Astor Theatre

176 Tremont Street,
Boston, MA 02108

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rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on March 27, 2014 at 10:59 am

CT member HankSykes tells me that he was looking through some boxes of old stuff in a storage area at the Cincinnati Public Library yesterday afternoon and came upon a program,in good condition, for the Tremont Theatre’s production of “No NO Nanette”. The latter was one of the great hit musicals of the 1920s and ran for 6 months at the Tremont Theatre about 1925. At the back of the program is mention of the theater’s “water curtain” which deploys in case of a fire on stage. I assume that they also had a regular fire safetly curtain (usually made of asbestos in those days). One can imagine the mess the water curtain must have made if it deployed accidentally. This water curtain apparatus and plumbing, plus the regular stage curtains, were all swept away in the late-1930s when the orchestra pit, stage floor and proscenium arch were removed so that the main floor seating could be extended forward into the stage area. (the Tremont seems to have stopped presenting live shows on stage after about 1930; films only.)

RogerA
RogerA on March 10, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Michael Coate has done his homework. He corrected me on a few points and after long hours of digging through old newspapers I have found that what he writes is correct. It is certain he knows a great deal about this subject.

Coate
Coate on March 8, 2014 at 11:14 pm

dickneeds111 wrote: “"Oklahoma was shot both in Cinemascope and Todd AO at the same time.”

Yeah, but they weren’t distributed at the same time. In North America, only Todd-AO prints, distributed by Magna, were booked for the first thirteen months of the film’s release. Then the 35mm CinemaScope version, distributed by 20th Century-Fox, became available for hundreds of general-release bookings. All of the original roadshow engagements were the 70mm version (except for the final few weeks of the Detroit engagement which had been switched to the 35mm version as a test).

On a related note, some of you may recall a while ago I posted a list of the original roadshow engagements of “Oklahoma!” This info may clarify many of the points mentioned in the discussion going on here on the Astor page. Here again is the link if you wish to take a refresher look or if you missed it when first posted. The list is complete, as far as I know, up to the point in time the 35mm general release began. (There were a few more 70mm presentations that began beyond my cut-off point — plus international — but I didn’t include them because I wanted to present a concise timeline.)

Oklahoma! Roadshow Engagements

Redwards1
Redwards1 on March 8, 2014 at 9:56 pm

I do not think there were roadshow engagements anywhere for the 35mm Cinemascope version of Oklahoma! The whole point of Oklahoma! roadshow presentations was to introduce Todd-AO. Since American Optical was headquartered in New England it would have been an embarrassment to present the Boston premiere in 35mm.

Coate
Coate on March 8, 2014 at 8:26 pm

Good grief.

dickneeds111 wrote: “As far as Oklahoma it ran at the Saxon in 35mm cinemascope roadshow for most of its engagement until Todd AO was put in and then in Todd AO for the rest of its engagement.”

Not true, dickneeds111. There’s plenty of evidence available to support the claim that the Saxon installed Todd-AO equipment specifically for the “Oklahoma!” engagement, which began in September 1956. That was two months before any 35mm prints of “Oklahoma!” were put into circulation. The timeline alone proves you wrong.

dickneeds111 wrote: “Raintree County from what I have read was filmed in Camera 65(same as Ben Hur) but was never shown in 70mm on its 1st release anywhere. MGM said they could not get any 70mm theatres in the country because they were all booked solid at that time.”

