Town Theatre

840 Ninth Avenue,
New York, NY 10019

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Showing 18 comments

KGordonMurray on January 13, 2013 at 8:50 am

Alas, our posts are wandering off topic (the Town Theatre) which CT’s guidelines request we not do. Therefore, one last OT mention from yours truly and any further discussion re: the Elysee/ABC Studio TV-15 will be posted at that that theatre’s listing.

Yes, I was aware of that MGM Grand fire story! Fascinating stuff. The Elysee (ABC Studio TV-15) was home to the last season of KIDS ARE PEOPLE TOO! which ended its run in Sept ‘82. I may have misspoken above re: THE $50,000 PYRAMID being the last occupier of the theatre. I worked for ABC at the time and have a ticket for one of the KAPT! tapings. I have to double-check the date as $50K ended its tapings in April '81.

AlAlvarez on January 13, 2013 at 7:28 am

Although the Little Theatre (currently the Helen Hayes) is not listed on Cinema Treasures, it did show porn films briefly in 1973.

chris319 on January 13, 2013 at 1:45 am

The Little Theater housed the 1969 season of syndicated Beat the Clock (organist Dick Hyman played from the balcony) and was used by Westinghouse for David Frost when Merv went to CBS in 1969. I understand Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show and Johnny Carson’s Who Do You Trust? originated there when it was occupied by ABC.

Interesting story about the Elysee and Pyramid. After being cancelled by ABC, producer Bob Stewart struck a deal with Colgate Palmolive to tape a barter-syndicated version of Pyramid for 1981 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. On November 21, 1980 the MGM Grand suffered a major fire, causing Pyramid to return to its former home at the Elysee to tape that season. It was likely the last show there.

Tinseltoes on October 5, 2012 at 8:04 am

I’ve just posted a rare view of the Town Theatre’s marquee in the Photos Section for this listing.

AlAlvarez on October 25, 2009 at 2:51 pm

A mention is made in Boxoffice Magazine (December 18, 1961) that the Town was to be reconverted from a CBS TV studio back to a first-run movie location in May 1962 by Brandt after 12 years serving as a studio.

That move apparently never took place.

KGordonMurray on April 11, 2009 at 9:24 pm

CBS designated the Town Theatre as Studio 58. Studio 59 was the Mansfield Theatre @ 256 W 47th (now called Brooks Atkinson).

Also, to confirm “Benjamin’s” 2007 entry above re: Merv Griffin being taped @ the Little Theatre — he’s correct. I have a ticket for Merv Griffin dated October 12, 1965 at the Little Theatre. Griffin also had a short tenure at the Cort Theatre (138 W 48th St) which CBS occupied. It was designated as CBS Studio 54!

As for his recollection of Dick Clark having a one a week show in the Little Theatre, I recall seeing documentation to that effect.My memory isn’t clear enough to say 100% absolutely though. I can say for sure, however, that Beech-Nut Spearmint Gum presented “The Dick Clark Beech-Nut Show” from ABC’s studio center on 67th Street. Again referencing a ticket, this one dated Aug 11, 1960. Clark also taped “Dick Clark’s World of Talent” at the same studio (26 W 67th St. – likely ABC’s TV-2) on Oct. 6, 1959.

Warren Harris' mention of Cavett at a 58th Street “ex-theatre”: that was ABC Studio TV-15 @ 202 W. 58th St. a.k.a. the Elysee Theatre. ABC owned the theatre for over 30 years. Demolished in 1985, it was home to countless ABC shows, notably Dick Cavett and “The $20,000 Pyramid.” The last tapings to take place there were “Kids Are People Too” in the summer of 1980 after “Pyramid” was canceled in May 1980. And after “Kids” wrapped its season, the syndicated “The $50,000 Pyramid” utilized TV-15 in early 1981. After that, I know of no other shows. There was, though, an ABC Stockholders Meeting held there one morning sometime after the theare went dark for good. I happened to attend it!

Warren, thank you for your Feb 2004 entry re: the Town Theatre. I always wondered about its early history.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 14, 2008 at 7:50 am

The theatre and replacement building can be seen here: View link

LoRe on August 25, 2006 at 5:57 pm

Sesame Street moved its production to the Reeves Tele-Tape facility at 81st Street & Broadway until the late 80’s prior to moving to the Kaufman Astoria Studios.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on March 16, 2006 at 4:27 am

This was originally the Chaloner Theatre before being re-named Town. After being converted to a TV studio, it had many tenants, most notably “Sesame Street,” which was there for quite a few years before a move to Long Island City. I don’t recall Dick Cavett being based there, but perhaps he was at one time or another. I do remember Cavett broadcasting from the ex-theatre on West 58th Street between Seventh Avenue & Broadway (since demolished for an Episcopal choir school).

