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During the ‘70’s I was on a Local #306 Projectionist’s union team picketing a porno house around the corner from the Metropolitan. Our picket signs were stored in the Metropolitan booth. When our shift ended I volunteered with another member to take the picket signs back up to the booth. We got as far in the balcony as perhaps 30’ from the booth door when the stench got to me and I left the signs with my partner and headed for the exit. It was the only time in my life that I got that close to seeing a new booth and didn’t go in. “Sleazy” — I’d say!
Yes, along with 5.1 sound. (That’s ironic since the original release was in mono in most, if not all theatres.) Following the picture the stage presentation was done on a set that copied Brando’s office in the film.
“Godfather and Part 11” was screened digitally at the Hall (one of our Dolby engineers was there for the sound E.Q.) “Reservoir Dogs” did screen on 35mm at the Beacon the same weekend. Since it was Tarantino’s personal print it was screened on two projectors with changeovers.
“All That Jazz” didn’t screen at the Hall. In 1979 they changed the format from movie/stage show to it’s present use with Bob Jani’s stage “Spectaculars”. Had “All That Jazz” opened a couple of years earlier it could have qualified for Bob’s Movie Musical Memories". Other than one offs and special series the Hall didn’t have any long movie runs other than those mentioned above.
One irony, the Hall was offered the original run of “The Godfather” and considered it even though it was rated “R” but ultimately rejected it even though they could have used a hit. It would have accompanied the Easter show with it’s “Glory of Easter” prologue set in a cathedral with “novices” (officially they weren’t called “nuns”). It was felt that you couldn’t come out of the violent ending of “The Godfather” into a religious sequence like “Glory”. Thus this weekend’s screening at the Hall was finally fulfilling the offer made years earlier.
Thanks Mike. I took the man in charge of house operations word and didn’t check on my own.
After commenting on vindanpar’s entries above I got to thinking about his date of 1979. I then remembered that there was a special series at the Hall called “Musical Memory Lane” that ran in the mornings after the movie/stage show policy was eliminated. Bob Jani had just taken over the operation and his first show was a “Summer Spectacular”, but he wanted to continue the link to the Hall’s movie heritage. I checked my files and, sure enough, both “Flower Drum Song” and “Funny Face” ran during that series which screened at 11 A.M. Monday’s through Friday’s most weeks. I also realized that I had indeed been behind the projector when vindanpar saw them. Since they were not first run films, the union gave the Hall permission to have only one man in the booth. My “assistant” who was the only man retained from the previous crew didn’t want to do the series so I ran all of the films.
I was surprised that the series ran from 6/18/79 to 11/12/79 and featured 22 titles. I did remember “The Jolson Story” which was in 70mm and “Cabaret” which was the first “R rated” movie to play the Hall.
Among the other statistics were that from the time the house first showed film “The Bitter Tea of General Yen” until the last, “The Promise” in 1979 there were 674 features. In 1985 we did 10 weeks of movie/stage show presentations with “The Black Cauldron” and “Return To Oz” sharing the same Disney stage show. If you count “The Lion King” and “Barney’s Great Adventure” which had runs of at least four days the total number of shows with stage presentations was 677.
The only features that I didn’t count were in the “Art Deco” film festival in 1974 which also featured an art deco antiques show in the lobby. Each of those titles only ran one time. We also did a four feature silent series with Kevin Brownlow in which each feature only ran once, and “Napoleon” also silent with orchestra which ran multiple times over a couple of years.
Alas I didn’t do “Flower Drum Song” or “Funny Face” at the Hall. “Funny Face” was one of the first VistaVision films from Paramount and the very first VistVision picture “White Christmas” did play the Hall with true horizontal VistaVision projectors, one of the few places that did. They were so new (and rare) that I found hand drawn threading diagrams in the booth files. By the time “Funny Face” played it was in a standard reduction print from the VistaVision negative but it must have looked great on that screen.