It’s a myth that there weren’t any available 70mm theaters to show “Raintree County.” The theater in which its world premiere engagement was held, the Brown in Louisville, was 70mm-equipped at the time, having previously played “Oklahoma!” and “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Also among the first few bookings of “Raintree County” when it was still a roadshow was the McVickers in Chicago, which had Todd-AO installed for “Oklahoma!.” If no 70mm prints were made for “Raintree County” it was a choice made by the distributor for reasons other than theater availability.

dickneeds111
dickneeds111 on March 8, 2014 at 7:27 pm

I,m back with more info. Raintree County from what I have read was filmed in Camera 65(same as Ben Hur) but was never shown in 70mm on its 1st release anywhere. MGM said they could not get any 70mm theatres in the country because they were all booked solid at that time. They then needed to get it out so they sent it out in a 35mm Cinemascope roadshow version. It was not seen in 70mm until the 80s-90-s in 70mm in a New York film festival.

dickneeds111
dickneeds111 on March 8, 2014 at 7:27 pm

I,m back with more info. Raintree County from what I have read was filmed in Camera 65(same as Ben Hur) but was never shown in 70mm on its 1st release anywhere. MGM said they could not get any 70mm theatres in the country because they were all booked solid at that time. They then needed to get it out so they sent it out in a 35mm Cinemascope roadshow version. It was not seen in 70mm until the 80s-90-s in 70mm in a New York film festival.

dickneeds111
dickneeds111 on March 8, 2014 at 7:21 pm

After reading some of the above comments I must put in my 2 cents. Porgy & Bess opened at the Astor in 70mm Todd AO in 1959(I saw it there) and it was followed by Spartacus in Super Technirama 70mm. Both were the same aspect ratio of 2.21:1(70mm). As far as Oklahoma it ran at the Saxon in 35mm cinemascope roadshow for most of its engagement until Todd AO was put in and then in Todd AO for the rest of its engagement. Oklahoma was shot both in Cinemascope and Todd AO at the same time. There are many differences in both versions. And to ever said they saw Ryan’s Daughter in 70mm at the Astor may have seen I re-issue because its original run was at the Charles.

patryan6019
patryan6019 on February 27, 2014 at 11:53 pm

Sorry for forgetting to add pertinent Astor data — Oklahoma! played it’s 1962 reissue there in Todd-AO May 23 – June 19, following El Cid’s 22 week run.

patryan6019
patryan6019 on February 27, 2014 at 11:35 pm

It was trade reported at the time that the five roadshow engagements of Raintree County were not in 70mm. It would have been helpful if RogerA had given the date of the Boxoffice article; also where he found a reference to The Music Man shown in 70mm, and why 1.66 for Dr. Strangelove is noteworthy. Adding to earlier comments on Oklahoma! — after the Saxon’s 23 week run, it returned in Todd-AO for 3 weeks, ahead of an unusual Saturday opening of 80 Days.

RogerA
RogerA on February 27, 2014 at 5:03 pm

I am pretty sure “Raintree Country” was a 35mm reduction print when it played at the Astor as the Todd-AO install was done right before “Porgy and Bess” and that was in ‘59. It interested me to find out that The Astor also ran “Dr. Strangelove” in 35mm 1.66 “The Music Man” in 70mm “El Cid” in 70mm

Coate
Coate on February 27, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Prior to “Porgy and Bess” the Astor ran another large-format movie: “Raintree County,” which had a roadshow run there in autumn ‘57 (though I suspect it was screened from a 35mm reduction print, though some historians might debate that).

Coate
Coate on February 27, 2014 at 4:38 pm

RogerA wrote: “There was an article about the Todd-AO conversions to both the Saxon and The Gary theaters in late 1957 in Boxoffice”

The article is wrong if it’s claiming those installations took place at the same time.

RogerA
RogerA on February 22, 2014 at 8:12 pm

I did not know that the owners of the Astor brought legal action against Sack Theaters and many distributors in late 1971. The owners of the Astor claimed they were being shut out of the market.

RogerA
RogerA on February 22, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Yes “Oklahoma!” did open In ‘56 and Porgy was the first Todd-AO film at the Astor. There was an article about the Todd-AO conversions to both the Saxon and The Gary theaters in late 1957 in Boxoffice but the local newspapers confirm these opening dates.

RogerA
RogerA on February 22, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Yes “Oklahoma!” did open In ‘56 and Porgy was the first Todd-AO film at the Astor. There was an article about the Todd-AO conversions to both the Saxon and The Gary theaters in late 1957 in Boxoffice but the local newspapers confirm these opening dates.

