Astor Theatre

176 Tremont Street,
Boston, MA 02108

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Redwards1
Redwards1 on May 10, 2016 at 11:40 pm

Donald C. King book has the familiar exterior photo of the Astor when it was the Tremont, but no interior illustration or photo. Apparently there is no visual record of the theatre’s major interior alterations. Soon there will be no one living who can describe them. This theatre was a key player in Boston’s stage and screen history from its construction in 1889 onward.

mstrsims2
mstrsims2 on May 3, 2016 at 6:54 pm

The Theaters of Boston: A Stage and Screen History by Donald C. King I believe there are pictures of the interior of the Astor/Tremont Theater. I will double check my copy.

RogerA
RogerA on November 20, 2015 at 9:02 pm

The Astor auditorium was very plain and drab. When they did the Todd-AO install they ripped out all the boxes the stage and put in a screen that was wall to wall.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on July 4, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Rewards1 – I have never seen any photos of the Astor interior as far as I can recall. I did see a nice pen and ink black and white drawing that was made when the theater was fairly new. The artist was on stage at the stage-left side and was looking out at the left side of the auditorium. He drew the tiers of boxes and the left side of the two balconies. The theater was very ornate and was something like the Colonial Theatre on Boylston Street, if you have ever been inside it. The proscenium arch was removed either in the 1937 renovations or in the 1947 work. When it reopened in 1947 it was what they called a “draped house”. There were huge long dark drapes from the ceiling down to within a foot of the floor, starting on each side of the screen and going round to the edge of the balcony. Very dull and uninteresting.

Redwards1
Redwards1 on July 3, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Does anyone have interior photos of the auditorium? There have been many comments about this theatre’s history of major remodels, including the 70mm installation that covered the proscenium.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on July 3, 2015 at 1:39 pm

The name was changed from Tremont Theatre to Astor Theatre in November, 1947 at the conclusion of heavy renovations. There were prior heavy renovations in 1937. Yes, there were several floors of dressing rooms at stage-left (west side of the former stage) – they were still there during demolition.

asok10
asok10 on July 2, 2015 at 6:56 pm

These comments about the Astor Theatre are intersting and I would like to put in my two cents as I worked there as an usher briefly after graduating from high school in 1956. When I started they were playing Raintree County in 65mm which I thought was was an odd film size. This was being played on a Roadshow basis. After that closed they went back to the “grind” with a dreadful film whose name I cannot recall now. At the time I worked there the stage and pit had already been removed and seats went right up to the main curtain. They ever sold that many seats but can you imagine trying to look up at that huge screen from the first few rows for several hours. The projection booth was in the second balcony and was a long climb up there. I had to assist brining up the film for the grind movie which was in 35mm. I would have hated to carry the 65mm prints up all those stairs. Some dressing rooms still existed on stage left and were being used for storage. Backing up a few years, a friend of the family took me to see Joan of Arc there when it still had a stage and pit and was probably still called the Tremont Street Theater.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on May 7, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Someone who worked at the Astor around 1960 managed to get into the old office suites in the Tremont Street building which contained the theater entrance and outer lobby. To his surprise, there were still some records left there. He found files for Fred Lieberman’s Proven Pictures circuit from the 1940s, old records for the Bijou and other nearby theaters. He also says that there was indeed a remnant of the old second balcony still in place above the rear of the main balcony. It appears that the original second balcony was cut back but not completly removed at some time during the drastic renovations in 1937 and 1947.

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.