convention of the Society of Motion-picture and Television Engineers. I wrote to the Ben Olevsky, Head Projectioist at the Hall to ask if I could see the booth during my visit and got an invitation from Ben to call him. On my first night before I had a chance to call I stumbled on the Hall and bought a ticket to see “Mary Poppins”. A few days later Ben gave me an extensive tour of not only the booth but the whole facility. I was awed to actually be able to walk into the booth that I had been curious about for so long.
It was almost exactly ten years later I was again awed to walk into that booth — this time as the newly hired Head Projectionist. The “Poppins” ad brings back a lot of memories as it marked the start of something that continued for 35 years.
Actually, there’s plenty of clearance for projection from the back of the house even if the booth were a few feet above the back row of seats. While the view may be exaggerated, that’s still pretty small screen, and at the point where the projector beam crosses under the chandelier the size of the image would be very small, possibly less than a foot square. At the halfway point in the auditorium the picture would be only one-quarter the size it would be when it got to the screen. Further clearance would also have been gained by having each of the two projectors off the center line of the auditorium where the chandelier is hung. In addition, both machines would be shooting at a slight downward angle which would add more clearance.
There’s a comment by rjcambell in 2006 that clarifies this discussion. The second screen was a roof top theatre. When I first came to New York I went to a lot of the $1.00 sub-run houses and ths was one. A friend of mine who was head of service for RKO theatres and then an independent contractor told me that this house “bicycled” the print when the roof top theatre was open, pulling the reels from the lower booth to the upper booth with a rope. He also mentioned a time when the two operators didn’t get along and one of them deliberately waited until the last minute to lower or raise the reels to the other booth. I came here in 1974, so never got to attend a screening in the upper theatre, but thought it looked pretty neat with the big windows that caught the air off the ocean for cooling. While someone on this site does mention an outside staircase, I would think the inner staircase at one point did lead to the roof theatre.
Thanks Vito. I always enjoy reading yours as well. The topic of Dolby at Radio City is of special interest to me. As a matter of “full disclosure” I should mention that when I left Radio City it was to go to work for Dolby Laboratories in their first New York screening room where I still put in a 40 hour week. In a sense I’ve been involved with Dolby in one way or another for about 40 years now, so I remember all of the years Vito refers to vividly. (Actually, longer than that, since as student working for my University TV station, I got a chance to run the Ampex 1000 videotape machine which was given to educational stations as a way to distribute programming before satellites were available. It was the first succesful broadcast videotape recorder, and one of the engineers who designed it was a young man named Ray Dolby.)
I met Ioan Allen (who really got Dolby involved in cinema) on his first trip to New York to promote Dolby technolgy to dealer technicians from the Eastern half of the country in 1974. Later two of the projectionists who were on the crew at Radio City became Dolby employees, one as a Vice President and the other as a head techncian in the Dolby NY office. Through them I met Ray Dolby, and gave him and his son tours of Radio City.
That is the reason I’m posting this. There was only one company in the country that I would leave my “dream job” at Radio City for and it was Dolby. Ray Dolby’s death last week really saddened us all. He was a quiet, self-effacing man who accomplished something even 20th Century Fox couldn’t achieve with their 4-track magnetic CinemaScope stereo — he made movie stereo a practical technology for theatres everywhere. Vito mentioned the problem of dual inventory optical prints when Dolby started, but that was nothing compared to the problems that arose from having mag track prints sent to theatres which couldn’t play them and optical prints sent to theatres that had full stereo capability. Ray and Ioan came up with a track that could be played on any optical reproducer. It might not sound as good running as undecoded Dolby A noise reduction — but it would play. In addition, by employing the stereo matrrix it was possible to achieve a pretty good stereo surround experience from the two optical mono tracks used in the RCA 35mm system. Once you did that, you also had the capability to have a left, center, right, surround experience from any two track stereo source which could include VHS tapes, laserdiscs and broadcast TV. It was inevitable that movie sound would go multi-channel someday, but Dolby’s contribution brought the revolution about earlier than anyone else could.
I think working here during Ray’s involvement with the company can only be compared to working for Disney when Walt was alive. I can remember sitting in a staff meeting in our screening room when we heard a quiet, “May I come in?” It was Ray who had come in unannounced, and then enchanted us all with stories about the early days of the company.
I hope you’ll forgive me for rambling on, but I did want a great man — and nice guy — remembered on this site.
