Ziegfeld Theatre

141 W. 54th Street,
New York, NY 10019

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Curtained screen

Built just a few hundred feet from the site of original Ziegfeld Theatre (demolished in 1966), this ‘new’ Ziegfeld Theatre opened December 17, 1969 with a gala premiere of “Marooned” starring Gregory Peck. The movie house was one of the last big palaces built in the United States.

It was built from plans by the architectural firm of Emery Roth & Sons, with designs by Irving Gershon and interior design by John McNamara. The Ziegfeld Theatre was built for Walter Reade for his chain’s flagship, and was later operated by Cineplex Odeon from 1987, Clearview from 1998, and Bow Tie from June 2013.

The letter ‘Z’ appears on the door handles and in the terrazzo floor of the ticket lobby. The main lobby has an elephant sculpture, also some memorabilia of the prior Ziegfeld Theatre and of the Ziegfeld girls, a ticket taker who cheerily welcomes customers. There is a grand stairs of marble and ornate metalwork, and an escalator. Upstairs is a foyer panelled in wood in which displays busts of Florenz Ziegfeld and Fanny Brice. “Story of this Wood” plaques in the lobby and upstairs state that the wood changed colors from oak to rich charcoal by virtue of being in a peat bog for 4,000 years outside Cambridge, England. Doors lead to the concessions foyer which has elegant restrooms, a huge framed poster from the movie “My Fair Lady” since Clearview placed it there, a bust of Will Rogers, and the entryways to the auditorium.

The auditorium features 1,131 seats: 825 seats in the front section, 306 seats in the raised stadium section at the rear. There are two sets of curtains over the screen, one gold, the other closer to the screen is a sheer white curtain. The huge screen measures 52ft x 22.7ft. The Ziegfeld Theatre’s interior is decorated with sumptuous red carpeting, abundant gold trim, crystal chandeliers, and ornamentation that ranges from sconces to door handles and exit signs.

The longest movie run at the Ziegfeld Theatre was “Ryan’s Daughter” (1970) 33 weeks. “Ghandi” (1982) was shown for 31 weeks. There were probably more world premieres in recent decades at the Ziegfeld Theatre than any US movie theatre outside of Los Angeles, too many to list here except for some that had long runs at the Ziegfeld Theatre: “Cabaret” had its 1972 world premiere and ran for 26 weeks. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” had its 1977 world premiere and ran for 23 weeks. “Apocalypse Now” had its world premiere in 1979 and ran for 12 weeks. In 1988 “The Last Temptation of Christ” had its 1988 world premiere here and drew protests. The Ziegfeld Theatre was also a beloved showplace for classic screenings such as “Lawrence of Arabia”.

The Ziegfeld Theatre was, arguably, the last movie palace still showing films in Manhattan. Sadly, due to fewer premiers and with competition with multiplexes hosting the same movies, in January 2016 news was announced that the Ziegfeld Theatre would imminently close and after a renovation, reopen in 2017 as the Ziegfeld Ballroom, an event facility. The final movie to play the Ziegfeld Theatre was “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on January 28, 2016.

Recent comments (view all 4,503 comments)

veyoung52
veyoung52 on September 2, 2019 at 1:32 pm

Vindanpar, just dug this item out of my files…from the NYTimes 4/24/55: re VistaVision installation: “The screen now used at the Paramount is 64 by 35 feet…”

vindanpar
vindanpar on September 2, 2019 at 2:51 pm

A rising curtain doesn’t seem to make much sense to me in the case of Cinerama. But he was there I wasn’t. And I’m quite surprised they would show it at that time with curtains not working. It would remove all element of surprise as to the screen size.

Also I saw Napoleon at the Music Hall during its first run not the second. I distinctly remember the curtain being used. If it wasn’t I would have been appalled and remember it. But then maybe I’m having a senior moment(ugh, I can’t believe I’ve reached an age where I can say that.)

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on September 2, 2019 at 2:59 pm

Hello-

to vindanpar- I saw Napoleon twice during its original rum at RCMH. I honestly can’t remember how the curtains were used. so I wouldn’t worry about having a “senior moment” especially if that’s the only “senior” thing you have.

veyoung52
veyoung52 on September 2, 2019 at 3:09 pm

The “live” event featuring full orchestra conducted by Francis Coppola’s father used three projectors focused on a large screen in front of the curtain. The subsequent engagement(s) with a 70mm print were projected onto the Hall’s screen behind the curtain. This was discussed on this site at some length at the time.

vindanpar
vindanpar on September 2, 2019 at 3:18 pm

One thing I can say for sure is that Bill Boggs and Hermione Gingold were sitting behind me at Napoleon. Can one dream that?

MarkNYLA
MarkNYLA on October 6, 2019 at 8:37 pm

Can anyone say with confidence what kind of film projectors the Ziegfeld had? I know that they opened with Zeiss Favorit 35/70 machines which I saw in place around 1982 or so, but I seem to recall that they were taken out in the late eighties for … Century JJs? Does anyone know for sure?

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on October 6, 2019 at 9:50 pm

Mark, as my article stated, Century 35/70 https://www.in70mm.com/news/2014/ziegfeld/index.htm

RobertEndres
RobertEndres on October 7, 2019 at 7:49 am

Just a few comments on the above: RCMH used three projectors for ALL presentations of the “Napoleon” triptych. (I was Head Projectionist for all of the screenings at the Hall.) Yes the contour was used. The first time we did it, we used the house picture sheet which was 70' wide and closed the masking to the center until the changeover to the triptych. Subsequent presentations were done on thee 30' fast fold screens butted together with a strip to mask the joins. That screen was upstage of the first blacks which were closed to the center and opened on cue by a stagehand at the start of the triptych. Bob Harris did bring a 70mm test roll in, but they had not printed the three images together so we never even tried it.

The Ziegfeld did have Zeiss Favorit 35/70mm machines for most of it’s career. I attended a presentation of “Soldier Blue” there on a visit to New York before I came to work at the Hall. At that time the console in the rear center of the auditorium was in use. The idea was that there was a man on the console to run the show and then thread up the three machines in the both for the next show. There was automation to do the changeovers and control the lights and curtain. The union still insisted on two men on a shift so the console was eventually scrapped.

At one point after a critical review by Rex Reed of the projection, the Zeiss projectors were removed and replaced with 35mm machines which were in use when I came to New York to work at the Hall in 1974. They were taken out and the Zeiss Favorit machines were put back for the 70mm run of “That’s Entertainment”. They were in use for the years I worked vacation relief there when the Ziegfeld had a long run of 70mm presentations. They were removed and replaced with Century JJ’s which were there when the house closed.

MarkNYLA
MarkNYLA on October 7, 2019 at 4:34 pm

Thank you, Robert Endres. If I may ask you, would you know about when the Zeiss machines were removed for the JJs? (not exactly, but ballpark is fine).

RobertEndres
RobertEndres on October 9, 2019 at 7:46 am

Mark, I’m not sure when the Zeiss projectors were taken out. I think they were there when I left the Hall to work for Dolby in 1999. Our engineers were there to align the Dolby equipment for premieres until the end so perhaps they’ll know. I’ll see if I can find out. The last things I ran there were a screening of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” in 70mm reel to reel and then a couple of 35mm prints in a series of classic films – one of them “The Professionals”. At that point they had platters, but the Zeiss projectors were still there.

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