75 Castlereagh Street,
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The Roxy Theatre was opened on 15th July 1909 with 1,320 seats. It was re-named Mayfair Theatre in the 1930’s, and was remodeled in an Art Deco style in October 1934 to the plans of architect William Thomas Leighton, working out of the office of Charles Bohringer. It was part of the Snider & Dean circuit. From 1948, the Fuller circuit staged live shows including Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter” and the Ballet Rambert.
I worked as an assistant projectionist in this theatre from May 1965 to December 1969. Throughout that time the manager was Ron Milbourne and the head projectionist was Harold Rumble. For the most part I was Harold’s assistant, the projectionist on the opposite shift being Jack Murphy.
I can’t tell you much about the design and construction of the place, what I most recall is the very damp, almost soaking seepage in the basement area where I regularly visited to maintain the back-up batteries for the emergency lighting.
By this time the theatre was Hoyt’s Theatres flagship, screening the long runs like “The Sound of Music” (April 1965 – Christmas 1967. That had three sessions per day, Mondays to Saturdays. This was followed by “Dr. Doolittle” which ran from Christmas 1967 to around July 1968. “The Graduate” then started its surprise run of some thirteen months. Nobody saw that coming. Another thing that wasn’t seen coming around the peak of its success was the burglary and robbery of the weekend’s takings sometime between the Saturday night and Monday morning sessions.
The success of “The Graduate” was holding up the launch of the new Julie Andrews movie “STAR!”, which was the story of Gertrude Lawrence. The director Robert Wise came out for the premier and we had to give him a private screening prior to the event where he stipulated that we had to have the main curtains open before the film images hit the screen. That was extremely frowned upon as a concept here and poor Harold, the head projectionist grimaced throughout. To show an audience a bare white screen was just not done in Australia. Anyway Mr. Wise went back to the U.S.A and we reverted to our conventional method of presentation.
Unfortunately this movie rather bombed and probably didn’t do more than a few months. A few months run at the Regent Theatre would have been a major success, but at the Mayfair Theatre it was a disappointment. Between that time (September/October 1969) and my departure in mid-December of 1969 we had a string of short run films, being “Laughter in the Dark”, “Justine” and finally for me, “Staircase”.
At that time the buzz was that “Hello Dolly” was coming and everything had to be just right for the opening. I wasn’t around for that, so can offer nothing more on it.
The Mayfair Theatre was one of the few theatres in Sydney that was fitted out for Todd AO presentations. It had a very wide curved screen. The curve being necessary at the left and right edges to maintain an acceptable focus across the whole surface.
As I recall the projectors were manufactured by Philips, being dual standard for 35mm and 70mm film. The sound was once again dual standard, variable width optical or five track magnetic stripe. The sound system was distributed to seven separate channels, five behind the screen and two on the walls in the auditorium, the latter being referred to as A.P or audience participation. These generally carried the cheering and noise of crowd scenes.
The Mayfair Theatre probably holds the record for the longest continuous run of any feature film, certainly in Sydney. That being “South Pacific” which opened on Boxing Day 1958 and closed at Easter of 1962, giving it a duration of three years and almost four months. This was followed by “West Side Story” and sometime later I believe “Cleopatra” might have found a temporary home there. “The Sound of Music, which was mostly in my time, lasted for two years and eight months.
The Mayfair Theatre was closed in 1979, and shops occupied the front of the building. It has since been demolished.
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