Mayfair Theatre

75 Castlereagh Street,
Sydney, NSW 2000

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Mayfair Theatre

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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.

Contributed by Vernon Jones

Recent comments (view all 5 comments)

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on December 11, 2010 at 9:35 pm

This page has a picture of the Mayfair during the run of South Pacific: View link

Another picture from 1958: View link

And if you go to this page, scroll down about two-thirds of the way down, the is a downloadable pdf of a photo essay with diagrams and color photos of the Mayfair’s interior: http://rossthorne.com/theatres/lost.html#mayfair

vernsr
vernsr on December 12, 2010 at 8:26 pm

How many projectionists does it take to change a light bulb?
This is a common rhetorical question these days used to infer incompetence in some occupation.
One of the “joys” of being an assistant projectionist was being at the bottom of the totem pole and being the last port of call for the jobs that nobody else wanted to do. One such job was the changing of light bulbs and before you start thinking “how hard can that be?”, you need to consider the architecture of theatres. Almost unimaginably high ceilings, an auditorium with inclined or stepped floors to accommodate people seated behind others, single light fittings in stair wells that had to be replaced immediately due to the health hazard of darkened stairs.
Most of the low level fittings I was left to handle by myself, no problem so far. The high auditorium ceiling fittings were lowered by a cable operated from a hand cranked winch directly above. Somebody had to go up there and let it down. This was a rare occurrence and was only done when a number of lamps were obviously out. On at least one occasion I did find myself in the ceiling above the stalls treading the ceiling joists with the theatre manager shouting instructions to me from the lounge area. At one point I managed to lose my balance, fell sideways and put my foot on the soft plaster of the ornate ceiling, sensing it crunching under my weight.
As I’m still here to talk about it, I obviously regained my position and didn’t plunge through the plaster making the deadfall to the stalls perhaps some seventy or eighty feet below. Hearing the crunch, the manager called out “be careful Vern!”. What else could he do? He certainly couldn’t catch me.
When dealing with light fittings above stepped floors with seating we had a very high step ladder with legs of very different lengths. The pair of legs mounting the steps would be placed on the arm rests of the seats in one row and the shortened support legs on the floor of the row behind.
This then became at least a two man job, so I had to request the head projectionist, Harold to assist me. This was reasonably common as we had some down lights immediately in front of the bio box (projection booth) that would often fail.
Being very near the bio box meant a ceiling height of perhaps three metres. Expressing my fear at mounting this precarious ladder, Harold who was always eager to show how easy things were, said “watch me” and quickly scurried up the ladder. Unfortunately he didn’t wait until we had it in the correct position and noting that the legs that I was tasked with stabilizing were shifting off the arm rests as he transferred his body weight from side to side, I called to him to stop. Harold had long been hard of hearing and continued up the ladder. While I was desperately trying to re-position the unstable leg, I lost track of the other one which duly slipped off the arm rest, sending the ladder toppling.
Unwilling to be delivered to his doom by the ladder, Harold wisely selected a landing site and jumped for it. He landed on his feet on one of the cushioned seats, but this being an unstable platform, he lost his balance and fell into the next lower row of seats coming to rest on his back and totally upside down, his feet up in the air.
He arose, apparently unhurt and said to me with a very serious look on his face, “are you holding the ladder?” That had to be rhetorical.
This was a very serious event at the time but these days, more than forty years later, whenever I think of it, I break into uncontrolled laughter.
It’s hard to imagine these work practices being now possible with our current occupational health and safety regulations. Those were the days.

johnph
johnph on November 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm

hi vernon ,john hurley here it has been some time since the mayfair.I remember you were thr first person to buy the Beatles White album and the sreies 1 rover Ithink you paid $500 for and I thought you were pretty special doing the techs course and working in the Regent workshop with Kel Ball when you were on arvo shift and me having to wait till you turned up late most times to releive me, Harrold was a stickler for smothe rewinding it would take about 15 min to do that and be very careful when putting the spools back in the trunk not to bump the sliding door end make the record jump as the turntable was sitting on top. yes relamping that place was a trick .and in the winter time lighting the gas heaters to keep the place warm,not forgetting the 23 usherettes including 2 dayshift advance session booking girlsin the 3rd ticket box,fri & sat nights an usherette would be stationed at every turn to guide patrons to thier seats as you would re call those evening sessoins would be full houses a rare thing these days.Yes Ido recall Wise comming to town and we screened spool 1 of the original copy of Sound of Music for him then spool 1 of the new copy as Harrold with his quality of film care had acheved a world record for number of screenings of a70mm print which was never beaten . Ashcraft Lamhouses were instaled as with every other 70mm theatre at the time recalling Harrolds yern for carbon burning ecconomy burning butts within mm failure.Well dont have to worry about that or any of the other stuff now ,no carbon arcs no more film no more projectionists (no more presintation)all hard drive stuff.I was so pleased to read your story and to finaly hear from another who remembers their youth as all of our memories have been torn down and replaced with shops or automation. John hurley.

vernsr
vernsr on December 9, 2012 at 6:50 am

Hello John, I remember you as a teenager, probably around 18 years old when I left there. I certainly did buy the Beatles White Album in 1969, though I don’t know that I was the first to do so. The vehicle you referred to was a 1956 model Land Rover and I paid $600 for it. Your memory is generally pretty good, although I have to differ as to the time of Robert Wise’s visit. He was there for the opening of STAR, which was around 18 months after The Sound Of Music finished. It’s quite impossible that we would be showing him different issues of The Sound Of Music, reel 1. I’m sure that didn’t happen. For the premier of STAR we had instructions from him to slightly dim the house lights and open the curtains, exposing a bare screen. This was maintained for most of the musical entry (these days probably called the entre act overture). He said the cue to take the lights completely down was when we heard Lime House Blues. Now being as Harrold was hard of hearing, that instruction was passed along to me. My response being, what does Lime House Blues sound like? It’s certainly wasn’t on the Beatles White Album. Tim Griffin, the then head electronics technician, was to be in the audience on stand by for this special event. He was assigned the message seat, where he had a button to buzz the bio box in the event of a problem. Tim had enough growth rings on him to recognise Lime House Blues when he heard it. So, he was assigned the task of notifying me of the correct moment to extinguish the lights. Ultimately it all worked. Oh, that horrible bare screen. After my final exit from The Mayfair, I went into the electronics industry, became the production manager of a Sydney based electronics manufacturing company. I ultimately became a TAFE teacher of electronics at Ultimo TAFE College. After some 21 years there, I retired about 2 years ago. I hope you are well John.

itsjohn
itsjohn on February 5, 2013 at 8:22 am

If I remember rightly, the Mayfair is where the play Crown Matrimonal with June Salter about Edward’s abdication played for a while in 1977/78. It was a big hit and had played at the Seymour Centre before moving into the city to play at the Mayfair.

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