In my post above I was trying to think of a young girl who played the Hall before becoming more famous. I think now it was Leslie Uggams, and while I can’t find a direct reference to the Hall she was working as a teen ager around the city at that time.
Just a “Hi” to StanMalone and NYer to say I’m glad you enjoyed the article about me and the Hall. Also wanted to mention that I’ve heard that Christian Slater is another performer that appeared briefly in the cast of the first post movie/stage “Christmas Spectacular”. He was the Little Drummer Boy for a few performances. It was a very odd number with the drummer boy in a suit and also featured a bag lady if I remember correctly. It was dropped after a few performances and some critical comments in the reviews. There is another performer who became famous that appeared in the movie/stage show days but I haven’t been able to remember her name. She’s African/American and appeared when she was a teen ager. I remember my boss talking about her and saying that her mother watched over her like a hawk to keep her safe from the stage crew. She was not a rock performer but did ballads. Hopefully something will jog my memory and you can add her to the list of performers who did appear in the stage show early in their careers.
Just as a side comment, if you remember the days of 35mm interlocked projector 3-D in the early ‘50’s, all of the complaints raised about digital 3-D were true then. If you turned your head slightly you’d lose the separation created by the Polarized light. In order to maintain the separation the screens had to be high gain and thus could display a “hot spot” when viewed off axis as well a significant light drop off in wide auditoriums or ones with a steep projection angle (that was one of the reasons the Radio City Music Hall scrapped the plan to show “Kiss Me Kate” in 3-D. They would have lost too many seats at the sides and top of the mezzanines.) Many of those conditions exist with digital 3-D as well. One exception is Dolby Digital 3-D which uses a very sophisticated variation on anaglyph 3-D. It can be projected on a matte white screen and not lose separation between the eyes. The trade off is that it does require more light than those systems which use high gain screens. With all of the digital 3-D systems the registration is better than could be achieved with two 35mm machines, and of course, there’s no mechanical motion problem such as weave to cause problems between the two images being seen as one. Digital 3-D just copied a lot of what was developed in the '50’s for film 3-D. Another case of “everything old is new again”.
“Scrooge” was a 70mm print and did indeed have full stereophonic sound. The surround channel was limited since the only speakers were along side the proscenium and in the two sets of grills in the ceiling that I mentioned above. The first run of “Sound of Music” was also 70mm without Dolby noise reduction, but with Dolby equalization to somewhat compensate for the acoustic properties of the Hall. 70mm magnetic tracks were wider than those for 35mm CinemaScope and the film moves faster through the projector by about 20' more per minute, thus they represented the highest quality possible in their day far better than 35mm optical tracks. Ray Dolby sought to bring that quality to 35mm optical tracks giving them wider, quieter frequency range. What you heard at the Hall really was good for its time even though financial constraints along with some other problems kept the Hall from having the best sound. I hope you got a chance to hear the “Lion King” during its premiere run at the Hall. With Disney’s help the Hall finally had the motion-picture sound system it needed. The 70mm print carried Dolby SR encoded analogue tracks while the main sound came from a 35mm digital print interlocked to the 70mm projector. The Dolby tech configured the system so that if the 35mm digital tracks being played should fail the system would automatically revert to the 70mm SR mag tracks. We switched back and forth between the two several times during the tech rehearsals with Disney’s tech people in the house and no one was able to hear the difference. (Had it been a picture with loud explosions and crashing effects the digital track would have had a little more dynamic headroom.)
“Singing in the Rain” was a standard 35mm mono optical print, but the Center channel speakers were classic RCA speakers that flew with the picture sheet and really were good for their day. Any surround effect you heard was from the house acoustics which did create an echo which could be troubling depending on where you were seated, but I’m glad it worked for you. It was also one of the first pictures we ran with xenon lamps replacing the carbon arc lamps that had been in use since ‘40’s. Thus the Technicolor really did pop on the relatively small 1.37:1 aspect ratio picture.