DougDouglass on March 16, 2006 at 12:45 am

From the 1950s to ‘63, The Little Theatre was home to ABC’s “That’s Entertainment” a weekday variety show plus many quiz shows. After '63 Westinghouse (Group W) leased the theatre for syndicated shows.

Benjamin on March 15, 2006 at 4:23 pm

In the late 1970s(?) I went to a taping of the Dick Cavett show (PBS), and I wonder if it was at this theater. The theater was on the west side of a main avenue, west of Eighth Avenue (probably Ninth Ave.), just somewhere south of 57th St. I think around the corner from the theater, was a small off-Broadway theater that might have been on the south side of 55th St.

Also, by the way, while Merv Griffin may have broadcast from the Ed Sullivan Theater, I’m pretty sure he also broadcast for a while, at least (in the mid-1960s?), from the Little Theater (now known as the Helen Hayes). I believe in the early 1960s, the Little Theater was also used for a while for one of Dick Clark’s Rock ‘n Roll shows — not “American Bandstand,” which was on every day, I believe — but another show that was done as more of a concert, and was done only once a week (maybe Saturdays?). I think it was sponsored by a chewing gum (Spearmint?).

DougDouglass on August 31, 2005 at 2:40 am

The longest running CBS show from this studio was “Mama” starring Peggy Wood, which aired live on Fridays at 8:00 PM in the ‘50s. CBS leased the 94X78 foot studio to Reeves TeleTape for “Sesame Street”. Building sold to Educational Broadcasting Corporation (WNET-13), later leasing to Unitel for syndicated shows including Gordon Elliott, Dr. Joy Browne, and Jane Pratt. “Emeril Live” was the last show here. EBC still owned the theatre when it was demolished in October 2002.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on January 14, 2005 at 7:28 am

I’m not sure that CBS ever used this as a TV studio. It might have been another company that converted it, and leased it out. It’s also conceivable that CBS no longer needed it and rented it to PBS for “Sesame Street.” After “Sesame Street” moved to one of the Long Island City studios, the theatre/studio was home for tapings of several cable TV programs which required “live” audiences. I don’t recall the titles, if I ever knew them. But I do remember seeing the name Jennie (or possibly Jenny) Craig on the marquee.

RobertR on January 14, 2005 at 7:20 am

Many times networks leased spaced to other entities. Merv Griffin used to tape at the Ed Sullivan Theatre when he taped his show in NY in the 70’s. This was another CBS studio, and his show was syndicated.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on January 14, 2005 at 7:14 am

If it was a CBS studio, why was the PBS show Sesame Street produced there?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on March 26, 2004 at 7:30 am

No. It was the Chaloner and then Town before conversion to a TV studio. To the best of my knowledge, there was never a theatre called the RK0 55th Street. There was, however, the RKO 58th Street, aka RKO Proctor’s 58th Street, on the west side of Third Avenue. This website has a listing for that beautiful Thomas Lamb atmospheric.

philipgoldberg on March 25, 2004 at 2:37 pm

Was this theater ever known as the RKO 55th Street before WNET turned it into a television studio?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on February 6, 2004 at 9:03 am

The theatre was originally called the Chaloner and built by John A. Chaloner, a prominent West Side realty developer. Designed by George Keister, whose other NYC theatres included the Belasco and Selwyn, the Chaloner had 2,000 seats, with 1,200 on the main floor and 800 in the balcony. It first opened on December 21, 1922, but was considered too far from the Broadway-Times Square area for anything but late-run movies supported by low-grade vaudeville. In fact, it was also in the notorious tenement district known as “Hell’s Kitchen.” In 1928, Variety reported the Chaloner playing to packed houses with a 25-cents admission for 11 acts of vaudeville, a feature movie, short subjects, newsreels and a serial. But the Depression brought an end to the vaudeville acts and the Chaloner struggled on with late-run double features changed several times per week. In 1939, as a part of a city-wide effort to spruce up for the New York World’s Fair, the Chaloner was re-named the Town Theatre, with a new entrance and marquee, and the seating capacity reduced to about 1,000. The late-run movies continued, however, and in 1950 the Town was one of the first Manhattan “nabes” to close due to competition from television. It was soon converted to a TV studio, with the auditorium gutted but with the balcony seating retained for programs that were performed in front of a “live” audience. Its most famous tenant, remaining for quite a few years, was “Sesame Street,” which was also near the end of the theatre’s existence.