Coate
Coate on February 22, 2014 at 7:29 pm

You’re misinformed, RogerA. The Saxon’s Todd-AO roadshow run of “Oklahoma!” began in September 1956.

RogerA
RogerA on February 22, 2014 at 7:14 pm

It appears the Gary and the Saxon both got Todd-AO installs around the same time in late 1957. Did Boston wait two years to see “Oklahoma” or “Around the World in 80 Days” or were they move overs from another theater?

RogerA
RogerA on February 22, 2014 at 7:08 pm

The Gary became a Todd-AO house in ‘57 they did not open with a Todd-AO film. There is a box office article about the conversion. If you found ads or information that “Porgy and Bess” ran at the Astor prior to “Spartacus” post it. I have the remains of a ticket stub for “Spartacus” the Astor in Boston was one of the first theaters to run the roadshow version.

Coate
Coate on February 22, 2014 at 6:58 pm

RogerA wrote: “So far with all of my research the first 70mm film to run at the Astor was Spartacus. The Gary got Todd-AO in ‘57 and it appears that Oklahoma and Around the World in 80 Days ran at what is now the Wang Center and what was then the Metropolitan.”

All of those claims I believe are incorrect! My research informs me that “Porgy and Bess” was the first 70mm presentation at the Astor, commencing in August 1959, fourteen months before “Spartacus.”

The Gary’s first 70mm presentation appears to have been “Sleeping Beauty” in 1959.

“Oklahoma!” and “Around the World in 80 Days” played their Boston roadshow runs at the Saxon, not the Wang Center/Metropolitan.

RogerA
RogerA on February 22, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Okay the person in the photo holding the Todd-AO lens is David K. who spent many an hour hanging out at the Astor. He is currently chief at the Somerville Theater where he has managed to get two pristine Todd-AO machines refurbished to factory specs and will soon be able to run most formats excepting a rare few.

Unless the Cinerama lenses were the ones for Ultra-Panavision there was nothing special about them. The Todd-AO lenses for the Astor were unique because they they transmitted a lot of light yet the depth of field was very good because their focal length was relatively short. The Astor projectors seldom drifted out of focus for 35mm or 70mm and the arcs held very steady. It was easy to hit 32 foot lamberts with those lenses and the 13.6mm arcs pushed up to 180 amps even with the large screen. The Astor screen was painted silver for House of Wax a 3D 70mm showing. House of Wax 70mm 3D had mag stripes only on the outer edges of the film and required special mag pickups to run those prints.

So far with all of my research the first 70mm film to run at the Astor was Spartacus. The Gary got Todd-AO in ‘57 and it appears that Oklahoma and Around the World in 80 Days ran at what is now the Wang Center and what was then the Metropolitan. The stage at the Wang Center is very wide and there the projection booth is in an ideal location great for Todd-AO. It makes sense that the Wang Center was used for the first Todd-AO showings and then smaller theaters were used to allow for extended runds. Can Can ran in Todd-AO at the Gary starting in early 1960 and ran for a long time. I’m not sure when the Saxon got Todd-AO projectors or what movies played there. When the Cinema 57 was built the Todd-AO projectors were moved there by the new management. Cinema 57 was a horrible theater the acoustics were so bad they had to bring in Dolby to make the dialogue understandable. The screen at the 57 was so small and the auditorium so long and narrow in order to hear stereo beyond the 10th row they moved the left and right channels to sit over the exit doors. The Charles had Cinemacanicas. The new Beacon hill had Century’s 35/70 and they ran a 70mm print of This is Cinerama and it did very poorly. These were the last days for Ben Sack as he was about to get sacked. The new Sack management had a policy of small flat screens like the 57 as apposed to large curved screens like the new Beacon Hill.