Re: “Scrooge” – if you heard sound from the back it was because the Hall had a really bad echo from the wall above the 3rd Mezzanine. You could hear it in the center of the Orchestra but not under any of the Mezzanines. There had been acoustic material to absorb the slap behind the walls, but with age it had crumbled and fallen out of place. We screened every print before we played an incoming attraction. Sitting in the center of the Orchestra at the producer’s table I could turn my head at right angles to the screen and have two soundtracks coming at me one from the front and one from the slap from the back wall. An acoustic engineer we hired to do an analysis said the sound from the wall above the 3rd Mezz (which was curved and focused it) was actually louder in the dialogue frequency range than that from the screen, and added, “Why haven’t you fixed that?” The answer was, we had no money to. Dolby processors have always included 3rd octave equalization and it did help flatten out the room response. The 1999 refurbishment may have helped more.
In regard to “The Black Cauldron” – yes the sound was bad for a couple of reasons. Walter Murch, one of Hollywood’s classic sound men, directed “Return to Oz” which preceded “Cauldron”. He mixed it in the 70mm Dolby format which he had used for “Apocolypse Now” with three stage channels and left and right surround channels. “Cauldron” was mixed for five channels behind the screen and a mono surround channel. To get more bass response, Murch personally raised the low frequency EQ to maximum level since we didn’t have sub-woofers at the time. When we got to “Cauldron” the orchestra members were complaining about the bass level while waiting to come up on the pit elevator before the stage show. It was then that we discovered what Murch had done. In addition, the sound was designed to pan across five channels behind the screen and there were only three so the sound dipped as it went across.
We did upgrade the stage channels on the left and right of center, and the black boxes you saw on the Choral Stairs were the speakers we had removed from behind the screen, placed on the stairs to fulfill Murch and Disney’s requirements to play the picture.
If you liked the “SOM” sound, remember it was processed through Dolby processers and that Dolby noise reduction extended the frequency range and signal to noise levels of soundtracks beyond what they were capable of previously. It’s also possible (I don’t remember) that since the “SOM” print was a Bob Harris restoration the tracks could well have been Dolby A encoded to extend the range and signal to noise ratio. Also remember a lot depends on the acoustics of the theatre you’re listening in, and the film mix itself. Radio City was designed to be a vaudeville house and was never intended to be a movie theatre (the New Roxy/Center Theatre down the street a block was to fill that role.) As such, being such a large house it had acoustical problems that weren’t unique to the Hall. Modern technology has helped overcome those problems.
Actually there were surround speakers going back to at least the installation of 70mm and quite possibly to the four track 35mm mag days. They’re possibly still there. They’re in the ceiling and just outside of the proscenium. There were two sets of two speaker groups one on the left and one the right side of the house. The “rays”, the slits extending from the proscenium like the rays of the sun are backed with plaster bubbles so that the four color light strips can reflect off the surface and backlight the rays. The sound crew mounted one set of “surround” speakers just off the proscenium about where the P.A. speakers were stage left and right. The other set were mounted on the back of one of the “bubbles” out around E cove. The sound crew snuck up into the ceiling under cover of darkness and cut a hole or holes in the plaster of the bubble and mounted a couple of 12 or 15" speakers directly to the bubble. While the effect was pretty much lost under the mezzanines, the main part of the orchestra and the 3rd Mezz. did get some coverage. In the case of “The Slipper and the Rose” which is the story of Cinderella, the clock tolling at Midnight sounded pretty good coming from overhead. If they weren’t removed during the renovation in 1999 you can still see them if you go out on the catwalk to D cove.
