SOCIAL HISTORY: RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL – The largest movie theatre ever built!

A wonderful video all about Radio City Music Hall’s great history…

At the height of the Great Depression, thousands turn out for the opening of Radio City Music Hall, a magnificent Art Deco theater in New York City. Radio City Music Hall was designed as a palace for the people, a place of beauty where ordinary people could see high-quality entertainment. Since its 1932 opening, more than 300 million people have gone to Radio City to enjoy movies, stage shows, concerts, and special events.

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Backstage dressing room of the Rockettes during the heyday of Radio City Music Hall

Cary Grant with the Rockettes -

Cary Grant and the Rockettes

Radio City Music Hall was the brainchild of the billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who decided to make the theater the cornerstone of the Rockefeller Complex he was building in a formerly derelict neighborhood in midtown Manhattan. The theater was built in partnership with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and designed by Donald Deskey.

The Rockettes 1933

Rockettes in 1933

The result was an Art Deco masterpiece of elegance and grace constructed out of a diverse variety of materials, including aluminum, gold foil, marble, permatex, glass, and cork. Geometric ornamentation is found throughout the theater, as is Deskey’s central theme of the “Progress of Man.” The famous Great Stage, measuring 60 feet wide and 100 feet long, resembles a setting sun. Its sophisticated system of hydraulic-powered elevators allowed spectacular effects in staging, and many of its original mechanisms are still in use today.

In its first four decades, Radio City Music Hall alternated as a first-run movie theater and a site for gala stage shows. More than 700 films have premiered at Radio City Music Hall since 1933. In the late 1970s, the theater changed its format and began staging concerts by popular music artists. The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, which debuted in 1933, draws more than a million people annually. The show features the high-kicking Rockettes, a precision dance troupe that has been a staple at Radio City since the 1930s.

In 1999, the Hall underwent a seven-month, $70 million restoration. Today, Radio City Music Hall remains the largest indoor theater in the world.

THE LARGEST MOVIE THEATRE EVER BUILT…

New York Social History: Radio City Music Hall – Showplace of the Nation – Over 700 movies opened here from King Kong to the Sound of Music.

Click on above to hear Broadway show tunes on the greatest theatre organ in the world.  Playing songs from Gypsy, Mary Poppins and South Pacific.

You Tube video of the Music Hall’s “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ. It was the largest theater pipe organ built for a movie theater.  “Ladies and gentlemen, the Radio City Music Hall Grand Organ . . .”  This announcement has been heard by millions of theatre patrons,  introducing them to the most famous theatre organ in the world.

For information on what’s playing at the Radio City Music Hall click here.

Until the 1970s – the stage shows included a full symphony orchestra.

One of the greatest Art Deco structures ever built, Radio City Music Hall is one of the most well known landmarks of New York City. Showing a mixture of movies and shows for almost fifty years, the format was changed in 1979 to concerts, stage shows and special events.

Reborn after a $70 million renovation in 1999, Radio City has been restored to all of its original opulence.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. held a $91 million, 24-year lease on a piece of midtown Manhattan property properly known as “the speakeasy belt.” Plans to gentrify the neighborhood by building a new Metropolitan Opera House on the site were dashed by the failing economy and the business outlook was dim. Nevertheless, Rockefeller made a bold decision that would leave a lasting impact on the city’s architectural and cultural landscape. He decided to build an entire complex of buildings on the property-buildings so superior that they would attract commercial tenants even in a depressed city flooded with vacant rental space. The project would express the highest ideals of architecture and design and stand as a symbol of optimism and hope.

1930s – Radio City Music Hall, On 50th Street, looking West toward 6th Avenue – During the depression.

The search for a commercial partner led to the Radio Corporation of America, a young company whose NBC radio programs were attracting huge audiences and whose RKO studios were producing and distributing popular motion pictures that offered welcome diversion in hard times. Rockefeller’s financial power and RCA’s media might were joined by the unusual talents of impresario S.L. “Roxy” Rothafel. Roxy had earned a reputation as a theatrical genius by employing an innovative combination of vaudeville, movies and razzle-dazzle decor to revive struggling theatres across America.

Together Rockefeller, RCA and Roxy realized a fantastic dream – a theatre unlike any in the world, and the first completed project within the complex that RCA head David Sarnoff dubbed “Radio City.” Radio City Music Hall was to be a palace for the people. A place of beauty offering high-quality entertainment at prices ordinary people could afford. It was intended to entertain and amuse, but also to elevate and inspire.

Best Seats In The House: Radio City Music Hall has 6200 seats. The seating sections are divide into a large orchestra with three mezzanines; the top two are really balconies.

AN AMERICAN PEOPLE’S PALACE

Donald Deskey wasn’t the most celebrated interior designer to enter the competition for design of the Music Hall’s interior spaces. In fact, he was relatively unknown. But from the moment opening night visitors passed through the lobby and entered the Grand Foyer, his popular legacy was secured.

In his design for the Hall, Deskey chose elegance over excess, grandeur above glitz. He designed more than thirty separate spaces, including eight lounges and smoking rooms, each with its own motif. Given general theme, he created a stunning tribute to “human achievement in art, science and industry.

He made art an integral part of the design, engaging fine artists to create murals, wall coverings and sculpture; textile designers to develop draperies and carpets; craftsmen to make ceramics, wood panels and chandeliers.

Deskey himself designed furniture and carpets, and he coordinated the design of railings, balustrades, signage and decorative details to complement the theatre’s interior spaces.

He used a brilliant combination of precious materials (including marble and gold foil), and industrial materials (including Bakelite, permatex, aluminum and cork).

