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The Gaiety Theatre was opened by Klaw and Erlanger for George M. Cohan on September 4, 1909 with “The Fortune Hunter”. It was located at Broadway and W. 46th Street, designed in Louis XV style, containing two balconies, boxes, and a large proscenium arch. Seating a little over 800, the Gaiety Theatre was designed by the architectural firm of Herts & Tallant, the duo also behind the New Amsterdam Theatre, Liberty Theatre and Follies-Bergere Theatre (better known as the first Helen Hayes Theatre, and before that, the Fulton Theatre).
Home to numerous successful legitimate shows in its first nearly two decades of operation. Its first big hit was “Lightnin'” which opened on August 26, 1918 and ran for 1,291 performances. Stars such as Helen Hayes, John Barrymore, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Leslie Howard all appeared on-stage during this time. The Gaiety Theatre presented its last play “Love in a Mist” on April 12, 1926 which ran for 120 performances. It was closed and soon reopened as a movie theatre like so many other Broadway theatres. It had a short-lived foray into musical stage shows in 1931-2). In the mid-1930’s, in addition to movies, the Gaiety Theatre began to present burlesque acts, and soon the Gaiety Theatre was the city’s premier burlesque house, even hosting the occasional big-name Hollywood act onstage, like Abbott and Costello.
In 1942, an attempt at reviving vaudeville at the Gaiety Theatre failed, and in summer of 1942 it briefly joined the Eltinge/Empire Theatre on 42nd Street to be renamed Laffmovie Theatre screening comedy shorts & cartoons. In 1943 the theatre was renamed the Victoria Theatre, and returned to feature length movies with the Russian documentary “The City That Stopped Hitler-Heroic Stalingrad”(aka Stalingrad), narrated by Brian Donlevy. The Victoria Theatre and its adjacent neighbor, the Astor Theatre, had the world’s longest advertising sign which covered their facades for an entire block long. The auditorium was remodeled in 1950.
In the 1970’s, the Guild Theatres chain acquired the Victoria Theatre and renamed it the Embassy 5, being their fifth house in the Times Square area.
By the late-1970’s, however, it had closed. Despite the efforts of preservationists, the theatre met the wrecking ball on March 22, 1982, together with the adjacent Astor Theatre, Morosco Theatre, Bijou Theatre and Helen Hayes Theatre. During the demolition, however, a section of the W. 46th Street facade collapsed into the street, forcing its closure for more than two days.
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