I was Head Projectionist at the Hall for both “Smokey” and “Mr. Billion” and can tell you why they were booked. “Smokey” was part of a trilogy of Universal Picture films we played that summer. Universal four-walled the house to present “MacArthur”, “Smokey” and a re-run of “The Sting”. “McArthur” was to be the “class” Radio City picture. “The Sting” had done well and was added to fill the package. No one thought “Smokey” would be a hit at the Hall but it was a big summer picture. Actually, it didn’t help our situation but created another complication. As pointed out above it was the second most popular film of the summer after “Star Wars”. When we played it and didn’t do the business it was generating across the country the industry said, “Gee they had the number two film of the summer and died with it. I guess you just can’t play film at the Hall” or words to that effect. (Coming from the Midwest “drive-in” country it was one of my favorite films that we played.)
“Mr. Billion” did so little business I think we actually ended up in litigation with Fox since it didn’t even meet the Hall’s advertising expenses. Of all of the clunkers we played (remember we were an independent house and couldn’t match the booking power of the circuits) it’s the only one that was pulled mid-run. The Disney replacement wasn’t much better, but it was Disney. One good thing did come from “Mr. Billion” Fox was getting ready to release “Star Wars” with optical Dolby Stereo and used “Mr. Billion” as a test film. Thus Dolby gave us a stereo/optical processor to use which we kept until we re-built the whole system for “The Lion King”.
The only company that really supported us in the last days was Universal. They four-walled the theatre the summer of “Smokey” and picked up “Caravans” the last movie we played in the old movie/stage show format just so we would have a Christmas picture.
As far as I know all of the nitrate is out of the Hall. There’s a room on the North side of the theatre that was specifically designed as a vault, with a room between it and the corridor. It’s next to what used to be the costume sewing room. It wasn’t cooled, and my boss discovered it when they were using the second room as an echo chamber when Plaza Sound had the recording studio there. He moved all of the film to the Projection office where it sat behind the desk to the discomfort of the City Inspectors since one of the cans on top of the stack had a big red “nitrate” label on it. The collection moved around. To get it out of the sight of the inspectors, for a time it was stored behind the screen in Preview A. We finally made a deal with the Museum of Modern Art to take the RKO newsreel footage of the Hall in return for striking acetate prints for the Hall from the nitrate footage. The rest of the nitrate (some of which did go into the garbage) went to Sherman-Grinberg.
At one point we were trying to get all of the nitrate film which had been stored in a nitrate safety room in the Hall out of the building. Since it would be dangerous to just throw it out, I asked the Sherman-Grinberg stock footage library which had the rights to the RKO newsreel footage of the Hall if they would take the film to add to their archive. They accepted. In going through the footage I came across a reel marked “Breen”. I thought it might be something in regards to the Breen behind the Motion-Picture Code who also had ties to Rockefeller Center. The archivist at Grinberg played it and told me it was Bobby Breen singing. I suspect it was a protection track in case Breen’s voice gave out from doing multiple shows during the Christmas run. It may well have been the “Cantique de Noel” referred to in the above post.
Just a quick note: This theatre was a 70mm equipped theatre from the start designed around U.A.’s proprietary D-150 process. I visited the booth prior to opening to see a friend of mine who was the RCA engineer assigned to the theatre and the Norelco DP-75’s were just being installed.
I clicked on the picture of the Globe this morning and realized I had worked there as a relief projectionist for a week or two in it’s porno days. The business agent of our local needed someone to work and actually picked me up off a picket line (in front of another porno theatre in Manhattan) and drove me to the Globe. I was hesitant to take the job since I had never officially worked in the Bronx, but was assured it “was a nice Jewish neighborhood.” It was, but getting there on the subway through the South Bronx was like going through Dresden after the firebombing during WWII. As with most porno theatres I was paid cash when I started. The booth still had carbon arc lamps and was equipped as were most neighborhood theatres in those days with Simplex X-Ls and Peerless lamps. I did go down to the auditorium one day when I arrived early and it was being cleaned. The exit doors were open admitting light and the auditorium was typical of the “nabes” of it’s time. I’d almost forgotten I worked there until I saw the picture above.