Re: Radio City and Dolby Stereo. Radio City was actually an experimental site for Dolby cinema sound as far back as 1974 when I started there as Head Projectionist. Repesentatives from the Dolby N.Y. office were looking for a large theatre to try out Dolby encoded 35mm soundtracks and Radio City is a “large” theatre! At that time there was only Dolby mono encoding featuring 2 units, one which decoded Dolby Type “A” optical tracks and one which provided 3rd Octave equalization to “tune” the room. The first Dolby encoded stereo film we played was “The Little Prince” which was the 1974 Christma feature. There were no stereo optical tracks at that time, but we had a 3 track magnetic print with Dolby A encoding.
We added three more units to play back 6 track 70mm magnetic tracks, primarily for the 3rd octave equalizaation capabilities.
We added a Dolby CP-100 processor for a picture that preceeded “Star Wars” since Fox wanted to try out stereo optical prints before they released “Star Wars”. The picture was a dud, but the equipment stayed.We never paid for it, but felt we were justified in keeping it since we did provide a crew for testing when Dolby needed it.
We finally ended up buying a complete Dolby installation (with Disney’s help) for the premiere of “The Lion King” which involved a complete re-do of the motion-picture sound system and the inclusion of on the wall surround speakers. “Lion King” only required three stage channels snce it was 1.85 aspect ratio, but we later added two more stage channels so we could play “classic” 70mm prints which had 5 channels behind the screen and a mono surround channel. We also needed the extra channels because our 35mm 1.85 picture is smaller than our 70mm 1.85 picture and the screen masking was not acoustically transparent. We also added more surround speakers at that time.
Since then the Hall has added a Dolby SA-10 unit which splits the surround array into left, center and right groups for use in the stage show mix.
The recent obit of Ray Dolby in the New York Times features a picture of him in the Music Hall booth looking at a soundrack on a piece of 35mm film That picture was taken during the premiere engagement of “The Lion King” one of the few times when we used platters at the Hall, with the 70mm picture locked to a 35mm print for Dolby Digital sound.
Since those snipes are so fondly remembered I thought I’d add a couple of comments about how they were produced. When I was a student at the U. of Ill. my film class visited Filmack in Chicago as it came as close to a “movie studio” as anything we had out there at the time.
The black and white snipes always featured white letters superimposed over an art background which could be a theatre auditorium, or as in the case of Radio City’s snipes just a pattern. In reality,they were black letters on a white card, with the “background” art in negative on a glass plate in a frame that closed over the card. To do an angled “wipe” another white card was put over the lettered card, and the camera operator slowly pulled it out of the bottom of the frame revealing the lettering. Since the snipe was actually the camera negative, everything was reversed and the foreground art became the background with the now white lettering on top. There were plates containing artwork as well as photos of feature’s one-sheets in a cart next to the camera and the operator could just select the one he needed as per the order. Filmack also had an extesive printing operation which contained type in hundereds of fonts to print the cards. (They also owned one of two Oxberry animation stands in Chicago at the time. The other owned by Sears.) While my teacher who had been a cinematographer in L.A. wasn’t impressed, I thought it was a remarkably cheap and easy way to create what looked like a fully animated clip.
A lot of the color ads with still images from local merchants were done at Alexander Films in Colorado. They had touring salesmen who would come into town, sell the spot, take the slides and then arrange for them to be shown in the theatre. Not as technically proficient as the digital clips used pre-show today, but not bad for their time.
We did run some trailers when I was at the Hall, and I found a trailer for “Cowboys” which played before I worked there, in the film cabinet. (I remember that one because there was a question about light levels on “Harry and Walter Go To New York” and I spliced the normal density “Cowboys” Tr. to one of their reels to show that it was a film problem, not a light problem with our projectors.)
We also ran the trailer for “That’s Entertainment” with the thought that we were going to get the picture which MGM ultimately gave to the Ziegfeld.
The snipes you refer to which promoted special shows at individual theatres were common in the industry. In Illinois the Filmack Company turned them out quickly and cheaply and I have a whole reel of them I saved from a theatre I worked in out there. The Hall used them as noted to not only promote the upcoming feature, but also plug the stage show that accompanyed it. While cheaply made (image you saw projected was actually the camera negative so there was no print cost)the personalized snipes added a touch of class and individuality to a promotional presentation.
Radio City never had 8,000 seats. The 5,940 total listed above is probably the most accurate. I was told by a vice-president when I started there that the 6,000 seat figure was to make the theatre competitive with the Roxy down the street. As the executive explained, “Well if you count the seats in the lobby and the restrooms we have 6,000 seats!” Even the 5,940 total varies with the attraction being presented. When the “pasarelle (SP?)” or ramp was in place around the perimiter of the orchestra pit to enable the Rockettes and performers to perform further out in the house, at least two rows in the front of the orchestra were removed to accomodate it. Of course, the big television broadcasts of the MTV Awards, Grammys, etc. required the loss of seats for camera and mix positions and even the use of video projectors for televised fights required the removal of a couple of rows of seats in one section at the back of the 1st Mezzanine. When the house was remodeled in 1979 the sound mix position was moved from the projection level to the front of the 2nd Mezzanine requiring the loss of seating. Thus the number of seats available for a given show is always a variable.
