George M. Cohan Theatre

1482 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036

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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 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One of the only unpopular aspects of Cohan’s Theatre was its by then outdated columns supporting the twin balconies, which marred the views from several sections.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. Cohen 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. Cohen 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. Cohen Theatre was demolished in 1938, along with the Fitzgerald Building, and replaced by stores less than a year later.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 10 comments)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 4, 2005 at 3:13 am

Charles Chaplin rented this theatre for the New York premiere run of his City Lights beginning on February 6, 1931. In his 1964 My Autobiography Chaplin recalled:

“The only [theatre] available in New York was the George M. Cohan Theatre with a seating capacity of eleven hundred and fifty, and that was of the beaten path and considered a white elephant. It was not even a cinema house. I could hire the four walls for seven thousand dollars a week, guaranteeing eight weeks rental, and I would have to supply everything else: manager, cashier, ushers, projectionist, stagehands and the expense of electric signs and publicity. As I was financially involved to the extent of two million dollars—-and my own money at that—-I might as well take the full gamble and hire the theatre.”

Astounded that United Artists had hardly publicized the opening at all, the angry Chaplin took out half-page ads in the New York papers:

CHARLES CHAPLIN
AT THE COHAN THEATRE
IN
CITY LIGHTS
CONTINUOUS ALL DAY AT 50 CENTS AND ONE DOLLAR

Chaplin wrote:
“I spent $30,000 extra with the newspapers, then rented an electric sign for the front of the theatre costing another $30,000. As there was little time and we had to hustle, I was up all night, experimenting with the projection of the film, deciding the size of the picture and correcting distortion. The next day I met with the press and told them the whys and wherefores of my making a silent picture. (…)

“At the premiere the picture went off very well. But premieres are not indicative. It is the ordinary public that would count. Would they be interested in a silent picture? These thoughts kept me awake half the night. In the morning, however, I was awakened by my publicity man, who came bursting into my bedroom at eleven o'clock, shrieking with excitement: ‘Boy, you’ve done it! What a hit! There’s been a line running round the block ever since ten o'clock this morning and it’s stopping the traffic. There are about ten cops trying to keep order. They’re fighting to get in. And you should hear them yell!’”

RobertR
RobertR on July 28, 2005 at 4:11 am

Here is a picture from 1933 showing movies
View link

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on July 17, 2006 at 10:19 am

Just to revive a year old thread, here’s an image of those crowds lining up for Chaplin’s “City Lights” in 1931:

Balcony 50 cents

I presume the shot was taken down 43rd Street. Note the billboard on the side of the building in the lower portion of the photo, advertising the film (Chaplin’s surname is barely legible).

Here are some vintage interior shots I snagged off the ibdb.com site:

Foyer
Rear of house
Side boxes

The short two-line history of the theater provided on the ibdb page contradicts the introduction above by Bryan Krefft in that it states the theater was sold to Joe Leblang in 1915 and adds that his widow “forfeited” the building to the mortgage holder in 1938 – who promptly leveled the structure.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on March 25, 2008 at 2:46 am

Here is a December 1923 ad from the NYT:
http://tinyurl.com/yva4ej

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on March 25, 2008 at 7:36 am

I think that the final name for this was George M. Cohan Theatre. I believe that the “’s” was dropped when Cohan ended his active management of the theatre. The 1923 ad for “The Ten Commandments” shows George M. Cohan Theatre.

RkoRoxy
RkoRoxy on April 14, 2008 at 7:38 pm

I don’t know how Chaplin could say it was off the beaten path. It was directly across from the Times Building in the square with an entrance right on Broadway. And by 1931, it was in the heart of it all. It was a beautiful Theatre

robboehm
robboehm on March 22, 2011 at 6:35 pm

The theatre was purchased at auction for $100,000 according to a reference in Lost Broadway Theatres by Nicholas van Hoogstraten.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on January 15, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Welcome home, Lost Memory.

We sure missed you.

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