Redwards1
Redwards1 on February 22, 2014 at 12:07 am

RogerA, thanks for your informative comments (all of them)—especially all the latest specs on the screen, sound & projectors installed at the Astor for Todd-AO. The bookshop at Arclight in LA was selling projection lenses from the old 70mm Cinerama at the Cinerama Dome Festival a year ago for $100 each. Wish I’d bought one. None of them looked as large as the one being held in the photo of the Astor projection booth. Is that you in the photo? Where did Around the World in 80 Days play in Boston? I saw My Fair Lady at the Saxon & thought the screen too small for the length of the auditorium. The Gary screen looked good from both balconies. Sack finally removed the seats directly in front of the projection booth windows at the Gary. Shadows of latecomers on the screen were a major complaint.

RogerA
RogerA on February 21, 2014 at 4:40 pm

I did some digging and found a ticket stub from a 1960 roadshow presentation of Spartacus. This may be the first 70mm film run at the Astor. I also found 16mm footage of the theater when it was a juice bar.

RogerA
RogerA on February 21, 2014 at 1:49 pm

The Astor Todd-AO conversion was probably done in the 1960’s and while the screen was large (one of the largest in downtown Boston) it did not have a deep curve. Instead the screen had a shallow curve as the installation was done several years after the debut of Todd-AO. To do the Todd-AO conversion the whole front of the auditorium was gutted, the stage removed so the screen could be larger than the stage would have allowed. The Todd-AO projection booth was built out of cinder blocks in the middle rear of the first balcony. The original projection booth was in the middle rear of the second balcony. The Cinerama theater on Washington and Essex street had a large curved screen and the Wang Center had a large screen but there is no question that the Astor screen was larger than the Saxon, The Gary or The Charles Theater (some people think the screen at The Charles was big but it was no where near as large as the Astor Screen).

The light source at the Astor was from 13.6mm carbon arcs running at 150+ amps. The projector heads and lamp jaws were water cooled using city water at about 25p.s.i. For 70mm presentations the masking would be opened to full height and full width taller than the 1:85 picture and wider than the 2:35 picture. The installation used Todd-AO projection lenses for 70mm and one of those lenses can be seen in one of the pictures shown here. On one of my many exploratory walks I found ticket stubs from the the 1950’s and early 1960’s and in 1957 and 1959 the Astor was still running 35mm with 4 track magnetic sound. There was a road show presentation of Spartacus (1960) and it did run in 70mm. I know that Ryan’s Daughter ran in 70mm as did a re-release of 2001. There is no question that the 70mm presentations were in short breathtaking and the sound was just outstanding. There were five Altec Voice of the Theater A4 speakers behind the screen and each channel was distinct and the separation was excellent. People can say what they want there was something about the acoustics and the placement of the speakers that made this one of the best sound systems I have ever heard.

I might have some 16mm movie film taken of the auditorium while the theater was being used as an after hours juice bar. The screen was still intact and the Todd-AO projectors were still in perfect condition when the building was closed for the last time. After it was shuttered for the last time the building was set on fire several times the projectors were vandalized and ended up being scrapped. The Todd-AO lenses are in a private collection. The auditorium was very plain and dimly lit so it was hard to get a good picture. The building was very old dating back to the 19th century. There were gas lights in one of the stair wells lead acid storage batteries in the ceiling and a steam engine in the basement none of these had been used for many years but were in use at one time when it was the Tremont Theater.

Redwards1
Redwards1 on February 21, 2014 at 11:55 am

Does anyone have a photo of the Astor interior to post? I am especially interested in pre and post Todd-AO conversion. It sounds like this may have been one of the original Todd-AO presentation houses that featured a deep curved screen. It’s hard to explain how impressive the early Todd-AO was compared to the later less expensive flat screens used in the majority of theatres after South Pacific. Quality control went out the window. I saw a good flat screen 70mm presentation of Sound of Music at the Gary in Boston and a terrible presentation of Can-Can in Milwaukee that was no clearer than 35mm on a flat screen, while in Minneapolis the same film was shown in a vastly superior presentation on a Cinerama screen.