I should add that the sign I was referring to with the “theater” spelling was the one in the parking lot, not the one on the theatre canopy itself. That one must have been added by Classic, since it wasn’t there the last time I was there sometime after the addition to the right was added.
The sign was there when the theatre opened. I was the first projectionist and it was my first full-time job as a projectionist. I was there from 1967 until January of 1974 when I left to become Head Projectionist at Radio City Music Hall (a slightly larger venue!) The theatre was built by L&M Theatres and was their first new shopping center threatre. They also ran the classic Rialto in Joliet at the time. Later Bob Bachman, who was President of
L&M bought the Meadowview and the downtown Town Theatre, and was responsible for the eventual tripling of the Meadowview. The original sign had “Meadowview Theater” (a spelling Bob Bachman and I both questioned) on top, and the whole attraction board below was for one screen. For several years after I left I made an annual visit back to have lunch with Bob who gave me a fantastic insight into film booking. I’m glad to see that Classic Cinemas have taken such good care of the Meadowview and the Paramount. (It’s hard to believe that 45 years have elapsed since I first walked into that booth while the theatre was still under construction!)
That picture was taken when I was Head Projectionist at the Hall and that is indeed 70mm film on the rewind. I suspect we put it out for the benefit of the tour groups that came through the booth on a regular basis. The picture of the projectors shows #1 machine at the far left side of the frame. It was 35mm only, but the next three were Simplex 35/70mm projectors flanked by another 35mm only Simplex X-L in the #5 spot. The spotlights are Kliegal, and the machine at the right edge of the frame isn’t a spotlight but a Brenkert slide projector used for effects in the stage show.
Actually, the auditorium was more interesting than described above. My predecessor at Radio City, Bill Nafash, did the installation in both the theatre and the two Paramount screening rooms in the offices at the top of the building. All of the projectors were 70mm, and before they were installed Radio City took three of them to get “Airport” opened on time. Three of the machines were in the theatre, and Bill said it was really really unique, at least in concept. The auditorium was designed to look like the bellows of a camera narrowing as it got closer to the screen. The “curtain” at the front was designed to look like a camera lens when the curtain was closed. Bill said originally strobe lights were installed in the coves in the “bellows” designed to look like camera flash bulbs going off. Alas the effect was too successful triggering discomforting effects in the audience. The flashes were soon eliminated. The travelling attraction sign above the entrance was also one of the first in New York to not feature fixed sign letters. That too was an idea who’s time may not have come since they were limited to incandescent bulbs with all their limitations. In all the theatre was probably a result of form over function, and while the design concepts may have worked better on paper than in reality, at least the idea was more interesting than indicated above.
“Lawrence of Arabia” played the Michael Todd theatre next door. Both houses were equipped for 70mm projection. The Todd had a flat rather than a curved screen. I had just gotten a degree from the U. of I. in Champaign, and stayed over the summer to work at the University radio and TV stations. I remember getting up early on a Sunday morning to catch the train into Chicago specifically to see the “Lawrence” matinee at the Todd. The presentation was great with one curious exception. Four-track 35mm magnetic prints put the surround information on a narrower mag stripe on the film than was used for the stage channels. To minimize track hiss when there was no surround information the channel was muted. When the track was used a 12Khz “trigger tone” unmuted the channel. Four track systems filtered the tone out so the audience wouldn’t hear it. The “Lawrence” 70mm screening at the Todd apparently took its surround information from the four track version, and since 70mm systems didn’t need the tone it wasn’t filtered out. At that age I could still hear 12 Khz, and the arrival of any surround information was forecast by the annoying whine of the tone which could be plainly heard in the Todd surround speakers.
Ed-Al: Thanks for the information. I didn’t know that Norman Elson had come from Trans-Lux. Now — where to the Brandts fit into Trans-Lux? I worked as a relief projectionist at the New York Experience multi-media show and was around when the South Street Seaport multi-media show opened, both operated as Trans-lux theatres under Richard Brandt. This is such an incestuous business!
Al, Thank you. I worked both Embassy 1 and 2,3,4 (1,2,3) but didn’t realize that Embassy 1 (now a New York Visitor’s Center) had closed before the triplex. Thanks for the explanation. As I recall, the Forum or the Victoria became Embassy 5 along the way as well.