The strength of his achievement is reflected in how well the theatre has maintained its character over time. It was a remarkable example of contemporary design in its day and it still has the power to take the breath away. It remains an elegant, sophisticated, unified tour de force.



You Tube: Another organist at the Radio City Music Hall’s Mighty Wurlitzer – Colonel Jack Moelmann playing the Tolley Song…

The house steals the show. Donald Deskey’s masterpiece of American Modernist design gets rave reviews. One New York critic reports approvingly, “It has been said of the new Music Hall that it needs no performers.”

SHOWPLACE OF THE NATION

More than 300 million people have come to the Music Hall to enjoy stage shows, movies, concerts and special events. There’s no place like it to see a show or stage a show. Everything about it is larger than life.

Radio City Music Hall is the largest indoor theatre in the world. Its marquee is a full city-block long. Its auditorium measures 160 feet from back to stage and the ceiling reaches a height of 84 feet. The walls and ceiling are formed by a series of sweeping arches that define a splendid and immense curving space. Choral staircases rise up the sides toward the back wall. Actors can enter there to bring live action right into the house. There are no columns to obstruct views. Three shallow mezzanines provide comfortable seating without looming over the rear Orchestra section below. The result is that every seat in Radio City Music Hall is a good seat.

The Great Stage is framed by a huge proscenium arch that measures 60 feet high and 100 feet wide.The stage is considered by technical experts to be the most perfectly equipped in the world. It is comprised of three sections mounted on hydraulic-powered elevators. They make it possible to create dynamic sets and achieve spectacular effects in staging. A fourth elevator raises and lowers the entire orchestra. Within the perimeter of the elevators is a turntable that can be used for quick scene changes and special stage effects.

The shimmering gold stage curtain is the largest in the world. For more than sixty-five years audiences have thrilled to the sound of the “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ, which was built especially for the theatre. Its pipes, which range in size from a few inches to 32 feet, are housed in eleven separate rooms. The Hall contains more than 25,000 lights and features four-color stage lighting. And what’s a show without special effects? Original mechanisms still in use today make it possible to send up fountains of water and bring down torrents of rain. Fog and clouds are created by a mechanical system that draws steam directly from a Con Edison generating plant nearby.

The Rockettes seen here in the 1950s – performed four times a day until 1979.  Perhaps their best-known routine is an eye-high leg kick in perfect unison in a chorus line, which they include at the end of every performance.

The Music Hall opened to the public on December 27, 1932 with a lavish stage show featuring Ray Bolger and Martha Graham. The opening was meant to be a return to high-class variety entertainment. The new format was not a success. The program was very long and individual acts were lost in the cavernous hall.

On January 11, 1933, the Music Hall converted to the then familiar format of a feature film with a spectacular stage show which Rothafel had perfected at the Roxy Theatre.

THE PREMIERE THEATRE FOR FILM PREMIERES

Radio City quickly became the favorite first-run theatre for moviemakers and moviegoers alike.

Just two weeks after its gala opening, Radio City Music Hall premiered its first film, The Bitter Tea of General Yen. Before long, a first showing at the Music Hall virtually guaranteed a successful run in the theatres around the country. Radio City’s huge screen and widely spaced seats make it the ideal movie house.

Since 1933 more than 700 movies have opened here.

They include the original King Kong; National Velvet, the film that secured Elizabeth Taylor’s hold on the silver screen; White Christmas; Mame; Breakfast at Tiffany’s; To Kill a Mockingbird, starring former Radio City usher, Gregory Peck; Mary Poppins; 101 Dalmatians; and The Lion King.

Newsreel being shown at a regular performance.

In the early years, a standard movie run lasted one week. Later, extended runs of five or six weeks became common. Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, and Katharine Hepburn have taken Radio City box office prizes for the number of films screened here. All three had more than 22 of their films shown at the Hall.

The popular movie-and-stage-show format remained a Radio City signature until 1979, when the mass showcasing of new films called for a new focus. Today, the Music Hall still premieres selected films, but is best known as the country’s leading hall for popular concerts, stage shows, special attractions and media events.

Radio City Musical Hall – 1960s – Box Office and entrance when there were four continuous performances daily.  A feature film and stage show.

Dick Liebert and Raymond Bohr, pioneer organists at Radio City Music Hall

The Music Hall’s “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ is the largest theater pipe organ built for a movie theater: Twin identical consoles flank both sides of the Great Stage, 144 feet (44 m) apart; its 4,410 pipes are installed in chambers on either side of the proscenium’s arch. Installed in 1932, the instrument was the largest produced by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Manufacturing Company of North Tonawanda, New York; it was built as a serious concert instrument rather than to accompany silent movies, capable of playing many styles of music including classical organ literature. A rebuild of the historic organ was undertaken that was completed in time for the theater’s restoration in 1999. A smaller Wurlitzer organ was installed in the theater’s radio studios, but was put into storage when the studio was converted into office space.

By the 1970s, changes in film distribution made it difficult for Radio City to secure exclusive bookings of many films; furthermore, the theater preferred to show only G-rated movies, which became increasingly less common as the decade wore on[citation needed].

Regular film showings at Radio City ended in 1979. Plans were made to convert the theater into office space, but a combination of preservation and commercial interests resulted in the preservation of Radio City and in 1980, after a renovation, it reopened to the public.

Radio City Music Hall is currently leased to and managed by Cablevision.

Movie premieres and feature runs have occasionally taken place there but the focus of the theater is now on concerts and live stage shows.

The annual Christmas show is the most famous stage presentation still featured each holiday season at the Radio City Music Hall.

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About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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