George M. Cohan Theatre
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Built for George M. Cohan, the all-around entertainer of the early 20th century, the George M. Cohan’s Theatre was opened on February 13, 1911. The theatre, located on Times Square on the corner of Broadway and 43rd Street, was attached to the existing Fitzgerald Building. Though the main entrance was off Broadway, the W. 43rd Street entrance was much larger and more ornate.
Designed by George Keister, who later went on to design other Broadway houses including the Selwyn Theatre and the Earl Carroll Theatre, the exterior was rather plain, with granite and terra cotta decoration around each entrance, but the interior was much more extravagant, done in Italian Renaissance with two sets of balconies, and murals around the proscenium arch and under the boxes depicted scenes from Cohan’s early stage career and his biggest Broadway hits. Murals also lined the long hall connecting the Broadway lobby to the auditorium on 43rd Street, which could seat almost 1,100.
Elaborate gilded plasterwork lined the squarish proscenium arch and faced the fronts of the balconies and six sets of boxes. The general color scheme of the auditorium was gray, purple and silver.
One of the only unpopular aspects of Cohan’s Theatre was its by then outdated columns supporting the twin balconies, which marred the views from several sections.
George M. Cohan’s Theatre opened with a transfer from the Gaiety Theatre, “Get Rich Wallingford”, which was the first of a series of early successes on the theater’s stage. However, by the time Cohan and his partner, Sam Harris, sold the theatre to A.L. Erlanger in 1920, the hits had gotten more infrequent.
To help keep the theatre in operation, the management began screening movies in the early-1920’s on weekends, and while not dark, presenting legitimate fare onstage. While a handful more of minor stage hits occurred during the late-1920’s and into the 1930’s, like “Rain or Shine” in 1928 and 1931’s “DuBarry”, The George M. Cohan Theatre by then was making much more money off its on-screen than on-stage fare, including a long run of the MGM spectacular “Ben Hur” in 1925.
In 1932, the theatre switched over to movies altogether, ending almost two decades as a legit house.
For another six years, the George M. Cohan Theatre was a movie house, though it soon found it was no match for nearby movie palaces like the Paramount Theatre, Rivoli Theatre and the Roxy Theatre, all of which were much larger and more luxurious than the antiquated former playhouse.
The George M. Cohan Theatre was demolished in 1938, along with the Fitzgerald Building. It was replaced by stores less than a year later and the New York Theatre (first used for newsreels) opened on the site in April 1940.
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