We did extensive research on xenon lamphouses when we converted from carbon arc in the mid ‘70’s. At one point we had a different lamphouse on each machine. We picked the ORC’s because the bulb was vertical pointing into a 45 degree mirror. At the projection angle in the Hall a normal horizontal bulb would be burning way off axis. The vertical bulbs also had the advantage of darkening evenly around the top of the bulb as they aged which we felt would lessen the formation of a dark spot over the arc in an horizontal bulb which would absorb more heat and increase the risk of explosion. We kept the horizontal lamps on the two end machines since these machines were used for “film effects” and we needed the flexibility to point them over a wide range on stage (and to reposition them for the triptych in “Napoleon”. The ORC consoles (one of which was actually a prototype) gave us relatively little trouble from the time they were installed around 1975 until the time I left 1999.
Speaking of which, did anyone here see the premiere of “BvS” last night at the Hall presented in DolbyVision laser projection and Dolby “Atmos” sound? The picture was presented on a 70' screen and from a couple of local comments both it and the sound were spectacular.
I worked here as relief projectionist for a couple of weeks before it was twinned in 1978. It was kind of unusual in that the theatre started on the 2nd floor of the building with the screen at the south end and the booth at the 42nd St. end. They had probably cut the 3rd floor in half crosswise to make a balcony which was ramped up to the top at 42nd St. The booth occupied the space just behind the last rows. There was a ladder going up the wall in the booth to the roof, and I remember one snowy winter evening climbing the ladder and opening the roof hatch to see how much snow was falling as I wouldn’t be getting out until 2 A.M. or so.
The aisle went up to the back wall and actually split the booth structure into two sections. One was the booth itself and across the aisle was the room containing the rectifiers for the xenon lamps.
There were three machines in the booth, the third crammed almost against the west wall. It was added after the theatre opened to give it the redundancy the other theatres on 42nd St. had. It was so close to the wall there was no viewing port, and the controls were on the other side of the projector near the controls for the #2 machine. As I recall there was a small seat and the only other seat was the toilet itself which fortunately had a seat with a lid!
So much pot was smoked that the regular projectionist had sealed the ports up with masking tape around the edges to avoid getting a contact high. I don’t believe it was a Norman Adie theatre, but was owned by a man named Clark. Later when they added the 2nd screen in the building next door, I heard they knocked a hole in the wall next to the #3 machine and the operator had to walk on a catwalk that extended outside and into the booth next door. It was an “interesting” operation.
Actually we did that on a few occasions. MGM wanted to premiere “The Wind and the Lion” there in 70mm, and as a warm up we did “Dr. Zhivago”, “Gone With The Wind” and “200l” in 70mm and the above mentioned “Singing In The Rain” all with the same (shortened) stage show. “Fantasia” was another re-issue as was “1776” which had played there in it’s original release. “The Sting” was another re-issue as mentioned above.
Even so, the re-issues were better than most of the first run films we played in those day. (“Matilda” anyone?) Universal was the only company that really tried to help us, actually four-walling the theatre for the run of “The Sting”, “Smokey and the Bandit” and “MacArthur”. They also picked up “Caravans”, the last movie we played in the movie/stage show format, so we’d have a Christmas attraction that year. As vindanpar points out above, those were pretty bleak days for the Hall.
It did, but I’ll have to look up the date. We played it in 70mm and on one performance the operators skipped from reel 5 to reel 8 without running 6 and 7. I was relatively new at the time and had to write a letter to the Business Agent registering management’s displeasure. That did cause the run to stick in my mind.
As an alternative: How about Dolby taking over the Zieg as it did the former Kodak theatre in Los Angeles? The Dolby New York offices and two screening rooms are right across the Avenue of the Americas from the Ziegfeld, and it would be a nifty site for both a Dolby Atmos installation and the Dolby Vision projectors which use laser illumination.
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!