Eighty two years ago today, December 27th, 1932, the Radio City Music Hall opened it’s doors. Originally named the International Music Hall, but changed, before it opened, to honor Rockefeller Center’s largest tenant, NBC, which would move to the RCA Building directly across the street a few months after the Music Hall opened; and like NBC the Music Hall was also owned by an RCA subsidiary, RKO. This was the largest theatre in the RKO chain. Managed by famed theatrical impresario Samuel Rothafel (1882 – 1936), better known as Roxy, had a string of successes in New York City movie theatre presentations, starting with the Regent at St. Nicholas Avenue and West 116th in 1913. In 1931 he Rockefeller Center Corporation hired him to helm the two huge theatres they were building, the Radio City Music Hall and the smaller and now demolished RKO Roxy Theatre.
In Roxy’s plans for the two theatres the RKO Roxy was the movie stage show theatre, while the Music Hall would be high-class two a day Vaudeville. It was a cold and rainy opening night and the theatre was still half empty at the scheduled curtain time of 8:15. Roxy held the curtain till just before 9:00 when the massive show started. A show that included Ray Bolger, Weber and Fields, De Wolf Hopper, A Ballet Corp, the Roxyettes (later rechristened as the Rockettes), and many others and songs by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh and Harry Ravel and Mack Gordon. By intermission it was very obvious that something was wrong and the show was running very late. By the time the curtain came down on the second act it was almost one in the morning. More than half the audience had left long before the end of the show and Roxy collapsed and had to be carried from the theatre on a stretcher.
While theatre itself was an artistic triumph with interiors created by one of the top industrial designers of the time Donald Deskey (1894 – 1989), the vaudeville policy was not. The theatre was just too massive for the intimacy necessary for successful vaudeville. While recuperating in the hospital, Roxy was removed as the artistic director of the Music Hall and the new management instituted the movie stage show policy that was a proven success. On January 11, 1933 The Bitter Tea of General Yen, would be the first film shown in the Music Hall. And movies and stage shows would continue in the theatre for the next 45 years.
With the end of the movie stage show policy in April of 1978, it was announced that the Radio City Music Hall would be demolished. Luckily at the eleventh hour the theatre was rescued from destruction and became a special events venue. It hosts everything from rock concerts, to the Tony Awards and of course the Christmas Spectacular. A restoration in 2000 brought back many details and furnishings that had been removed or altered over the years. Already restored were the Meiere medallions, the story of their creation and restoration is at art conservator, Steve Tatti’s, blog – click here to read the story. If you have never been in the Radio City Music Hall, make sure to take a tour the next time you are in New York City.
Chris & Anthony (The Freakin’ Tiquen’ Guys)
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